Sidewinder’s View: Telefon (1977)

Following its theatrical release during Christmas season in 1977, Telefon was considered a disappointment at the box office.

Telefon 1

I’ve always wondered how much of that may have had to do with Bronson playing a Soviet (albeit non-ideological) good guy.

The villain (Donald Pleasence) is a renegade Stalinist intent on starting WWIII by activating Soviet ‘sleeper’ agents who have been programmed to commit suicide bombings against specific targets in the United States. It’s up to a Soviet agent (Bronson), sent by moderate Soviets who recently survived a Stalinist coup attempt, to stop him.

Directed by Don Siegel, with a screenplay by Stirling Silliphant and Peter Hyams (who was originally slated to direct the picture), Telefon‘s plot moves at a healthy pace and features some exceptional action sequences, supported by a vibrant score by Lalo Schifrin.

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My only gripe with the picture– albeit a minor one– is with the character played by Lee Remick and much of the dialogue her character’s given throughout the film. It made the character, Bronson’s American minder/counterpart in the CIA, look inexperienced and, worse, unserious about their shared mission, which, remember, is a race against time to prevent the outbreak of WWIII.

Perhaps Remick’s character was meant to be, on one level, the comic foil to Bronson’s serious man-on-a-mission, but I felt it worked against the tension of what should have amounted, initially, anyway, to an uneasy partnership.

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I also found the movie’s depiction of the CIA interesting. Tyne Daly and her boss were depicted favorably, I felt. In fact, Daly’s quirky, data-crunching character was probably one of the highlights for me.

The CIA boss’s assistant, however, (who looks like Bob Eubanks), came off as a knee-jerk reactionary, who insists that the FBI, if told of the plot, would only investigate the wrong leads, i.e. the left-leaning ones, and that the plot just HAS to be a conspiracy of “radical right-wingers”. That his conclusion-jumping turns out to be completely wrong was an unusual flourish for a Seventies Conspiracy Thriller.

The terrorist plot in the movie’s perpetrated by a maniacal Stalinist, instead of the usual “inside job” CIA conspirators whose nefarious shenanigans movie audiences were usually treated to throughout the Seventies and Eighties (i.e. the later Cold War era which I grew up in).

For instance, The Osterman Weekend, The Amateur, 3 Days Of The Condor, The Domino Principle, The Killer Elite, Marathon Man, etc.)… I enjoy each of those movies, for one reason or another, and they’re all in my DVD/Blu-ray collection, but they do tread similar ground with regards to their villains and conspiracies, so Telefon was a nice change of pace. Not the same ol’/same ol’.

 

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