Circle of Deception (1960) ***

What the enemy do to an Allied spy is nothing compared to his friends. Blood brother to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) and The Quiller Memorandum (1966) where agents are mere pawns in a bigger game, this is set on the eve of D-Day. The old trope of sending a spy in with misleading information is turned upside down in that this isn’t a corpse as in The Man Who Never Was/Operation Mincemeat, but live bait.

Except the agent doesn’t know he’s being used and has been chosen because he is deemed to have sufficient courage to stand up to initial torture but not hold out forever so that when he inevitably breaks the secrets he spills are believable.

As you might expect, being accustomed now to misleading posters, Suzy Parker, given top-billing here, is nothing like as wanton, nor for that matter as bosomy.

Ruthless Capt Rawson (Harry Andrews) who devises the cunning plan employs psychiatric assessment and the romantic wiles of his secretary Lucy (Suzy Parker) to select the correct victim, Paul Raine (Bradford Dillman). “A perfectly good man is exactly what we don’t want,” expounds Rawson.

War is gender-neutral. Although from the off, Rawson is unscrupulous, with only a modicum of conscience, Lucy is more human, and when she is drawn into the deception, initially just to report on Raine’s qualities, she proves as ruthless, though afflicted more by conscience, a factor her boss dismisses as making women “singularly unsuited” for war, despite the fact that she is making greater sacrifice, having fallen in love with Raine.

Orphaned, Raine covers up the emotional instability detected by psychiatrists with derring-do, battling through terror out of fear that he will be consumed by fear. A Canadian who speaks French he is the right “wrong man” for the job. 

Considerable effort goes into ensuring he won’t be caught out by detail. His French-bought watch has an English strap, for example. And although, once on enemy territory, his innate skills mean he evades capture for longer than intended. He slips off a train, passes himself off as a woodcutter’s temporary assistant.

Unaware of the plot against him, when captured and brought before “good” German Capt Stein (Robert Stephens), who respects a gentleman officer, he refuses to give up his secrets, undergoing a whipping, electrocution and a primitive though equally effective form of water-boarding. At the very last, courage long gone, he aims to deprive his captors of victory by biting on a cyanide pill hidden in his tooth only to discover this is missing.

After that, all that is left is irony. He is treated as a hero, officially accorded a medal, but post-war hiding behind a bottle in Tangiers because he can’t face the truth. Lucy, scarred by her experience, knowing she is as guilty as her superior in destroying a man, tries to retrieve an irretrievable situation.

After only really knowing Bradford Dillman as often a one-note supporting actor, I’ve been surprised to discover he has a greater range of acting skills to offer. A Rage To Live (1965) provided one insight and Sgt Ryker (1968) another but this is on a different plane, mean-budgeted B-picture though it is.  It’s a difficult part to pull off, afraid that his bold exterior hides a cowardly personality, and that in the final analysis his soul will be laid bare. There’s not much help in the script. He doesn’t get to explore his fears with Lucy except in the most basic fashion. He has to rely on facial expression, rather than screaming his head off, to get across the rest of it. And he is pretty exemplary on that score. And since he’s Canadian that can hardly be put down to having learned the British stiff-upper-lip.

Suzy Parker (The Interns, 1962) , formerly the world’s highest-paid model (and soon to be Mrs Dillman), has mastered her stiff-upper-lip as well as a passable British accent. She’s not permitted much in the way of anguish script-wise, and lacks Dillman’s acting skills in presenting interior feelings. But, equally, her character is a subordinate and a well brought-up English lass, as she would need to be to qualify for such a post, would not make her feelings known too forcefully to her commanding officer.

A Richard Burton or a Peter O’Toole might have injected more into the part, but Dillman does more than enough. It’s a shame Hollywood failed to recognize his talent. In his final picture Jack Lee (A Town Like Alice, 1957) directs admirably, though I could have done without the flashback structure, it might have added more tension to not know the outcome, and the rescue sequence seemed an anomaly.

Otherwise, crisply told and a precursor to the cold-blooded spy stories to come. 

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

6 thoughts on “Circle of Deception (1960) ***”

  1. Brian, was Suzy Parker initially shortlisted to star as Cleopatra together with Stephen Boyd and Peter Finch? I seem to recall reading this somewhere a long time ago.

    Liked by 2 people

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