Peter Heinzmann, a physicist working for the Stasi, is assigned to tail Bower -- a man whose work he respects -- in order to get the microfilm first. When the Russian scientist is murdered -- and the microfilm proves worthless -- Heinzamann is ordered to get Bower to defect to East Germany.
With the help of a young woman named Frieda, Bower manages to escape to the West -- but the Stasi has one more trick up its sleeve.
The Defector -- a French production shot in Germany -- lingers in the mind, but for mainly the wrong reasons. It's an interesting but slow picture, picking up steam only in the final 30 minutes or so, when Bower tries escaping enemy hands. The story is certainly interesting -- I have a feeling it's a more accurate snapshot of the spy game than the James Bond movies -- but that's not what gives The Defector its cachet.
|How do you say "Yikes!" in German?|
Yet, as if capitalizing on his physical downward spiral, Clift is an ideal choice as the accidental spy. This is no Sean Connery, but an isolated, sickly man who takes the job only to keep his government research grants coming. At no time do you ever think he could fight his way out of a situation. In fact, having him shot at point-blank range would seem a blessing.
|Hardy Kruger is caught between a cop|
and a hard place.
|Oddly, he looks better on acid.|
Judging by the one-sheet atop this page, The Defector's American release downplayed Clift's involvement (it was his first movie in four years), while trying to sell it as something similar to the trippy Roger Corman movies coming into vogue, thanks to one scene where Bower is slipped some acid. As if the drug was necessary; from the moment Bower arrives in Leipzig, his paranoia increases under the constant state-run surveillance, where even a visit to a doctor might mean life or death for all involved.
The Defector is dated in many ways -- the microfilm is said to determine if the USSR will get to the moon before the USA, a problem charmingly naive compared to today's international crises -- but is refreshing for its almost utter lack of "excitement". Today's spy movies replace genuine drama with CGI, impossibly handsome undercover agents, and allegedly-clever one-liners. The Defector's biggest action sequence is a power boat blowing up in the last reel.
|This is an action star?|
|No, I don't think so.|
Clift's death (from "occlusive coronary artery disease") four months before The Defector's American release probably doomed what little success it might have achieved. The actor's sickly aura hangs over the movie like a human car wreck, keeping your attention even when the pace slackens and you wonder just where the story's going. Like his fellow method actor Marlon Brando in the twilight of his career, Clift just had to show up to make a project interesting.
To read about two other Montgomery Clift movies, I Confess and Freud, click here and here.