Richard Burton’s Iconic Overcoat

spy-who-came-in-from-the-cold_420 Antonia Quirke’s thoughtful, elegiac essay on the battered Richard Burton and his battered overcoat in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was worth the price of the FT earlier this week. Luckily for you, they have for some reason left her superb piece ungated on their website.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

9 thoughts on “Richard Burton’s Iconic Overcoat”

  1. Thanks. A lovely essay.

    Since I first saw The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,only eight or nine years ago, it has occupied a place on my list of 15 or 20 favorite films. Richard Burton gave his finest screen performance in this picture, in some ways his only really fine performance. I remember an interview with Burton back in the 70s some time; can’t remember the venue. Burton was talking about the filming of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and especially working with Elizabeth Taylor. Of the first scene they shot together, he said something like “I thought, my God, she can’t do it”, not really understanding at the time that she was giving a film performance, and he was used to giving filmed stage performances. Almost all of his film work is stagey and unconvincing. Of course, Virginia Woolf was a filmed play. But in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold he gave a contained, focused, almost impossibly affecting film performance that stands as a magnificent monument to the abilities that Burton squandered so prodigally throughout the rest of his career.

    1. That’s an acute analysis Herschel (Although I think he gave more than one good performance, for example Becket and Look Back in Anger). I also love Spy Who Came In From The Cold, centrally for Burton but also for the matched mood lighting, camera work and music, it’s a very strong, complete film.

      Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a contender for most over-rated film in history, with everyone in it far better in other things, despite all the accolades it got. Screaming is not acting.

      1. My candidate for most over-rated film in history is Citizen Kane, which is certainly not without great merit but undeserving of the place it occupies in the pantheon. (I love Elizabeth Taylor’s performance in Virginia Woolf. It may not have been great or even good acting, but it gives me great pleasure just thinking about it. She was almost never believable on screen, but she was endlessly fascinating.)

        But speaking of Virginia Woolf, if anyone can make it to New York between now and March 3rd, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Albee’s play is not to be missed. It played originally in Chicago, and then at Arena Stage here in Washington where I saw it, and is now running at the Booth in Manhattan. After seeing it, I walked out thinking it was probably the best piece of theatre I ever saw.

        1. i think “citizen kane” only seems unremarkable when viewed in the context of our time. if viewed in the context of its time it has great merit. remember, even the most overused cliches seemed fresh at one time.

  2. Sadly, the FT tucked that essay back behind the wall. I read and admired it back when you posted this, though, and it did get me to watch The Spy Who… It was as perfect as advertised, so thanks!

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