Weekend Film Recommendation: Charlie Muffin

Charlie Muffin is a terrific British spy movie scarcely remembered in the UK and even less so elsewhere, which is a rotten shame. After appearing on UK Television in 1979, it was barely released in the US under the title “A Deadly Game”. If you are among the many people who doesn’t know about this movie, let me try to persuade you to find this gem of an espionage thriller

The film is set at the twiilight of the cold war. Both the Soviet and British spy services are staffed by wily pros from the glory days who report to ineffectual careerists at the top. Among the old British hands is an insubordinate but brilliant agent named Charlie Muffin. In the title role, David Hemmings, well past his days of sleek beauty, gives us a character who is rumpled, raffish, boozy and extremely charming (Yes, perfect casting there). Working class Charlie is at war with his upper class twit superiors, but finds kinship with the equally clever General Berenkov (Clive Revill), a Soviet spy who he helped capture.

Meanwhile, a Soviet General shows some interest in defecting to the West. As Charlie’s boss Sir Henry Cuthbertson (Ian Richardson, who assays cold-hearted bastards as well as anyone) and arrogant CIA Director Ruttgers (Sam Wanamaker, giving off just the right mix of parody and malice) struggle to respond, they realize they must reluctantly turn to Muffin for help. As the complex plot plays out, with double and triple crosses aplenty, the suspense mounts until the film comes to an extraordinarily satisfying conclusion.

The best thing about this movie is Jack Gold’s direction and the uniformly outstanding acting by the cast. The scenes between Bernekov and Charlie are emotionally complex, fascinating and perfectly played. Pinkas Braun, as the defecting Soviet General, has the right air of command leavened by moments of vulnerability and wit. And Ralph Richardson, as a great actor can do, makes a tremendous impression as Charlie’s former (and better) boss, despite being on screen for only a few minutes.

Based on a novel by Brian Freemantle, this intelligent and gripping movie richly merits the time it may take to dig up a copy that you can rent or buy. And in my opinion, it’s even better the second time through.

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 London. 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 thirteen 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 “Weekend Film Recommendation: Charlie Muffin”

  1. Wow, and I thought I was the only person who loved this movie. I saw it in the 80s and have been hoping to see it again.

    1. my thoughts exactly.
      i saw it years ago on some PBS station in DC or NYC.
      it’s my favorite hemmings role.

      now if i could only locate “an Englishman’s Castle” (Kenneth More).
      and the chris sykes’ nova on feynman “last journey of a genius.

      i think somebody could make money finding and distributing these forgotte gems.
      why bbc america doesn’t do this is a mystery.

  2. Thank you! My favorite kind of movie and I had begun to think I’d seen them all. What a find.

    1. I see there are lots of Charlie Muffin books. Do you know if they’re equally good?

  3. Thank you for the post and the link to the movie. Like many other commentators have said, I saw it on PBS when it came out. It is an wonderful and unforgettable film. It was wonderful to watch the full movie on YouTube. It was also interesting to see youngish Frederic Treves and Ian Richardson. You are right, it was better watching it a second time. 30

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