For Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy's Debut: The Film Adaptations of John Le Carre Novels, Ranked

Categories: Film and TV

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Some adaptations succeed; some don't.
It's stating the obvious to say John Le Carré is the master of the spy novel.

He reinvented -- if not completely invented -- the genre with 1961's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, and there isn't a real clunker among the 22 novels he's released.

Adapting them to film, however, is a different matter. The books are novels, not screenplays posing as novels. Characters ruminate, details are piled on, ambiguities increase. That's not what most people are looking for in a spy movie, apparently.

Most of Le Carré's books have not been filmed, but eight have been. We haven't seen the 1969 adaptation of The Looking Glass War starring Anthony Hopkins, but the other seven vary greatly in quality.

Here they are, ranked from worst to first.

7. The Little Drummer Girl
Pretty much a mess from beginning to end. A star vehicle for Diane Keaton, it was directed by the usually reliable George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Slap Shot). Perhaps it's telling that this was his penultimate film, followed by the horrendous Funny Farm with Chevy Chase.


6. The Deadly Affair
Very much of its time and place, this adaptation of Le Carré's first novel, Call for the Dead, is little remembered. It stars James Mason and Simone Signoret, has a soundtrack by Quincy Jones -- one which includes a bossa nova tune by Astrud Gilberto of "Girl from Ipanema" fame -- and movies don't get much more '60s than that.

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