The human Factor -- At the K-B MacArthur.
What actor Robert Morley can do with his fingertips, Tom Stoppard can't manage in a whole screenplay.
This unpleasant and probably unfair comparison is prompted by the Otto Preminger film of Graham Greene's "The Human Factor," and isn't intended to have any wider application. Stoppard has his own complicated and sucessful stage style, but his screenplay for what ought to be crisp thriller is rambly and disorganized.
The story is about a British intelligence agency where the entanglements of the operation are strangling its own people. The essence of this is conveyed by Morley who, as a government doctor committing officially sanctioned murder, taps his fingertips lightly and calmly, whether he is planning the killing of a disloyal colleague or discovering afterwards that his victim was innocent. It's the gesture of a person who has successfully eliminated the human factor from his thinking.
And it's an example of how to translate a complicated idea from paper into a quickly grasped cinematic moment.
That mountain of an actor also does wonders with pursed lips and widened eyes. But it's not enough suavity for an entire film, and nobody else helps much. The complications of international diplomacy have been ridiculously simplified -- a bare room with an obviously pasteboard view symbolizes Soviet duplicity. Scenes that ought to be suspenseful are put into flashbacks, so that you know in advance that the dangers were survived. Nicol Williamson makes the conflict between personal and patriotic loyalities look merely exasperating. Iman, as his black South African wife, is an extraordinary beauty and an appalling actress.
This isn't the first time Morley plays the icy gourmet whose feelings are all in his palate. But like the standard British spy picture, it's a fine job that ought not to be messed with.