The Thrill of Détente
Having made my first ventures to the cinema in the days of Glasnost, my memories of the aesthetics of détente are very much those of a depressing and integrated spectacle: Yanks and Russkis brought together to tame the Ay-rab enemy, in Iron Eagle II, or showing Soviet muscle-bound discipline and good ol’ American maverick can-do joining forces against crime, like the to-be-Gubernator and James Belushi in Red Heat.
But the pre-Reagan détente produced a rather odd and charming genre-of-one, Don Siegel’s ‘détente thriller’ Telefon, which I was lucky enough to see recently. With an obsessively malicious Don Pleasance as a rogue Stalinist agent dead set on unleashing a formidable array of ‘sleepers’ on the US (there is one sublime moment, captured above, where he appears in a disguise that resembles nothing to so much as a peroxyded Guy Debord), Tyne Daly as the probability-obsessed friend of the machines (clunky statistical ‘super-computers') who repeatedly upstages her patronising CIA bosses and Charles Bronson’s impassive Soviet Beruf playing off of Lee Remick’s chatty double-agent, this is a peculiarly entertaining film – not least in an innuendo ending (innuending?) that doesn’t take the great power rapprochement as an excuse to reinforce authority, but to evade it. (The film, as far as I know, also contains the first truck bomb attack on an American military establishment, 5 years before Beirut – see the trailer below.)