Richard Burton, more intensely sad than I’ve ever seen him, is a spymaster-turned-spy, quitting British intelligence and hanging out with cute librarian Claire Bloom (The Haunting), but actually getting coached by Smiley (“just continue to be embittered, continue to drink”) in the hopes of being picked up by the Germans.
Took me a while to realize that they’d crossed into Germany. It’s established that Burton is fluent in German, but nobody speaks German in the movie, and even accents are rare… they simply keep speaking English, asking the viewer to imagine that it’s German. On the other side, the East Germans all act like they know Burton’s whole deal, but they’re plotting against each other and Burton intends to inflame their rivalry. Oskar “Jules” Werner is the black leather cap-wearing ambitious second in command to 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse star Peter van Eyck. As power and loyalties shift, I’m not sure that even Burton knows if the plot has gone off the rails, but apparently free and victorious at the end, he gets himself killed over the girl, leaving Smiley (Rupert Davies) and Control (Cyril Cusack, pathetic husband in Gone to Earth) needing to find a new sad drunken spy.