CHARLES BRONSON.....Grigori Borzov
DONALD PLEASENCE.....Nicolai Dalchimsky
TYNE DALY.....Dorothy Putterman
ALAN BADEL.....Colonel Malchenko
PATRICK MAGEE.....General Strelsky
SHEREE NORTH.....Marie Wills
Directed by DON SIEGEL
Written by PETER HYAMS and STIRLING SILLIPHANT
Produced by JAMES B. HARRIS
REVIEW BY GENE SISKEL
The best three scenes in Telefon involve two explosions and a diamondback rattlesnake on the loose. And that should tell you that Telefon is an action picture, a fairly good action picture directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, among many good others).
Charles Bronson, in typical tight-lipped-Charlie fashion, plays a Russian intelligence officer given a strange mission: kill 51 deepcover Russian agents now living in the United States. According to this fictitious script, 15 years ago, following the U-2 American spy plane incident, the Russians decided to send into the United States a bunch of agents who will respond to posthypnotic suggestion. When given the proper command these agents will take hidden explosives and move immediately to blow up a critical American military and communications facility.
And what is the agents' command? Hearing their Russian name and the following words from the Robert Frost poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I've got promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep.
As Telefon begins that plan is 15 years and a couple of Russian premiers old. The plan has long been scrapped in the name of detente by the Russian intelligence agency, the KGB, but, wouldn't you know it, one wierdo agent found out about the plan and now is in the United States trying to activate all 54 agents.
Telefon opens with the wierdo agent (Donald Pleasence, who can play a demented man better than just about anyone) triggering three of the agents. They blow up their targets, and suddenly the KGB is afraid that the spectacle of 54 Russian-generated explosions might trip World War III.
So, as the CIA tries to figure out and combat what's going on, the KGB assigns one of its own officers (Charles Bronson) to bump off either Donald Pleasence or the 51 remaining agents. In effect, Bronson is involved in a race against time and 51 walking time bombs.
Now, you might be thinking that Pleasence would be unstoppable. After all, all he has to do is sit in some hotel room in a foreign country and place 51 phone calls, read the poem to each of the remaining 51 agents, and wait for 51 explosions. Of course if that's what Pleasence did, Telefon would take about 51 minutes and would end with a nuclear war.
Admittedly, that might be a very funny movie---if you don't mind listening to some one dial 51 international long distance calls ---but that's not what happens in Telefon.
Like most movie villains, Donald Pleasence has a flaw, the most common flaw of most movie criminals: a tremendous ego.
Pleasence, bless his dastardly little heart, wants to see in person each one of the agents do his or her dirty deed. That's why he ventures, for example, to a Colorado hilltop to see secret agent Sheree North (a fine actress not used enough in Hollywood) leave her home in a bathrobe after receiving Pleasence's poem-filled phone call, drive to a power installation, and blow it to flaming smithereens.
There's one other key character in the film. That's a Russian agent played by Lee Remick (another fine actress also little used in major movies). Her assignment from the Russians is to assist Bronson and then kill him, but, wouldn't you know it, she falls for the guy. Well, listen, nobody said Telefon was anything but a well-made routine spy thriller.
Director Siegel is at his best giving us a series of strong action scenes in a variety of solidly typical American locations: a Holiday Inn; a fancy Hyatt hotel with its space-age elevators; a rural Texas bar.
Telefon is by no means a great picture---just solid action held together by a string of explosions. In other words, it's a good movie to eat popcorn by.