Telefon (1977)

PG | 103 mins | Melodrama, Adventure | 16 December 1977

Director:

Don Siegel

Producer:

James B. Harris

Cinematographer:

Michael Butler

Editor:

Douglas Stewart

Production Designer:

Edward S. Haworth

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
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HISTORY

The lines from Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" that "Dalchimsky" recites to "activate" deep-cover Soviet agents are: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep."
       The 1 Dec 1976 Var reported that James B. Harris took over as Telefon ’s producer when Martin Elfand dropped out to accept an executive position at Warner Bros.
       The 15 Dec 1976 LAT said that Telefon —the Russian word for “telephone”—would use Helsinki, Finland, as a stand-in for Moscow and Leningrad, Russia. DV added on 7 Jan 1977 that the production would spend ten days in Helsinki and six days in Great Falls, MN, before returning to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios in Culver City, CA. Denver, CO, and San Francisco, CA, were also slated as locations. While in Helsinki, the 3 Feb 1977 DV noted, the production used many of Finland’s popular television and film stars. Filming began on 25 Jan 1977, according to the 7 Feb 1977 Box.
       Director Don Siegel filmed an eleven-minute uninterrupted take with three cameras at downtown Los Angeles’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with Charles Bronson and Lee Remick, according to the 23 Feb 1977 Var. The scene, which took a month of planning, covered seven and a half pages of dialogue as the two stars walked in the plaza, sat down and then ran to a phone booth to make two calls.
       As part of its multimedia promotion campaign for Telefon, United Artists established a toll free 800 TELEFON ... More Less

The lines from Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" that "Dalchimsky" recites to "activate" deep-cover Soviet agents are: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep."
       The 1 Dec 1976 Var reported that James B. Harris took over as Telefon ’s producer when Martin Elfand dropped out to accept an executive position at Warner Bros.
       The 15 Dec 1976 LAT said that Telefon —the Russian word for “telephone”—would use Helsinki, Finland, as a stand-in for Moscow and Leningrad, Russia. DV added on 7 Jan 1977 that the production would spend ten days in Helsinki and six days in Great Falls, MN, before returning to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios in Culver City, CA. Denver, CO, and San Francisco, CA, were also slated as locations. While in Helsinki, the 3 Feb 1977 DV noted, the production used many of Finland’s popular television and film stars. Filming began on 25 Jan 1977, according to the 7 Feb 1977 Box.
       Director Don Siegel filmed an eleven-minute uninterrupted take with three cameras at downtown Los Angeles’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with Charles Bronson and Lee Remick, according to the 23 Feb 1977 Var. The scene, which took a month of planning, covered seven and a half pages of dialogue as the two stars walked in the plaza, sat down and then ran to a phone booth to make two calls.
       As part of its multimedia promotion campaign for Telefon, United Artists established a toll free 800 TELEFON phone number for recorded information about the film, according to the 16 Nov 1977 HR. In the movie, phone calls were used to activate deep-cover Russian saboteurs. Fans made 130,000 calls in three days before the Bell System ended the promotion because of problems with long distance service, said the 21 Dec 1977 Var.
       According to the United Artists press book for Telefon, Don Siegel and Charles Bronson were treated as front-page newsmakers in Finland. There was even a retrospective of Siegel’s films at a major film theater in Helsinki. But Izvestia, the Russian news agency, denounced the film and the Finns’ devotion to the director and star, as well as Telefon ’s expense ($7 million) and Bronson’s high salary ($1.5 million). The press book also reported that one of the film’s early scenes—a massive explosion at an army base—was shot in MN at a former junior high school that was already scheduled for demolition; Controlled Demolition, Inc., a Baltimore, MD, company, aided by MGM special effects experts, set off several fire bombs as dynamite toppled the main building. Eight movie cameras caught the action.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
7 Feb 1977.
---
Daily Variety
7 Jan 1977.
---
Daily Variety
3 Feb 1977.
---
Daily Variety
16 Nov 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Dec 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Dec 1977
p. 3, 21.
Los Angeles Times
15 Dec 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Dec 1977
p. 25.
New York Times
17 Dec 1977
p. 20.
Variety
1 Dec 1976.
---
Variety
23 Feb 1977.
---
Variety
14 Dec 1977
p. 12.
Variety
21 Dec 1977.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Siegel film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
Asst dir
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Key grip
Gaffer
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
Miss Remick's costumes
Men`s cost
Women`s cost
MUSIC
Mus ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Titles and opticals
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Assoc to Don Siegel
Scr supv
Casting
Unit pub
Finnish liaison
Asst to the prod
STAND INS
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Color by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Telefon by Walter Wager (New York, 1975)
excerpts from "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem (New York, 1969).
DETAILS
Release Date:
16 December 1977
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 16 Dec 1977
Production Date:
began 25 Jan 1977
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Copyright Date:
16 December 1977
Copyright Number:
LP50173
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Panaflex® camera and lenses by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
103
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On 10 January, after Soviet police smash their way into Nicolai Dalchimsky’s Moscow apartment, the leading officer steps into a car outside and reports to Gen. Strelsky that Dalchimsky has disappeared. The general responds, “God help us!” A day later, in Denver, Colorado, Harry Bascomb gets a call at his gas station. The caller, Dalchimsky, recites several lines from a Robert Frost poem. Bascomb sets down the phone, gets a box from a storage area and places it behind the front bumper of his truck. He drives to a nearby army installation and crashes into a building. A week later, on 18 January, at Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Russian analyst Dorothy Putterman tells her boss, Harley Sandburg, that she has uncovered a rash of “accidental” deaths of two dozen Communist Party leaders opposed to the Soviet Premier’s new détente with the West. Sandburg has more pressing worries: A Colorado gas station owner inexplicably drove his truck into a low-level army base and blew up a storage building where nerve gas had once been stored. The act becomes more mysterious when Sandburg learns that the saboteur had been living for years under the identity of a dead man. Two days later, on 20 January, Carl Hassler, an Apalachicola, Florida, air charter operator, receives a call, sets down the phone, gets a box out of a storage area and carries it to his helicopter. As Hassler flies directly into a naval communications station’s restricted airspace, a naval gunner shoots him down. Later, Dalchimsky goes to a television store to watch the news on several stations, but when all the newscasters report the crash as an accident, he ... +


On 10 January, after Soviet police smash their way into Nicolai Dalchimsky’s Moscow apartment, the leading officer steps into a car outside and reports to Gen. Strelsky that Dalchimsky has disappeared. The general responds, “God help us!” A day later, in Denver, Colorado, Harry Bascomb gets a call at his gas station. The caller, Dalchimsky, recites several lines from a Robert Frost poem. Bascomb sets down the phone, gets a box from a storage area and places it behind the front bumper of his truck. He drives to a nearby army installation and crashes into a building. A week later, on 18 January, at Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Russian analyst Dorothy Putterman tells her boss, Harley Sandburg, that she has uncovered a rash of “accidental” deaths of two dozen Communist Party leaders opposed to the Soviet Premier’s new détente with the West. Sandburg has more pressing worries: A Colorado gas station owner inexplicably drove his truck into a low-level army base and blew up a storage building where nerve gas had once been stored. The act becomes more mysterious when Sandburg learns that the saboteur had been living for years under the identity of a dead man. Two days later, on 20 January, Carl Hassler, an Apalachicola, Florida, air charter operator, receives a call, sets down the phone, gets a box out of a storage area and carries it to his helicopter. As Hassler flies directly into a naval communications station’s restricted airspace, a naval gunner shoots him down. Later, Dalchimsky goes to a television store to watch the news on several stations, but when all the newscasters report the crash as an accident, he storms out and makes a phone call to Akron, Ohio. On 24 January, Maj. Grigori Borzov is summoned to KGB headquarters in Moscow, where Gen. Strelsky and Col. Malchenko explain to him that an old operation called Telefon has been reactivated. “Who is the most secret agent?” the general asks, then answers himself: “An agent who doesn’t know he’s an agent.” To demonstrate, Strelsky calls his steward, Dmitri, into the office to order tea. When he tells Dmitri, “Cleopatra says there will be snow from the east,” the young officer reaches into a compartment in the desk, pulls out an empty pistol and clicks the trigger at every person in the room, including himself. Afterward, Col. Malchenko explains to Borzov that the agents in America were chosen from the KGB academy’s best English speakers, programmed—like the steward—with drug-induced hypnosis and given the identities of recently deceased Americans. Once put into “deep cover,” they established their lives in the United States without realizing who they were, innocently awaiting the “signal”—the lines from Robert Frost’s poem coupled with their Russian first name—if the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. went to war. But then, Malchenko explains, Party leadership changed and détente warmed Russia's relations with the West. The few KGB officers aware of Telefon kept the agents in place and never told the Central Committee about them. Now, there are fifty-one surviving agents in America, and a rogue KGB employee, Dalchimsky, is activating them. Borzov’s mission is to commit the agents’ names, targets and all personal information to his photographic memory, go to America and stop Dalchimsky. Meanwhile, at Langley, Sandburg shows Putterman a metal object found in the remains of the helicopter that attacked a naval station. She identifies it as an N-O 9 Russian trigger mechanism, long out of date. Sandburg says the pilot, like the Colorado tow truck driver, had been living under an assumed identity. In Calgary, Canada, Borzov is met at the airport by his “wife,” Russian agent Barbara. They drive through customs into Minnesota without incident and check into a motel, where Borzov tells Barbara she answers only to him now, and if she contacts her boss or anyone else, he will kill her. While Borzov takes a shower, Barbara finds several identification cards in his wallet for “Gregg Taylor” and a photo of Dalchimsky, who Barbara does not recognize. The two keep an uneasy peace. Barbara is talkative, Borzov taciturn. As he pores over newspapers, she notices his power of recall. Suddenly Borzov comes alive when a television bulletin announces that Father Diller, a priest in Los Angeles, blew up a telephone center before guards critically wounded him. The two Russians fly to Los Angeles, where Borzov says he must kill Diller before he wakes up. But at the hospital, when Borzov can’t get past FBI security, he orders Barbara to disguise herself as a nurse and inject Diller with air to induce an embolism. In Moscow, on 29 January, Strelsky tells Malchenko that keeping Telefon’s existence from the Premier will require that Barbara kill Borzov as soon as Borzov kills Dalchimsky. That same day, in Los Angeles, Barbara has prepared a poison-laced glass of orange juice for Borzov because she thinks he has already completed his mission with Diller’s death, but she drops the juice harmlessly on the floor when Borzov tells her that his real target is a man named Dalchimsky. Meanwhile, in Cambridge, New Mexico, housewife Marie Wills gets a call. She drives to a remote gas production facility, digs up a box with a detonation device, destroys dozens of gas tanks, and then calmly puts a cyanide pill in her mouth. Later, at Langley, Sandburg tells Putterman that a woman destroyed a gas field and killed herself with a Russian “K-3 capsule” that the KGB hasn’t used in twenty years. Sandburg has a name for Putterman to run through her computer: Nicolai Dalchimsky. Putterman reports back that Dalchimsky is in the KGB’s document section. In Los Angeles, Borzov, searching for patterns in Dalchimsky’s order of phone calls, figures out that Dalchimsky is spelling his name across America with the agents’ home towns: Denver, Apalachicola, Akron, Los Angeles, Cambridge. When Barbara asks why two cities that begin with the letter "A," Borzov reasons that the Florida agent didn’t count because he didn't reach his target. Since the next letter is H, Dalchimsky will be calling either Halderman or Houston, both in Texas. First Borzov calls the agent in Halderman, but the man’s wife says he’s fishing and she doesn’t know when he’ll be back. That leaves Houston, where agent Martin Callender is a hotel executive. Borzov and Barbara fly to Houston, rent a car and drive to the hotel. Barbara stays in the car outside. Barely missing Callender, Borzov is told that the manager received a phone call and left. Borzov hurries to the basement garage. Outside, Barbara calls Sandburg at CIA headquarters, revealing that she is a double agent and explaining how Sandburg knows about Dalchimsky. Sandburg tells Barbara that as soon as Borzov kills Dalchimsky, she must kill him. As Barbara returns to the car, she sees Dalchimsky parked across the street, watching the hotel. By the time Borzov reaches the hotel's underground garage, Callender has loaded a box into his car and crashed into the side of another car while driving off, igniting its gasoline tank. Borzov shoots Callender in the head moments before the cars explode. Outside, Dalchimsky hears the explosion and leaves, despite Barbara's attempt to stop him by sideswiping his car. Now that Borzov knows Halderman is Dalchimsky’s next stop, he and Barbara charter a private jet and arrive there early. They enter Doug’s Dougout, a beer and chili bar with rattlesnakes displayed in a glass enclosure, and sit down to wait for Doug to return. Soon Doug arrives with a trout and goes out back to gut it. Borzov and Barbara follow and ask Doug about fishing. When Borzov recites the poem and adds Doug’s Russian name, the agent begins unloading dynamite from a storage locker. Unable to break Doug’s hypnotic trance with an order to stop, Borzov strangles him. Moments later, Dalchimsky arrives calling Doug’s name. Borzov, who is unknown to Dalchimsky, answers, but before he can get Dalchimsky close enough to kill him, two deputies who were eating chili inside come looking for Doug and ask Borzov where he is. Tipped off, Dalchimsky follows the deputies back inside and slips into the phone booth, where he begins making phone calls. To distract the other bar patrons, including the deputies, Barbara upsets the rattlesnake display. It crashes to the floor, freeing the snakes. In the confusion, as the deputies shoot the rattlers, Borzov pushes the phone booth door open, chokes Dalchimsky and stuffs a cyanide pill into his mouth. Outside, Barbara is wondering whether she should now kill Borzov, but when he tells her to get into the car, she smiles. Later, the two are in a phone booth, calling Sandburg at the CIA. Borzov assures Sandburg that Dalchimsky is dead. Borzov won’t reveal the identity of the rest of the agents because they’re harmless now that Dalchimsky is gone, but if the CIA comes after him and Barbara, phones will start ringing again. Barbara has already given the same message to the KGB. As Borzov hangs up, he and Barbara embrace and kiss.
+

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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