The Human Factor (1979)

R | 116 mins | Drama | 18 December 1979

Director:

Otto Preminger

Writer:

Tom Stoppard

Producer:

Otto Preminger

Cinematographer:

Mike Malloy

Editor:

Richard Trevor

Production Designer:

Ken Ryan

Production Company:

Wheel Productions, Ltd.
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HISTORY


       As announced in a 13 Mar 1978 NYT brief, producer-director Otto Preminger acquired screen rights to Graham Greene’s novel, The Human Factor, a month after publication, reportedly for $300,000. Preminger stated in a 6 Mar 1978 DV item that he was not concerned about changing the title to avoid confusion with the recent film directed by Edward Dmytryk, also called The Human Factor (1975, see entry).
       Greene indicated in a 24 Jun 1979 LAT interview that the character of “Maurice Castle” was loosely based on Kim Philby, a British intelligence officer, whom Greene worked with during World War II. Although Philby was discovered to be a spy for the Soviet Union, Greene reflected sympathy for the agent. Preminger initially asked Greene to write the screen adaptation, but the novelist was reluctant to revisit the story, explaining that “going over the same ground [was] tedious.” Noted playwright Tom Stoppard, who had experience adapting material for television and film, was hired instead.
       As Preminger revealed in LAT articles from 4 May 1978 and 24 Jun 1979, Richard Burton was one of the first actors approached for a leading role, and Michael Caine reportedly turned down the part of Castle due to the tax burden of working in England. The film marked the feature film debut of the Somali model-actress, Iman.
       According to a 15 Nov 1979 DV article, the thirteen-week shooting schedule began 30 May 1979 in England. As outlined in production notes in AMPAS library files, locations included Berkhamsted, the actual town where Graham Greene spent ... More Less


       As announced in a 13 Mar 1978 NYT brief, producer-director Otto Preminger acquired screen rights to Graham Greene’s novel, The Human Factor, a month after publication, reportedly for $300,000. Preminger stated in a 6 Mar 1978 DV item that he was not concerned about changing the title to avoid confusion with the recent film directed by Edward Dmytryk, also called The Human Factor (1975, see entry).
       Greene indicated in a 24 Jun 1979 LAT interview that the character of “Maurice Castle” was loosely based on Kim Philby, a British intelligence officer, whom Greene worked with during World War II. Although Philby was discovered to be a spy for the Soviet Union, Greene reflected sympathy for the agent. Preminger initially asked Greene to write the screen adaptation, but the novelist was reluctant to revisit the story, explaining that “going over the same ground [was] tedious.” Noted playwright Tom Stoppard, who had experience adapting material for television and film, was hired instead.
       As Preminger revealed in LAT articles from 4 May 1978 and 24 Jun 1979, Richard Burton was one of the first actors approached for a leading role, and Michael Caine reportedly turned down the part of Castle due to the tax burden of working in England. The film marked the feature film debut of the Somali model-actress, Iman.
       According to a 15 Nov 1979 DV article, the thirteen-week shooting schedule began 30 May 1979 in England. As outlined in production notes in AMPAS library files, locations included Berkhamsted, the actual town where Graham Greene spent his childhood; a Victorian house in London, which represented the headquarters of British Intelligence; and an estate in Shropshire, England, the setting for the pheasant shoot. The South African sequences were shot in Nairobi, Kenya, and the nearby village of Dagoretti. Castle’s Moscow apartment was filmed on soundstages at Shepperton Studios, near London.
       In a 13 Dec 1979 LAT article, Preminger claimed that The Human Factor was his first picture financed outside a major Hollywood studio, but he also expressed regret about that decision, as indicated in 20 Feb 1980 Var article. While the production was shooting in Kenya, reports surfaced that the film’s private backers had reneged on the $7.5 million project, leaving Preminger, as producer, with millions in expenses to cover. Upon returning to London, he held a “defiant press conference,” as described in a 22 Aug 1979 DV article, to explain the situation and denounce the negligent financiers, who were contracted to deliver the funds by 20 Mar 1979. While the identity of the backers was not specified, Preminger revealed the three investors, based in the U.S., France, and Belgium, allegedly had ties to funds in Saudi Arabia. To complete the film, the budget was trimmed to $5.5 million and Preminger contributed $2.5 million of his own money, by selling his house on the French Riviera and part of his art collection, including original paintings by Henri Matisse. Although another private investor expressed interest, an agreement was never reached, and Preminger remained the sole financier, through his companies Wheel Productions, Ltd. and Sigma Productions Inc.
       The 15 Nov 1979 DV article speculated whether distribution advances helped resolve the financial trouble. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. (MGM) acquired domestic rights for release through their distributor, United Artists Corp., but engagements were only booked in New York City and Los Angeles, CA, where the film opened 18 Dec 1979 to qualify for Academy Award consideration. The Rank Organisation purchased rights for the UK and the territories of Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, and Holland, according to a 12 Feb 1980 HR article.
       Meanwhile, several cast and crew, as well as production support companies, had yet to be fully paid for their services. British Equity took legal action to collect approximately $350,000 in cast salaries, including those of stars Derek Jacobi, Richard Attenborough, Robert Morley, and Nicol Williamson. The union succeeded in obtaining a court order banning the film’s distribution in the U.K., which was lifted once a settlement was reached, stipulating that any worldwide box-office revenue would first be paid into a special creditors account before Preminger received earnings. According to a 28 Jan 1984 Screen International article, the film failed to gross enough to satisfy the debts, and Preminger continued to be pursued by creditors five years after the film’s release.
       The Human Factor was Preminger’s final feature as director and producer. While several critics dismissed the film for its “static” staging and overall blandness, the 8 Feb 1980 NYT review, in spite of “reservations” about the awkward photography and flashback sequences, praised the picture as “one of the best Preminger films in years.”
      End credits include the following statement: “Filmed in Technicolor® and Panavision® at Shepperton and Pinewood Studios and on location in England and Kenya.”

              The last name of director of photography Mike Molloy is misspelled in the end credits as “Malloy.” More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
6 Mar 1978.
---
Daily Variety
22 Aug 1979.
---
Daily Variety
15 Nov 1979
p., 1, 22.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Dec 1979
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Feb 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 May 1978
Section G, p. 19.
Los Angeles Times
24 Jun 1979
Section N, pp. 42-43.
Los Angeles Times
13 Dec 1979
Section F, p. 33.
Los Angeles Times
19 Dec 1979
Section G, p. 28.
New York Times
13 Mar 1978
Section C, p. 19.
New York Times
8 Feb 1980
p. 8.
Screen International
28 Jan 1984
p, 2, 38.
Variety
19 Dec 1979
p. 19.
Variety
20 Feb 1980
p. 5, 38.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Otto Preminger Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Chief elec
Still photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATOR
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Arr by
SOUND
Dubbing ed
Dubbing ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles by
DANCE
Dance arr
MAKEUP
Hair
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Cont
Loc mgr, Kenya
COLOR PERSONNEL
[Col by]
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Human Factor by Graham Greene (London, 1978).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
18 December 1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 18 December 1979
New York opening: 8 February 1980
Production Date:
30 May -- late August 1979 in England and Kenya
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Film Company
Copyright Date:
19 June 1980
Copyright Number:
PA71852
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Filmed in Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
116
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25857
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In London, England, Maurice Castle methodically works at a mid-level desk job in the British foreign intelligence service, known as MI6, where he deals with African security matters. At home, he leads a quiet family life in the suburbs of Berkamsted with his wife Sarah Mankosi, a black South African, whom Castle met seven years ago while stationed in Pretoria, South Africa. He is also a devoted stepfather to Sam, Sarah’s young son from a previous relationship. One day, Colonel John Daintry, who runs MI6 internal security, questions Castle as part of a routine inquiry and reminds him not to remove work papers from the office. Upon inspection of Castle’s briefcase, Daintry only finds the book Huckleberry Finn and a list of items to pick up for Sam and Sarah. That night at home, Castle tells his wife that the agency should trust him after so many years in service. Later, Sir John Hargreaves, the head of MI6 intelligence, convenes a clandestine meeting at his country estate with Daintry and Doctor Percival, a senior medical official in the agency. Hargreaves reveals that one of their informants in the Soviet government has discovered an information leak to the Russians, likely emanating from MI6’s Africa section. While the financial information being passed appears to be insignificant, the exposure of a spy scandal could be humiliating for the agency. Evaluating possible suspects, Daintry believes Castle, a “dullish fellow,” is innocent, but wants to place a tighter security check on his colleague, Arthur Davis, who enjoys an extravagant bachelor lifestyle. Additionally, Daintry caught Davis taking a report out of the ... +


In London, England, Maurice Castle methodically works at a mid-level desk job in the British foreign intelligence service, known as MI6, where he deals with African security matters. At home, he leads a quiet family life in the suburbs of Berkamsted with his wife Sarah Mankosi, a black South African, whom Castle met seven years ago while stationed in Pretoria, South Africa. He is also a devoted stepfather to Sam, Sarah’s young son from a previous relationship. One day, Colonel John Daintry, who runs MI6 internal security, questions Castle as part of a routine inquiry and reminds him not to remove work papers from the office. Upon inspection of Castle’s briefcase, Daintry only finds the book Huckleberry Finn and a list of items to pick up for Sam and Sarah. That night at home, Castle tells his wife that the agency should trust him after so many years in service. Later, Sir John Hargreaves, the head of MI6 intelligence, convenes a clandestine meeting at his country estate with Daintry and Doctor Percival, a senior medical official in the agency. Hargreaves reveals that one of their informants in the Soviet government has discovered an information leak to the Russians, likely emanating from MI6’s Africa section. While the financial information being passed appears to be insignificant, the exposure of a spy scandal could be humiliating for the agency. Evaluating possible suspects, Daintry believes Castle, a “dullish fellow,” is innocent, but wants to place a tighter security check on his colleague, Arthur Davis, who enjoys an extravagant bachelor lifestyle. Additionally, Daintry caught Davis taking a report out of the office. Swayed by Daintry’s opinion, Hargreaves and Dr. Percival discuss how to proceed if Davis is confirmed as the traitor. Shocked that the two men contemplate killing Davis to avoid a trial or inquiry, Daintry reminds his superiors that he has not confirmed whether Davis is guilty. Meanwhile, Castle goes to a bookshop and tells Halliday, the owner, that he is enjoying reading Huckleberry Finn, but would like to tackle War and Peace next. Later, at the office, Hargreaves informs Castle that Cornelius Muller, who works with South African State Security, will be visiting London to discuss a highly classified operation called “Uncle Remus” and requests that Castle show Muller certain files as a gesture of cooperation. Although Castle agrees, he is reluctant based on a thorny encounter he had with Muller while stationed in South Africa. Meanwhile, Davis is baffled after he is summoned for a medical check-up with Dr. Percival and advised to curb his alcohol consumption. Tired of his London desk job, Davis hopes the examination is an indication that he is being considered for a foreign post, but he becomes irritated by the doctor’s unwarranted concern for his health. Dr. Percival is also tracking Davis’ routine and reports to Hargreaves that the agent informed the office he was at the dentist one morning, but instead appeared at the zoo, carrying a report. Convinced of Davis’ guilt, the scheming doctor states that he is working on a poison that will ensure a quiet death. Castle and Davis, who have become friends while sharing their small office space, detect signs of internal surveillance and confide in each other. Castle notices that Davis’ home telephone is tapped, while Davis senses that he is being following during an innocent romantic rendezvous at the zoo. As Castle greets Muller at MI6 headquarters, he thinks back to their first meeting seven years ago in South Africa when Muller and the local police reprimanded him for having an interracial romance, which was a criminal offense in the country. While his diplomatic privileges protected him, Sarah was in danger of being arrested. On the suggestion of Hargreaves, Castle invites Muller to his house for dinner and introduces him to his wife. Displaying no signs of his previous bigotry, the South African now toasts the couple. During the evening, Muller mentions that Matthew Connolly, who was one of Castle’s acquaintances in South Africa, died in prison while serving a sentence for being a communist spy. Castle appears disturbed by the news and remembers when Connolly introduced him to Sarah on the outskirts of Pretoria. Soon afterward, Castle and Sarah became lovers, sneaking around hotels. When the South African police discovered the affair, Sarah went into hiding, and Connolly offered to smuggle her out of the country. Although Castle was not a communist sympathizer, he was grateful to Connolly for saving Sarah and agreed to leak information to the Russians. Since Connolly is now dead, Castle feels relieved of the debt and meets with Boris, his Russian contact in London, to announce that he wants to cease being an informant. Castle is worried about the consequences for Sarah and Sam if his treason is discovered, but Boris assures him the Russians have an escape plan in place for the entire family. Meanwhile, Dr. Percival claims to have an essential piece of evidence implicating Davis and receives authorization from Hargreaves to poison the agent. When Castle learns that his colleague has passed away at home, he rushes to Davis’ apartment and is told by Dr. Percival that Davis was drinking too much and died from cirrhosis of the liver. Frightened by the thought that MI6 might have killed Davis, Castle uses War and Peace to create a coded message for the Russians restating that he wants to sever all connections. Later, on the day of Davis’ funeral, Castle is unexpectedly summoned to a top-level meeting where he learns that the “Uncle Remus” operation is an alliance, involving Britain and the U.S., to curb communism in South Africa. Unsympathetic to the apartheid South African government that tried to keep him and Sarah apart, Castle resolves to send one more dispatch and apprise the Russians about the Uncle Remus strategy. At home, Castle confesses to Sarah that he has been a Soviet agent for the last seven years as payment for her escape from South Africa and that he just communicated a valuable secret to the Russians that places them in greater jeopardy. Since Davis is dead, MI6 security will suspect the leak originated from him. Castle instructs his wife to pretend they quarreled and go with Sam to his mother’s house. Understanding the predicament and her husband’s principles, Sarah cooperates. Meanwhile, Muller advises Hargreaves that Castle acted strangely upon learning of Connolly’s death and, considering his communist connections in South Africa, was in a better position to leak information than Davis. After following up on Muller’s suspicions, Daintry confirms that Castle is the traitor and shouts at Dr. Percival for killing the wrong man. As MI6 security closes in, the Russians send one of their London associates, the bookshop owner Halliday, to escort Castle to a safe hotel where he is given a fake passport and a disguise before boarding a flight that will eventually take him to Moscow, Russia. There, in a stark apartment, Castle anxiously awaits news of his family’s arrival and is distraught when Boris notifies him that there are difficulties smuggling Sarah and Sam out of England. Castle is also irritated to learn that the Russians deliberately leaked the existence of his reports back to MI6 simply to give the appearance that the British had a reliable spy in the Soviet government. The actual information in Castle’s reports was never useful to the Russians. Castle finally reaches Sarah on the telephone. After declaring his love, the line goes dead and Castle collapses, devastated over their seemingly insurmountable separation. +

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

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