The Little Drummer Girl (1984)

R | 130 mins | Drama | 19 October 1984

Director:

George Roy Hill

Writer:

Loring Mandel

Producer:

Robert L. Crawford

Cinematographer:

Wolfgang Treu

Production Designer:

Henry Bumstead

Production Companies:

Warner Bros. Pictures , Pan Arts
Full page view
HISTORY

On 24 Mar 1983, a NYT article announced that Warner Bros. Pictures would adapt John Le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl into a feature film. After publication in Feb 1983, the novel topped the NYT best-seller list for sixteen consecutive weeks, according to production notes in AMPAS library files. Warner Bros. revealed that the studio had been “‘tracking’” the book for four years, when Le Carré began researching the story. A deal to acquire screen rights was underway by Oct 1982, and the NYT article speculated that the price was “at least $750,000.” George Roy Hill was set to direct. As mentioned in a 3 Nov 1983 LAT article, Hill and his production company, Pan Arts, pursued the project while the book was in manuscript form.
       During development, husband and wife authors, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion, were approached to write the screenplay and met with George Roy Hill in Dec 1982 to discuss general ideas about the adaptation. Dunne recounted the experience in detail for an Aug 1983 Esquire magazine article and explained that the couple wanted a guaranteed $300,000 to complete a first draft, while Hill offered $250,000. By the end of 1982, the deal had collapsed since neither side was willing to compromise over the $50,000 difference. Soon afterward, Loring Mandel was hired as screenwriter.
       A 13 Oct 1983 LAT item revealed that Le Carré’s first choice to play the lead role of “Charlie” was his half-sister, British actress Charlotte Cornwell. The author claimed the character was “loosely based” on ... More Less

On 24 Mar 1983, a NYT article announced that Warner Bros. Pictures would adapt John Le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl into a feature film. After publication in Feb 1983, the novel topped the NYT best-seller list for sixteen consecutive weeks, according to production notes in AMPAS library files. Warner Bros. revealed that the studio had been “‘tracking’” the book for four years, when Le Carré began researching the story. A deal to acquire screen rights was underway by Oct 1982, and the NYT article speculated that the price was “at least $750,000.” George Roy Hill was set to direct. As mentioned in a 3 Nov 1983 LAT article, Hill and his production company, Pan Arts, pursued the project while the book was in manuscript form.
       During development, husband and wife authors, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion, were approached to write the screenplay and met with George Roy Hill in Dec 1982 to discuss general ideas about the adaptation. Dunne recounted the experience in detail for an Aug 1983 Esquire magazine article and explained that the couple wanted a guaranteed $300,000 to complete a first draft, while Hill offered $250,000. By the end of 1982, the deal had collapsed since neither side was willing to compromise over the $50,000 difference. Soon afterward, Loring Mandel was hired as screenwriter.
       A 13 Oct 1983 LAT item revealed that Le Carré’s first choice to play the lead role of “Charlie” was his half-sister, British actress Charlotte Cornwell. The author claimed the character was “loosely based” on her life, while the 10 Oct 1984 Var review suggested actress Vanessa Redgrave, a supporter of Palestinian rights, was the inspiration. In the novel, Charlie is a twenty-something English woman, but director Hill adapted the role for Diane Keaton, transforming the character into an American, who is approaching middle age and is disappointed that her acting career in England has never taken off. As Hill noted in a 14 Oct 1984 NYT article, the change helped to “isolate [Charlie] even more from the European community.” A 7 Sep 1983 HR brief reported that Klaus Kinski faced competition from actors Roy Scheider and Frederick Forrest for the role of “Joseph.” However, Kinski was cast as “Kurtz,” the senior Israeli agent. The actor mentioned in a 29 Jul 1984 LAT interview that there was some concern in the Jewish community about him playing the part, since he was often cast as a villain, which might cause audiences to dislike his character and the Israeli position. Reportedly, Hill was urged to replace Kinski, but the director remained firm about his choice. John Le Carré makes a cameo appearance in the film as the “Commander,” and is credited under his real name, David Cornwell.
       Production costs were cited as $20 million in a 21 Jun 1983 HR item, while a 5 Nov 1983 NYT article estimated the budget at $12 million.
       According to production notes, principal photography began 16 Sep 1983. The four month-shooting schedule took place in the following locations: Munich, West Germany and the nearby Bavaria Atelier Studios; the Greek island of Mykonos; the Acropolis in Athens, Greece; Israel; and London, England.
       Because the Israeli location work involved “a sensitive subject” for both Arabs and Jews, Warner Bros. attempted to maintain a low-profile in the country and imposed a “publicity blackout” during the twelve-day shoot, prohibiting interviews and press on set. However, several articles including the 3 Nov and 6 Nov 1983 LAT and the 5 Nov 1983 NYT conducted interviews in Israel and reported on the controversy surrounding the production, which began with the publication of the novel. Certain Jewish groups found Le Carré’s portrayal of Palestinians too sympathetic, while Arab groups criticized his representation of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters as “wooden.” The filmmakers wanted to shoot the Lebanon/PLO camp scenes in Jordan, but that government considered the novel and script “anti-Arab” and refused permission. The Israeli government maintained a more open policy toward location filming and did not interfere with the production, but did not necessarily offer their full cooperation or use of their military. A local production company, Israfilm, facilitated filming in the country. Cast and crew visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but spent the majority of time in a desert area of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. There, they used an existing Palestinian refugee camp and a site known as Ein Kelt to represent Lebanon and the PLO training camp. When the art department painted PLO signage on set, the action reportedly angered the Israeli military since the PLO flag is banned in the country.
       When The Little Drummer Girl was released, director George Roy Hill commented in the 14 Oct 1984 NYT that the film was primarily a suspense story and tries to remain faithful to the book’s “even-handed” approach to Israeli-Palestinian politics. Critics agreed that the picture succeeded in maintaining neutrality, but failed to translate the character motivations of the novel, and transformed the convoluted plot into “the most mechanical kind of suspense,” as noted in the 19 Oct 1984 LAT. Several reviews, such as that in the 19 Oct 1984 NYT, suggested the story would have been better suited to a mini-series format and cited the example of the BBC’s critically-acclaimed 1979 television adaptation of Le Carré’s spy novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
       End credits include the acknowledgment: “With special thanks to Janet Stevens 1950-1983”; and the statement: “Filmed on location in West Germany, Greece, Lebanon, Israel, England, at Lee International Studios in London and at Bavaria Studios in Munich.” More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Esquire
Aug 1983
pp. 99-103.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jun 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Sep 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Oct 1984
p. 3, 27.
Los Angeles Times
13 Oct 1983
Section I, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
3 Nov 1983
Section I, p. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times
6 Nov 1983
Section U, p. 20.
Los Angeles Times
29 Jul 1984
Section T, pp. 20-22.
Los Angeles Times
19 Oct 1984
Section J, p. 1, 18.
New York Times
24 Mar 1983
Section C, p. 23.
New York Times
5 Nov 1983
Section L, p. 17.
New York Times
14 Oct 1984
Section H, p. 1, 21.
New York Times
19 Oct 1984
p. 18.
Variety
10 Oct 1984
p. 12.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Starring:
Co-starring:
Israeli Team:
Theatre Company:
Munich Apartment:
[and]
Palestinian Cause:
Elisabeth Neumann-Viertel
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Warner Bros. Pictures A Warner Communications Company Presents
A Pan Arts Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Prod mgr Germany
Prod mgr 2d unit
Prod mgr Beirut
Prod mgr Greece
Prod mgr Israel
Prod mgr England
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam 2d unit
Gaffer
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir Greece
Art dir Israel
Art dir England
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Set dresser Germany
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Diane Keaton's cost
MUSIC
SOUND
Re-rec supv
Re-rec supv, Trans/Audio, Inc.
Supv sd ed
Supv sd ed, HSE, Inc.
Sd ed
Sd ed
Looping ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Titles and opt eff by
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup Diane Keaton
Hair stylist Diane Keaton
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Scr supv
Prod coord
Asst to George Roy Hill
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré (New York, 1983).
SONGS
"Always In Love," and "Eyes Of Fire," written by Dave Grusin, Sylvester Levay and Raymond Jones.
DETAILS
Release Date:
19 October 1984
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 19 October 1984
Production Date:
began 16 September 1983
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers, Inc.
Copyright Date:
7 December 1984
Copyright Number:
PA235457
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Filmed with Arriflex
Duration(in mins):
130
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27510
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On 8 Sep 1981, an Israeli diplomat and his family are murdered when a bomb is smuggled into their residence in Bad Godesberg, West Germany. After investigating, the Israeli secret service confirms that Palestinian terrorist Khalil is behind the massacre. Meanwhile, in Dorset, England, Khalil’s younger brother, Michel, wears a ski mask as he guest lectures at a seminar in support of an independent Palestinian state. “Charlie,” a small-time American actress working in England, is sympathetic to the cause, and defends Michel during his speech. He thanks her afterward for supporting the revolution, and she appears to be smitten with him. Back in Germany, the Israelis track Michel and determine he is the courier for Khalil’s bombs, including the one used in Bad Godesberg. They also observe that he is a playboy, flirting with a different woman every week. The Israelis apprehend Michel as he is en route to pick up another supply of explosives. While performing on stage with her theater company in England, Charlie sees a handsome, dark-haired man in the audience and believes he might be Michel. Backstage, she receives a note and flowers from him. She also receives news that a producer named Leslie Gold has chosen to cast her in a television commercial for Apollo wine, to be shot on the Greek island of Mykonos. During filming, Charlie encounters the same handsome man who was in the audience, but he denies his name is Michel. She decides to call him “Joseph” instead, and he agrees to the name. Charlie agrees to join him later in Athens, Greece, and is thrilled when ... +


On 8 Sep 1981, an Israeli diplomat and his family are murdered when a bomb is smuggled into their residence in Bad Godesberg, West Germany. After investigating, the Israeli secret service confirms that Palestinian terrorist Khalil is behind the massacre. Meanwhile, in Dorset, England, Khalil’s younger brother, Michel, wears a ski mask as he guest lectures at a seminar in support of an independent Palestinian state. “Charlie,” a small-time American actress working in England, is sympathetic to the cause, and defends Michel during his speech. He thanks her afterward for supporting the revolution, and she appears to be smitten with him. Back in Germany, the Israelis track Michel and determine he is the courier for Khalil’s bombs, including the one used in Bad Godesberg. They also observe that he is a playboy, flirting with a different woman every week. The Israelis apprehend Michel as he is en route to pick up another supply of explosives. While performing on stage with her theater company in England, Charlie sees a handsome, dark-haired man in the audience and believes he might be Michel. Backstage, she receives a note and flowers from him. She also receives news that a producer named Leslie Gold has chosen to cast her in a television commercial for Apollo wine, to be shot on the Greek island of Mykonos. During filming, Charlie encounters the same handsome man who was in the audience, but he denies his name is Michel. She decides to call him “Joseph” instead, and he agrees to the name. Charlie agrees to join him later in Athens, Greece, and is thrilled when Joseph shows her the Acropolis by night. However, he interrupts their romantic evening to take Charlie to a secluded mansion where she learns that the wine commercial was a ruse created by the Israelis. Producer “Leslie Gold” is an alias for Marty Kurtz, head of an Israeli counter-intelligence team, who offers Charlie a very demanding “acting job.” Joseph, also an Israeli agent, assures Charlie that she has the option to leave if she does not feel comfortable with their proposal. After reminding everyone in the room she is pro-Palestinian and does not support their cause, she agrees to answer a series of questions about her family history. During the “audition,” Kurtz exposes Charlie for lying about her posh upbringing, and decides she is a perfect recruit to infiltrate Khalil’s network. Charlie is very reluctant to participate, but the soft-spoken Joseph persuades her, explaining she can prevent more violence against the Palestinians by helping Israel catch the extremists. Charlie proceeds to learn her role as a double agent. With Michel in custody, the Israelis invent a romance between Charlie and Michel and plant fictional love letters in Michel’s apartment, in hope that, by posing as his girl friend, Charlie will meet his elusive brother, Khalil, whose identity is not even known by his own colleagues. Charlie is briefed on details about Michel’s life and their “love affair.” Joseph plays the part of Michel, as he and Charlie rehearse moments in the fake relationship. In time, Charlie drives to Austria with a supply of explosives Michel intended to deliver. From there, she takes the train to Munich, West Germany, to rendezvous with Kurtz and Joseph at the Israeli headquarters where Michel is being held. As part of her familiarity with her “lover,” she is shown scars and birthmarks on Michel’s body. After the emotional experience, Joseph assures Charlie that Michel will not be harmed. Meanwhile, Charlie has fallen in love with the man she calls Joseph, her primary contact in the operation. After Charlie returns home to London, England, Kurtz and the Israelis kill Michel in a car explosion. Sometime later, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) discovers the love letters in Michel’s apartment and contacts Charlie. She is shocked when two PLO representatives, Helga and Mesterbein, tell her that Michel died in an automobile accident. They subject Charlie to an intense screening process, until they are convinced she was Michel’s lover. Fully committed to her role as an undercover Israeli operative, Charlie goes to a PLO training camp in Beirut, Lebanon. As she practices with weapons and explosives, Charlie impresses her fellow recruits. She is sent to Freiburg, Germany, to collaborate in the assassination of Professor Minkel, an Israeli pacifist. There, she finally meets the arch-terrorist, Khalil. The Israelis intercept the briefcase bomb Charlie is meant to deliver to Minkel, and stage a smoke bomb explosion to convince Khalil and the Palestinians that the assassination was successful. Joseph gives Charlie a tracking device before she returns to the hideout with Khalil. That evening, Charlie has sex with Khalil. In the middle of the night, the terrorist hears a noise outside and becomes suspicious of Charlie. He discovers the tracking device and confronts her. Suddenly, the Israelis break into the house and kill Khalil, whose blood splatters all over Charlie. Later, the Israelis use the information they acquired from Charlie to bomb the Palestinian training camp in Lebanon. After spending time in a sanitarium, Charlie returns to acting, but is unable to concentrate on stage. One night, Joseph reunites with her in London and reveals his actual name is Scott Becker. He confesses his love for her, but Charlie says the experience destroyed her and she is “dead” inside. +

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

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.