20 user 8 critic

The Looking Glass War (1970)

From the John le Carré novel about a British spy, who sends a Polish defector to East Germany, to verify missile sites.


Frank Pierson (as Frank R. Pierson)


John le Carré (based on the book by), John le Carré (novel) | 1 more credit »

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Christopher Jones ... Leiser
Pia Degermark ... The Girl
Ralph Richardson ... Leclerc
Paul Rogers ... Haldane
Anthony Hopkins ... Avery
Susan George ... The Girl In London
Ray McAnally ... Under Secretary Of State
Robert Urquhart Robert Urquhart ... Johnson
Anna Massey ... Avery's Wife
Vivian Pickles ... Mrs. King
Maxine Audley ... Mrs. Leclerc
Cyril Shaps ... East German Detective
Michael Robbins ... Truck Driver
Timothy West ... Taylor
Frederick Jaeger ... The Pilot


During the Cold War, the British Intelligence receives a blurred photograph from East Germany taken from Hamburg and Director LeClerc (Sir Ralph Richardson) believes they are missiles. Their agent, Taylor King (Timothy West), who receives a film which might clarify the detail from a pilot in Finland, is found dead on the road, and the Police believe he was accidentally killed in a hit-and-run. LeClerc meets the Polish defector Fred Leiser (Christopher Jones), who jumped overboard from a ship expecting to have asylum and stay with his British girlfriend, who is pregnant, and decides to recruit him to cross the border and spy on the East German facility to check on the missiles. In return, he would have salary, insurance, and political asylum. Leiser is trained by the Agent and family man John Avery (Sir Anthony Hopkins), and soon he finds his girlfriend has had ended the pregnancy. When Leiser crosses the border, he meets up with Anna (Pia Degermark), a local, and they stay together in... Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The story about a ruthless game where the stakes are human lives. See more »


Action | Drama | Thriller


M | See all certifications »





English | German

Release Date:

8 February 1970 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

A Guerra no Espelho See more »

Filming Locations:

Spain See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)


Black and White | Color (Eastmancolor) (as Eastmancolor®)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


According to an Australian DVD release cover's sleeve notes, "This movie propelled actor (Sir) Anthony Hopkins' career." See more »


After Lieser slaps his girlfriend, he walks out of the room leaving the door open and the girl just stays still on the bed. When Avery goes to check if the girl is alright, the door is closed (so he knocks to get in) and the girl was in the same position she was before. See more »


John Avery: [attacking Lieser from behind] Never trust anybody.
See more »


Featured in Al Murray's Great British Spy Movies (2014) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

An Absolute Gem!
5 February 2004 | by djb896328See all my reviews

This is one of those rare film adaptations -- in fact, the rarest -- for here is a film that takes liberties with its source material yet still manages to equal (if not better) the original story by the master of realist spy fiction, John Le Carré.

Masterfully written and directed by Frank Pierson (the current head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) and superbly acted from everyone on screen, THE LOOKING GLASS WAR is a timeless classic just waiting to be rediscovered by a generation of film lovers thanks to the modern miracle of DVD. One must -- MUST -- see this film in crisp, clear widescreen format, for Pierson and cinematographer Austin Dempster managed to provide the viewer with some of the most stunning, innovative and emotionally evocative imagery of the period. The musical score by Angela Morley (a.k.a. Wally Stott) has that gorgeous, jazzy summer holiday feel about it, which is just perfect for a gloomy existential spy film!

And as for the principal actors, Christopher Jones in particular, what can one say? Those who know what happened with Jones shortly after this film and his whereabouts today can not help but feel sad whenever watching this film. What a loss to world cinema? Jones left acting right at the cusp of the Great American Renaissance of the 1970s. The question is: What could have been? From the strength of his performance in THE LOOKING GLASS WAR as well as RYAN'S DAUGHTER, we can only painfully imagine. Then, in stark contrast, we have the other lead of the film: a young pre-international fame Anthony Hopkins. And here we see, of course, a superb actor growing with every performance. Fans of his must see this film for two things 1) Hopkins' youthful passion, delivering every line with unadulterated vigor, venomously spitting poison one second before whispering soothing words of solice the very next, and 2) witnessing perhaps the all-time greatest one-on-one, man-on-man, no-holds-barred, knock-down-slap-around fist fights ever captured on celluloid.

But I must end this review by again emphasising that this film is brilliant because it was written that way. Pierson adapted a wonderful novel, kept the important plot elements but discarded and invented his own characterisations, created almost all his own sharp, witty dialogue and yet, still, after all the changes, managed to make a film that was still faithful in spirit to what Le Carré wrote. That's why this film is so good.

Writing is everything!

Pierson's adaptation of THE LOOKING GLASS WAR is a lesson for every student of film to see how great novels can be turned into great films.

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