Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

It's Hard to Decipher the Code of Well-Acted Spy Movie

Cleveland Press May 17, 1968

"Sebastian" is an espionage movie trying to be a sophisticated romance trying to be a farce and also trying to say something about man in the computer age. It's an exasperating film because it seems to promise so much, ends up delivering so little.

Dirk Bogarde plays the title rode, a master decoder in Britain's intelligence service, a man with the ability to do mental gymnastics. He trains a staff of girls to examine and break codes and while he oversees their work he has the ability to jump ahead of the computers in anticipating the key to a new code.

A new girl in the decoding unit is Susannah York and there's nothing cryptic about her intentions toward her boss. Before you can say international intrigue they have a heavy-breathing affair going.

Among others in the excellent cast are Lilli Palmer as a department member with a leftist past, Janet Munro as an ex-girl friend and John Gielgud as the head of intelligence.

There is some menace, some danger and a climax or two of sorts, but mostly this is low-key adventure. The dialog is witty and urbane, the photography sharp and crackling and the acting excellent.

The settings range from swinging London to the quiet of Oxford. David Green's direction makes the most of every situation. The background music has an exciting feel about it, building out of the sounds in the movie, be they the clacking of a computer or a piano sonata.

For a time this looked as though it may become a character study of a man, an examination of an intellectual in a pursuit that a machine might do better. But in that direction it never quite jells -- nor in any other.