In Moscow, a rogue agent named Nicolai Dalchimsky (Donald Pleasence) is in possession of a list of secret Russian agents that have been planted in the United States.  The agents were part of a deep cover sleeper operation referred to as TELEFON.  The project was abandoned when Détente was being discussed and peace was the main subject of Russian and U.S. talks.   Dalchimsky, a member of the old guard, flees to America with the list.  Suddenly normal people begin committing acts of sabotage on government facilities, some old and outdated.      

In the U.S., a government researcher, Dorothy Putterman (Tyne Daly) notices that 24 top ranking communist leaders have died recently, by various means, at close to the same time.  Her boss, Harley Sandburg (Frank Marth), thinks it might be a purge of some kind to eliminate loose ends, but for what is the question. 

The most recent terror attack was done by an American named Harry Bascom (John Mitchum).  Harley also finds out that the real Harry Bascom died years ago.  It was the same with other terrorists.  Agents were recruited and given the identities of deceased Americans.  They were then scattered around the U.S. near military institutions.  Even though the project was eventually abandoned, the imbedded agents were still in place. 

Now, twenty years later, Dalchimsky found the book of agents and is systematically triggering the sleepers.  Regular people in ordinary lives receive a phone call from Dalchimsky.  He recites a few lines from the Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening".  Once triggered, the agent would fulfill their programming to destroy whatever facility was assigned to them, even if the facility was no longer in use, or was not as important as it once was.  The agent, upon completing his or her assignment, would then commit suicide. 

The Russian government contacts KGB agent, Major Grigori Borzov (Charles Bronson).  Borzov has a photographic memory and has been to the United States several times in the past, so he is familiar with the country.   He memorizes the names and addresses of the sleepers.  In the U.S., Borzov is teamed with another agent, Barbara (Lee Remick).  Together they are tasked with trying to find and stop Dalchimsky from triggering all the sleeper agents.  With over 50 sleepers around the country to monitor, Borzov’s only clue is that in analyzing the names of the cities he realizes that Dalchimsky is using the first letter of each city to spell out his last name.  Borzov is also unaware that Barbara is a double agent and was ordered by both governments to kill Borzov once his mission has been completed.        

“Telefon” was released in 1977 and was directed by Don Siegel.  It is an American action spy and crime film.  The movie was based on the 1975 book by Walter Wager.

The plot is a little thin but with a lot of action and explosions to keep you occupied, the film ends up being fun.  It’s not as complicated as most espionage thrillers so it was a little easier to follow than some.  The film has gotten a lot of criticism for the plot being a little on the ridiculous side, but I think that’s what makes the movie so entertaining. 

Bronson and Remick are great in their roles but there is little, if any, chemistry between them.  That’s not surprising since, throughout the filming, Remick admitted that she was intimidated by Bronson.  Pleasence is great as the insane egomaniac who wants to fulfill the original terrorist plan, even if many of the targeted facilities are now no longer top secret.

Telefon is Russian for telephone.

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