Telefon is a 1977 spy film directed by Don Siegel and starring Charles Bronson, Lee Remick and Donald Pleasence. The screenplay by Peter Hyams and Stirling Silliphant is based on the 1975 novel by Walter Wager.
After the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union planted a number of long-term, deep-cover sleeper agents all over the United States, spies so thoroughly brainwashed that even they did not know they were agents. They can be activated only by a special code phrase – a line from the Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” – followed by the agent’s real first name. Their mission was to sabotage crucial parts of the civil and military infrastructure in the event of war.
More than 20 years pass, and the Cold War gradually gives way to détente. Nikolai Dalchimsky, a rogue KGB headquarters clerk, travels to America, taking with him the Telefon Book, which contains the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all the sleeper agents. He starts activating them, one by one. American counterintelligence is thrown into confusion when seemingly ordinary citizens start blowing up facilities that were once important, but now have little, if any, value. The agents either commit suicide or die in the act itself.
The KGB does not dare tell its political leaders, much less the Americans, about its negligence in not deactivating the spy network. KGB Major Grigori Borzov, selected in part for his photographic memory, memorizes the contents of the only other copy of the Telefon Book and is sent to find and stop Dalchimsky quietly, before either side learns what is happening and possibly starts a war. Borzov is given the assistance of only a single agent, Barbara, planted in America years before.
Eventually, Borzov realizes the method behind Dalchimsky’s pattern of attacks: he has chosen the agents by the first letters of their American hometowns, “writing” his own name in sabotage across America. Borzov is thus able to anticipate Dalchimsky’s next chosen agent and kills Dalchimsky.
However, there are a number of twists. Barbara has orders from the KGB to assassinate Borzov once he succeeds, to get rid of a dangerous loose end. In addition, she is a double agent actually working for America. When she informs her American superior, Sandburg, he also tells her to kill Borzov, so she will retain the confidence of the KGB. However, Barbara has fallen in love with her would-be target. She informs Borzov, and together they blackmail both sides into leaving them alone, holding the threat of the remaining Telefon agents over their heads.
- Charles Bronson as Major Grigori Borzov
- Lee Remick as Barbara
- Donald Pleasence as Nikolai Dalchimsky
- Tyne Daly as Dorothy Putterman
- Alan Badel as Colonel Malchenko
- Patrick Magee as General Strelsky
- Sheree North as Marie Wills
- Frank Marth as Harley Sandburg
- Helen Page Camp as Emma Stark
- Roy Jenson as Doug Stark
- Jacqueline Scott as Mrs. Hassler
- Ed Bakey as Carl Hassler
- John Mitchum as Harry Bascom
- Iggie Wolfington as Father Stuart Diller
- Hank Brandt as William Enders
- John Carter as Stroller
- Burton Gilliam as Gas Station Attendant
- Regis Cordic as Doctor
- Carmen Zapata as Nurse
- Kathleen O’Malley as Mrs Maloney
- Åke Lindman as Lt. Alexandrov
- Ansa Ikonen as Dalchimsky’s Mother
- George O. Petrie as Hotel Receptionist
- Cliff Emmich as 2nd Highway Patrolman
- Ville-Veikko Salminen as Russian Steward
- Derek Rydall as Mrs. Wills’ Child
- Michael Byrne as Soviet Military Officer (uncredited)