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.
MGM bought the film rights to the novel in October 1974. The novel was published in April 1975. The New York Times called the novel “a doozie of a thriller”
Bronson’s wife Jill Ireland often worked with her husband and Bronson said the female lead was “perfect for her” but he did not insist and Lee Remick was cast instead.
Quentin Tarantino later wrote that “just because the premise is nutty doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, it’s far out enough that in the right hands, it could have been a stone gas.