A Borderline Case
THE MAN BETWEEN is a minor Carol Reed, to be sure — what makes it unusual is that it’s minor while still fitting in to the narrow genre within which Reed was usually successful — a thriller, with both bleakness and a certain irony. According to Nicholas Wapshott’s excellent Reed bio, the problems stemmed from the Hollywood screenwriter and a certain amount of harassment from Alexander Korda over the budget, which prevented Reed from shooting everything he’d intended on location. In particular the ending, which features an impressive closing shot potentially equal to that in THE THIRD MAN, is marred by some unconvincing process work.
Lindsay Anderson felt that Reed declined because he “fell into the hands of Americans,” which has an amusing feel of Al Capone to it, and rather ignores the largely positive effects David O Selznick had on THE THIRD MAN (the ending of that film is downbeat because Selznick, defying Hollywood producer stereotypes, insisted it ought to be). David Lean, meanwhile, felt that Reed “lost his courage,” both in his ability to hold a shot long enough to get full impact, and to take risks in mise en scene, casting, and choice of projects. Lean may have been closer to the mark than Anderson, though even OLIVER! is far from devoid of visual interest.
I think really Reed’s problem is that he needed Graham Greene, who could have been his Pressburger were he not busy being Graham Greene. And if not Greene, then an equally talented writer. The weaker Reed films tend to be weaker because they don’t have interesting enough scenarios and talk, without which Reed’s best efforts, impressive as they often are, don’t seem to amount to much.
Which means that THE MAN BETWEEN is a lesser work, but one whose virtues may still be enumerated at sufficient length to make a decent-sized edition of The Forgotten.