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.

9 Responses to “A Borderline Case”

  1. Reed is more than just a superb Greene adaptor. Consider Odd Man Out for instance.

  2. Scripted by FL Green and RC Sherriff. Sherriff was a magnificent screenwriter. I can easily envisage Reed building a great career with him as collaborator.

    Of course, all directors in mainstream narrative cinema need good scripts. Reed’s problem is his difficulty in obtaining them: his reputation would doubtless be higher if he’d made only Odd Man Out and the Greene movies.

    Cinematographer Chris Challis writes warmly of Reed’s amazing ability with actors, a talent for producing the results he wanted without ever seeming to be trying to persuade them of anything. I guess that’s why he was so great with kids.

    Somehow he couldn’t achieve this with lesser writers, but given a talent equal to his own the results were far greater than that writer might get elsewhere: has there ever been a Greene film to match Reed’s?

  3. Neil Jordan’s THE END OF THE AFFAIR is pretty good as is Philip Noyce’s THE QUIET AMERICAN.

    But I must say I always preferred ”THE FALLEN IDOL” over ”The Third Man” among Reed’s Greene adaptations.

  4. The Fallen Idol has more heart… it’s an astounding film. Reed coaxed from little Bobby Henrey one of the great child performances, and it’s not acting at all, mostly, just authentic behaviour caught on film.

    While the films you cite are perfectly decent adaptations, I find them a touch uninspired. Still to see the Mankiewicz bowdlerisation of The Quiet American. I do admire the Boultings’ Brighton Rock, especially for Dickie and William Hartnell. The recent remake seemed a pointless idea.

  5. Discovered that there was a remake only just this morning, as there’s a review of the film in today’s New York Times. While I don’t disagree that it may well be pointless, the write-up did intrigue me nonetheless. The Fallen Idol contains what I think may be one of Ralph Richardson’s most sensitive performances as well, the chemistry he displays with the boy is testament to his gifts as an actor as well as Reed’s as a director.

  6. I read a Reed interview where he said the key with kids is, they throw off the adults, who always think the kids will forget their lines. “In fact, children never forget their lines, but they do forget their cues.” So he tried to film the adults lines separately from the kids’ whenever possible.

    I’m a little alarmed by the culture of endless remaking here. We seem to remake films that were perfectly good the first time, rather than doing things that could be improved. Brighton Rock is especially pernicious since the updating just confuses it (its the time and place of battling mods and rockers, but this doesn’t add anything) and the makers tried to sell it as a new version of the book, rather than a remake. That argument doesn’t work when you’ve nicked the ending of the first film, Roland, I mean Rowan.

  7. The ending of Boulting’s Brighton Rock has a lot to do with the film’s power when viewed. I remember how stunning it was the first time around. I agree, as made the 1947 film is just that, perfectly good. But you have to admit though, seeing Andy Serkis as a gangster does sound alluring.

  8. Graham Greene was very interesting about that ending. In the novel, there’s no merciful record scratch to save the heroine. For the film, GG’s horrific ending was considered too much, so he invented the scratch, thinking “Smarter viewers will probably figure out that she’d eventually nudge the needle and hear the rest,” but when he saw how compelling the Boultings had made it, he began to doubt that’d happen.

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