120 minutes| U.S.A.| 1958| Black and White| 35mm

A quiet American (Audie Murphy) lies dead in a Saigon street in 1952; in flashback a world-weary English journalist (Michael Redgrave) explains why. Greene thought Mankiewicz’s adaptation a complete treachery, reversing the anti-American theme of his novel (which prophesies American involvement in Vietnam) into an anti-communist one, but Mankiewicz is less interested in political ideology than in varieties of human betrayal. ‘I wanted to do a film about one of those ice-blooded intellectuals whose intellectualism is really just a mask for irrational passion’, he said; and one’s sympathies are complicated by the imbalance of the two central performances, Audie Murphy’s pallid account of the dangerously idealistic American being comprehensively upstaged by Michael Redgrave’s vividly etched reporter, a wounded cynic yearning for fulfilment or, failing that, forgiveness. Jean-Luc Godard thought it the best film of 1958 – quite a claim in the year of Vertigo, Wild Strawberries and much else besides.

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