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THE QUIET AMERICAN

Director: JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ

U.S.A. • 1958 • BLACK AND WHITE • 120 MIN


GRAHAM GREENE WAS INCENSED BY THIS 1958 FILM, FEELING THAT, BY MAKING THE HERO A DUPE OF THE COMMUNISTS RATHER THAN THE AMERICAN, DIRECTOR MANKIEWICZ HAD REVERSED THE MEANING OF HIS NOVEL.
However, it is hard to see the film as a pro-American tract, given the imbalance of sympathies between the two main characters. For all Michael Redgrave’s difficulties with co-star Audie Murphy, the journalist’s wounded cynicism comes over more poignantly than the American’s idealism. As Pauline Kael noted, the film is about the harm that crusading idealism can do. An American is discovered dead in Vietnam in 1952: in flashback, an English reporter explains why. Whereas Greene’s novel prophesied American involvement in Vietnam, Mankiewicz’s film anticipates some war films of the 1980s, like Under Fire and Salvador, where the hero is a journalist who starts by taking pictures and ends up taking sides. Here the motivation for that change is the core of the drama, and Redgrave’s performance delivers the troubled character of the journalist magnificently. If Greene disliked the film, it found a champion in Jean-Luc Godard, who thought it the best of 1958.

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