In this adaptation of Graham Greene's prophetic novel about U.S. foreign policy failure in pre-war Indochina, Audie Murphy plays an innocent Young American opposite the older, cynical Brit Michael Redgrave. They play out their widely different views on the prospects struggle for the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people in their competition over a young woman. Murphy wants to reform her and make her a typical middle class American housewife; Redgrave accepts her inability to formulate or retain a political ideal and while promising her no real future, he objects to Murphy's attempts to change her. It's not clear whether Murphy is just what he appears - a bungling Yankee do-gooder - or a deliberate agent of U.S. covert operations. Written by
Rita Richardson <RRichar790@aol.com>
In Europe, director-writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz was savagely attacked for his film's infidelity to the source novel by Graham Greene, not least by Greene himself. The screenplay essentially turns the novel inside-out, so that the blundering "quiet American", whose extreme naiveté causes tragedy and his own death despite his having only the best of intentions, is transformed into a shrewd and heroic figure, far wiser and more honorable than his British rival. Mankiewicz later referred to the film as "very bad" (although he also liked to point out that Jean-Luc Godard had called it the best film of its year) and claimed that he had not been able to concentrate on the film because of the mental collapse of his wife, Rose Stradner, who committed suicide soon after he had finished it. See more »
The novel is sometimes hailed as Graham Greene's best, and this film version is suitably impressive too.
The Quiet American has a lot to live up to, because it is adapted from possibly the best book that Graham Greene ever wrote. However, it is a very well made and literate film which manages to make a reasonable stab at living up to the forbidding reputation of its source material.
Audie Murphy gives a career-best performance as the title character, an American living in Vietnam during the French incursion into the country. He believes that he can make a difference by providing funding for arms, but his political and economic beliefs often lead to death and destruction. A British journalist named Fowler (Michael Redgrave) befriends him, but soon their friendship is damaged when the young American has an affair with Fowler's Vietnamese mistress. In the end, Fowler ponders whether to betray the American to his enemies as an act of revenge for what the American has done to his love-life.
The film is powerful, absorbing and well-acted. It perhaps could be criticised for the extraordinarily high amount of dialogue (it's one of those films where if you stop listening for 30 seconds, you'll lose the plot) but that is probably the only true weakness. The themes of betrayal, colonialism, and the wisdom of interfering in the affairs of other nations, are handled thought-provokingly, and the moral dilemma facing the characters at the end are emotionally shattering. Redgrave gives a great performance, conveying the pain of his dilemma with aching conviction.
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