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Carol Reed Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (2)  | Trade Mark (5)  | Trivia (18)  | Personal Quotes (32)  | Salary (1)

Overview (3)

Born in Putney, London, England, UK
Died in Chelsea, London, England, UK  (heart attack)
Height 6' 2" (1.88 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Carol Reed was the second son of stage actor, dramatics teacher and impresario founder of the Royal School of Dramatic Arts Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Reed was one of Tree's six illegitimate children with Beatrice Mae Pinney, who Tree established in a second household apart from his married life. There were no social scars here; Reed grew up in a well-mannered, middle-class atmosphere. His public school days were at King's School, Canterbury, and he was only too glad to push on with the idea of following his father and becoming an actor. His mother wanted no such thing and shipped him off to Massachusetts in 1922, where his older brother resided on--of all things--a chicken ranch.

It was a wasted six months before Reed was back in England and joined a stage company of Dame Sybil Thorndike, making his stage debut in 1924. He forthwith met British writer Edgar Wallace, who cashed in on his constant output of thrillers by establishing a road troupe to do stage adaptations of them. Reed was in three of these, also working as an assistant stage manager. Wallace became chairman of the newly formed British Lion Film Corp. in 1927, and Reed followed to become his personal assistant. As such he began learning the film trade by assisting in supervising the filmed adaptations of Wallace's works. This was essentially his day job. At night he continued stage acting and managing. It was something of a relief when Wallace passed on in 1932; Reed decided to drop the stage for film and joined historic Ealing Studios as dialog director for Associated Talking Pictures under Basil Dean.

Reed rose from dialog director to second-unit director and assistant director in record time, his first solo directorship being the adventure Midshipman Easy (1935). This and his subsequent effort, Laburnum Grove (1936), attracted high praise from a future collaborator, novelist/critic Graham Greene, who said that once Reed "gets the right script, [he] will prove far more than efficient." However, Reed would endure the sort of staid, boilerplate filmmaking that characterized British "B" movies until he left this behind with The Stars Look Down (1940), his second film with Michael Redgrave, and his openly Hitchcockian Night Train to Munich (1940), a comedy-thriller with Rex Harrison. It has often been seen as a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938) with the same screenwriters and comedy relief--Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, who would just about make careers as the cricket zealots Charters and Caldicott, from "Vanishes".

The British liked these films and, significantly, so did America, where Hollywood still wondered whether their patronage of the British film industry was worth the gamble of a payoff via the US public. Dean was just one of several powerhouse producers rising in Britain in the 1930s. Other names are more familiar: Alexander Korda and J. Arthur Rank stand out. For Reed, who would wisely decide to start producing his own films in order to have more control over them, finding his niche was still a challenge into the 1940s. He was only too well aware that the film director led a team effort--his was partly a coordinator's task, harmonizing the talents of the creative team. The modest Reed would admit to his success being this partnership time and again. So he gravitated toward the same scriptwriters, art directors and cinematographers as his movie list spread out.

There were more thrillers and some historical bios: The Remarkable Mr. Kipps (1941) with Redgrave and The Young Mr. Pitt (1942) with Robert Donat. He did service and war effort fare through World War II, but these were more than flag wavers, for Reed dealt with the psychology of transitioning to military life. His Anglo-American documentary of combat (co-directed by Garson Kanin), The True Glory (1945), won the 1946 Oscar for Best Documentary. With that under his belt, Reed was now recognized as Britain's ablest director and could pick and choose his projects. He also had the clout--and the all-important funds--to do what he thought was essential to ensure realism on a location shoot, something missing in British film work prior to Reed.

Odd Man Out (1947) with James Mason as an IRA hit man on the run did just that and was Reed's first real independent effort, and he had gone to Rank to do it. All too soon, however, that organization began subjugating directors' wishes to studio needs, and Reed made perhaps his most important associative decision and joined Korda's London Films. Here was one very important harmony--he and Korda thought along the same lines. Though Anthony Kimmins had scripted four films for Reed, it was time for Korda to introduce the director to Graham Greene. Their association would bring Reed his greatest successes. The Fallen Idol (1948) was based on a Greene short story, with Ralph Richardson as a do-everything head butler in a diplomatic household. Idolized by the lonely, small son of his employer, he becomes caught up in a liaison with a woman on the work staff, who was much younger than his shrewish wife. It may seem slow to an American audience, but with the focus on the boy's wide-eyed view of rather gloomy surroundings, as well as the adult drama around him, it was innovative and a solid success.

What came next was a landmark--the best known of Reed's films. The Third Man (1949) was yet another Greene story, molded into a gem of a screenplay by him, though Reed added some significant elements of his own. The film has been endlessly summarized and analyzed and, whether defined as an international noir or post-war noir or just noir, it was cutting-edge noir and unforgettable. This was Reed in full control--well, almost-- and the money was coming from yet another wide-vision producer, David O. Selznick, along with Korda. Tension did develop in this effort keep a predominantly Anglo effort in this Anglo-American collaboration.

There were complications, though. For one thing, Korda--old friend and somewhat kindred spirit of wunderkind director Orson Welles--had a gentlemen's agreement with the latter for three pictures, but these were not forthcoming. Korda could be as evasive as Welles was known to be, and Welles had come to Europe to further his inevitable film projects after troubles in Hollywood. Always desperate for seed money, Welles was forced to take acting parts in Europe to build up his bank account in order to finance his more personal projects. He thus accepted the role of the larger-than-life American flim-flam man turned criminal, Harry Lime. The extended time spent filming the Vienna sewer scenes on location and at the elaborate set for them at Shepperton Studios in London, entailed the longest of the ten minutes or so of Welles' screen time. Here was a potential source of directorial intimidation if ever there was one. Welles took it upon himself to direct Reed's veteran cinematographer Robert Krasker with his own vision of some sewer sequences in London (after leaving the location shoot in Vienna), using many takes. Supposedly, Reed did not use any of Welles' footage, and in fact whatever there was got conveniently lost. Yet Citizen Kane (1941)'s shadow was so looming that Welles was given credit for a lot of camera work, atmospherics and the chase scenes. He had referred to the movie as "my film" later on and had said he wrote all his dialog. Some of the ferris wheel dialog with its famous famous "cuckoo clock" speech (which Reed and Greene both attributed to him) was probably the essence of Welles' contributions.

Krasker's quirky angles under Reed's direction perfectly framed the ready-made-for-an-art designer bombed-out shadows and stark, isolated street lights of postwar Vienna and its underworld. Unique to cinema history, the whole score (except for some canned incidental café music) was just the brilliant zither playing of Anton Karas, adding his nuances to every dramatic transition. Krasker won an Oscar, and Karas was nominated for one.

Reed's attention to detailed casting also paid off, particularly in casting German-speaking actors and background players. Selznick insisted on Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins, the benighted protagonist, and his clipped and sharp voice and subterranean drawl were perfect for the part. Reed had wanted James Stewart--definitely a different perception than Americans of its leading men. Selznick parted ways with Reed on other issues, however; there was a laundry list of reasons for his re-editing and changing some incidentals for the shorter American version, partly based on negative comments from sneak preview responses. Perhaps it was the constant interruptions from the other side of the Atlantic that drove Reed to personally narrate the introduction describing Martins in the British version of the film (given the basic tenets of noir films, the star always played narrator to introduce the story and voice over where appropriate). Selznick showed himself--in this instance, anyway--to have a better directorial sense by substituting Cotten introducing himself in the American cut. It made far more sense and was much more effective. On the other hand, Selznick's editing of the pivotal railway café scenes with Cotten and Alida Valli had continuity problems.

Nonetheless, the film was an international smash, and all the principal players reaped the rewards. Reed did not get an Oscar, but he did win the Cannes Film Grand Prix. Greene was motivated enough to take the story and expand it into a best-selling novel. Even Welles, with his minimum screen time--he was spending most of his time in Europe trying to obtain financing for his newest project, Othello (1956)--milked the movie for all it was worth. He did not deny directorial influences (though in a 1984 interview he did), and even developed a Harry Lime radio show back home.

However, the movie had its detractors. It was called too melodramatic and too cynical. The short scenes of untranslated German dialog were also criticized, yet that lent to the atmosphere of confusion and helplessness of Martins caught in a wary, potentially dangerous environment--something the audience inevitably was able to share. It was all too ironic that Reed, now declared by some as the greatest living director of the time, found his career in decline thereafter. Of his total output, four were based on plays, three on stories and 15 on novels. With less than half of them to go, he was to be disappointed for the most part. His The Man Between (1953) with James Mason was too much of a "Third Man" reprise, and A Kid for Two Farthings (1955) was too sentimental.

By now Reed was being sought by enterprising Hollywood producers. He had--as he usually did--the material for a first-rate movie with two popular American actors, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis for Trapeze (1956). However, it suffered from a slow script, as would the British-produced The Key (1958), despite another international cast. Things finally picked up with his venture into another Greene-scripted film from his novel, with Alec Guinness in the lead in the UK spy spoof Our Man in Havana (1959) with yet another winning international cast.

When Hollywood called again, the chance at such a British piece of history as Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) with a mostly British cast and Marlon Brando seemed bound for success. It was the second version of the movie produced by MGM (the first being the Clark Gable starrer Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)). However, Brando's history of being temperamental was much in evidence on location in Tahiti. Reed shot a small part of the picture but finally left, having more than his fill of the star's ego (and, evidently, being allowed too much artistic control by the studio) and the film was finished by Lewis Milestone. Reed would ultimately be branded as a failure in directing historical movies, but it was an unfair appraisal based on the random aspect of film success and such forces of nature as Brando, not artistic and technical expertise.

The opportunity to make another film came knocking again with Reed and American money forming the production company International Classics to produce Irving Stone's best-selling story of Michelangelo and the painting of the Sistine Chapel, The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965). Here is perhaps the prime example of Reed being given short shrift for a really valiant effort at an historical, artistically significant and cultural epic because it was a "flop" at the box office. Shot on location in Rome and its environs, the film had a first-rate cast headed by Charlton Heston doing his method best as the temperamental artist with Rex Harrison, an effortless standout as the equally volatile Pope Julius II. Diane Cilento did fine work as the Contessina de Medici, with the always stalwart Harry Andrews as architect rival Donato Bramante. Most of the other roles were filled by Italians dubbed in English, but they all look good.

Reed's attention to historical detail provided perhaps the most accurate depiction of early 16th-century Italy--from costumes and manners to military action and weapons (especially firearms)--ever brought to the screen. The script by Philip Dunne was brisk and always entertaining in the verbal battle between the artist and his pontiff. Yet by the 1960s costume epics were going out of style and bigger flops, such as Cleopatra (1963) (talk about agony) despite the wealth of stars which included Harrison, tended to spread like a disease to those few that came later. Despite a high-powered distribution campaign by Twentieth Century-Fox, Reed's exemplary effort would ultimately be appreciated by art scholars and historians--not the stuff of Hollywood's money mentality.

For Reed the only remaining triumph was, of all things, a musical--his first and only--yet again he was working with children. However, the adaptation of the great Charles Dickens novel "Oliver Twistt" top the screen (as Oliver! (1968)) was a sensation with a lively script and music amid a realistic 19th-century London that was up to Reed's usual standards. The film was nominated for no less than 11 Oscars, wining five and two of the big ones--Best Picture and Best Director. Reed had finally achieved that bit of elusiveness. He could never be so simplistically stamped with an uneven career; Reed had always kept to a precise craftsman's movie-making formula.

Fellow British director Michael Powell had said that Reed "could put a film together like a watchmaker puts together a watch". It was Graham Greene, however, who gave Reed perhaps the more important personal accolade: "The only director I know with that particular warmth of human sympathy, the extraordinary feeling for the right face in the right part, the exactitude of cutting, and not least important the power of sympathizing with an author's worries and an ability to guide him."

- IMDb Mini Biography By: William McPeak (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Spouse (2)

Penelope Dudley-Ward (24 January 1948 - 25 April 1976) ( his death) ( 1 child)
Diana Wynyard (3 February 1943 - 1947) ( divorced)

Trade Mark (5)

Tilted camera angles at moments of suspense or uneasiness
Scenes in which staircases are put to dramatic use (e.g., The Fallen Idol (1948), and the London Bridge sequence in Oliver! (1968))
Narrrow, dark spaces: laneways and tunnels (The Third Man (1949) and Odd Man Out (1947))
Children figure significantly in his films (The Fallen Idol (1948) told through a child's point of view, Boy with ball in The Third Man (1949), protagonists in Oliver! (1968) are children; children are everywhere & see everything in Odd Man Out (1947))
Often cast Trevor Howard

Trivia (18)

Uncle of Oliver Reed.
A retrospective of his work was held at the 48th Donostia-San Sebastián Film Festival in 2000.
Was the illegitimate son of Herbert Beerbohm Tree (Reed's mother, May Reed, was Tree's mistress).
Step-father of actress Tracy Reed.
Quit after several months as director of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) because he found he was unable to handle Marlon Brando's ego. He was unaware that the studio had given Brando control of the picture.
Did not rate Alfred Hitchcock very highly, as he thought that the best directors should display their range through filming a variety of subjects, whereas Hitchcock chose to direct mainly thrillers.
His lovers included Daphne Du Maurier and Jessie Matthews.
Had a son Max from his marriage to Penelope Dudley-Ward.
In 1952 he became the first British film director to receive a knighthood for his craft. Although producer/director Alexander Korda and actor/director Laurence Olivier had previously been knighted, Reed was the first to receive the distinction primarily for his directing work.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 917-923. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Steven Spielberg has named him as an influence.
One of his earliest mentors was writer Edgar Wallace.
He worked in close collaboration with writer Graham Greene in the late 1940s, producing two of his greatest films: The Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949).
Is buried at Gunnersbury Cemetery in West London. His widow Penelope was laid to rest beside him following her death in 1982.
It is worth noting that when Reed resigned as director of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), he claimed that it was as a result of disagreements with producer Aaron Rosenberg--not, as is usually said, with star Marlon Brando. Brando always claimed that he admired Reed greatly and had supported him in arguments with Rosenberg.
Directed two Oscar-nominated performances: Ron Moody and Jack Wild, both for Oliver! (1968).
He died only one day before Sidney James, whom he directed in both A Kid for Two Farthings (1955) and Trapeze (1956).
He suffered increasingly from deafness in his later years, which made him less and less inclined to direct films.

Personal Quotes (32)

To be any good to a director an actor must either be wonderful, or know nothing about acting. A little knowledge--that's what is bad.
[on his acting days] You know, I wasn't a good actor. I began as a spear carrier and then appeared through the countryside in repertory, but though I got decent parts and so on, I was never very good. Yet I'm glad I did it for seven years or so because it helped me subsequently in understanding the actor's problems.
[on Hollywood] I have no desire to stay there, purely for one reason. When you have lived your life in one country and grown accustomed to the national traits and temperament, it is difficult to do justice to your skill elsewhere. I have never yet seen it succeed. In America, [Jean Renoir], for instance, never made such brilliant pictures as he did in France. This applies equally to René Clair--to almost everyone save [Alfred Hitchcock, who, of course, keeps to thrillers; these have an advantage over the types of plot because they are richly spiced with incident from the start. In contrast, the more delicate the story the greater the demands on subtle treatment.
[on directing Bobby Henrey in The Fallen Idol (1948)] A child of eight can't act. I wasn't looking for an exhibitionist. Adults have habitual features and defenses. A good actor must take something away, lose a part of himself before he can create a role. But with the right sort of child such as Bobby, there is nothing in the way. There is absolutely no resistance. He will do everything you tell him.
A director should plan in advance how a scene is to be played, but he should always be ready to put the camera here instead of there, and change everything at the last moment if he comes across a better way of doing it.
I think it is the director's job--as in the old theatre--to convey faithfully what the author had in mind. Unless you have worked with the author in the first place you cannot convey to the actors what he had in mind nor can you convey to the editor at the end the original idea. In making a picture you have got to go back to the first stage to see how important something may be in establishing this scene or that character.
[speaking in 1938] In time I believe we shall get away from the eternal happy ending--it is difficult to get an audience really interested in the problems of the two main characters of a story when they know in the end it will all work out all right, however difficult it may seem. The French have done it. Why shouldn't we?
[speaking in the late '40s] The future of British films depends on how they are made; if the standard is high then the future is rosy. This achieved, there is no reason why the British film world should not become a big industry like its American counterpart. We have a wealth of good actors. The trouble here is that we do not make enough good pictures to keep them occupied. We must at least double our output--but not on the basis of 25 brilliant pictures and 75 bad ones.
The work of any director making pictures in this country is conditioined absolutely by the happy ending. I am sure that this is a wrong-minded policy and keeps many intelligent minded people out of the cinemas, for whatever the circumstances of a story, the end is inevitably the same, boy gets girl.
All I believe the director can do is to approach his subject with a meticulously prepared list of scenes to be shot with their general description and the dialogue entailed in each, and an absolutely clear idea of the effect he wants to achieve.
It's dull to stick to the same sort of subject and bad for one's work into the bargain. Repetition makes a director grow stale in his job, and lose his grip as an entertainer. I happen to love a dark street, with wet cobbles, and a small furtive figure under a lamp at the corner. Whenever I go on location, I instinctively look for something of that kind. Now that is bad; thoroughly bad for me, and tedious for the public. Variety is an essential exercise to a director. Every new film should be a new beginning, and nobody should ever be able to say with any certainty, "Oh, that'a a Carol Reed subject", or "That's not a Carol Reed subject". It's doing the particular job well--and every sort of job--that primarily interests me. I don't think the type of subject matters much.
[on The Third Man (1949)] I shot most of the film with a wide-angle lens that distorted the buildings and emphasized the wet cobblestone streets. But the angle of vision was to suggest that something crooked was going on. I don't think it's a very good idea. I haven't used it much since--only when I need to shoot someone standing behind another person who's sitting and I don't want to cut off his head.
I believe it is essential that the director and the editor should work closely together right through the picture--and I like working with the same editor. You get used to working together--otherwise you're only beginning to know each other by the end of the picture.
Picture-making is often sheer misery. Planning them is great fun. Making them is rather like riding on a switchback at a fair; you hardly dare imagine what is coming next.
I don't think people care what sort of kitchen curtains I have. I don't think they care about the technical people. Stars are the draw. They earn their publicity. It brings the people in. But no one would go to see a film because it was directed by Carol Reed.
[on moving from being an assistant director to director] I was indefinite and indecisive. I thought I had picked up a lot about cutting and camera angles, but now, when I had to make all the decisions myself and was not just mentally approving or criticizing what somebody else decided, I was pretty well lost. Fortunately I realized that this was the only way to learn--by making mistakes.
There is nothing worse than a film that is directed by someone who has little or no knowledge of the habits or ways of the country concerned in the picture. For instance, I would never make a film with an American college background, I would be bound to make too many mistakes.
I make films for the public, but in a manner that I like myself. I don't know what the public wants, and I doubt whether the public does either. Peole like a good picture, so you have to make a film on trust, knowing that if it is good people will like it.
After you've been shooting awhile and are looking at your footage as you go, you begin to see the picture taking shape, establishing a rhythym of it's own. Things begin to fall into place of themselves. That's when you begin to feel the picture's natural pace and you develop it. You can then work with the actors and mould and shape it.
[speaking in the late 1950s] I've never seen a comedy in color, not a good one. You cannot seem to get it. Color is just not real enough yet. Perhaps it is for television, where your audience is sitting in a room with the lights on. But in a dark theater, confronted by that huge screen, I feel that it's just not convincing.
The most important purpose of the commercial filmmaker is to produce entertainment [that] will draw the largest possible number of the paying public into the cinema, and keep them there. You could gather a large number of people together to gaze at a two-headed dog, especially if you had a man with a loud enough voice announcing it; but the number of times people can be induced to pay money to see the dog is strictly limited; the wise showman provides also a bearded lady and a living skeleton--all, be it emphasized, strictly genuine. The public may be gullible, but there is a limit to its credulity. The swindling or unimaginative showman, like the man who deliberately makes bogus or otherwise unworthy films, may be successful for a while; but he has no future.
I don't believe the cinema is a place for little lectures on how everybody should live. I don't think audiences want them either, unless they are very original and striking. Personally I dislike the infusion of amateur politics into films. Certainly that is not the director's job.
[on the task of directing Oliver! (1968)] This is [Charles Dickens]. There are problems of a special kind. You say to yourself: "Fagin as a character would never dream of singing anything, nor, perhaps, would the Artful Dodger or Bill Sikes". They would probably get a laugh. The only way we could do justice to these characters as well as we knew how, and you can only do that in England. We concentrated upon them and made them the center of attraction. I never visualized "Oliver!" as a show dominated by a single star. In fact, there are seven very good parts.
Films are made in fear and worry and panic. There is no happiness in this business.
The whole thing is in the preparation. I like to work three months or more on a script and come to the floor with it finished to the letter.
[on directing Oliver! (1968)] I discovered that in a big musical the man who directs it is far more dependent on other people than in a straight film. He has to learn from experts and consult with them all the time. He has none of the autonomy he's accustomed to exercise in a non-musical subject.
If you're adapting Lionel Bart's "Oliver!" you are committed to playing the story with its characters and numbers and all the rest of it--Oliver running away from home, going back, walking the streets and so on. The pattern is so complex, it opens into Clerkenwell and fills out a London square. We sometimes changed the order of the spacing of the numbers. The story, too, had to be cut. We had to eliminate [Charles Dickens'] subplot, and that amounts to a quarter or a third of the film. The rest is story and the story is found in Lionel Bart's numbers--"Food, Glorious Food", "You've got to pick a pocket or two", "Who Will Buy?" The choreography, while belonging, is in a sense a separate film needing its own exteriors.
The worst thing one can say to a child when aiming a camera at him is, "Act naturally". That will shrivel him on the spot. Children are natural actors but you must give them something to act. However many children you are going to film, give each one a separate identity. Tell the little boy to pretend the bicycle is one he has just won in a competition. Tell the little girl she is a princess in disguise. Give them something to work with and think about before the filming begins. Watch how one boy flicks his hair or rubs his nose, how a girl twists her braids and rubs one foot behind her leg. How they eat, how they smile, how they show shyness or jealousy by jumping up and down or pouting in a certain way. Then, when you are ready to film, re-enact their own mannerisms to them and ask them to imitate you. In fact, they will be doing what comes naturally to them.
Following the picture through to the last detail is critical, terribly important. You know, not enough directors are willing to do this. They are too eager to run off and play in the south of France--they want their money fast and easy. As soon as shooting is over they're thinking of the next picture and are willing to turn the current one over to the studio to cut. They're apt to say, "I'm too close to the picture now". That's nonsense. To make a good film you've got to sit down at the Moviola day after day--all day--running the footage over and over, trying combinations.
[on being asked which film he was most pleased with] They're all disappointments in the end. You only see the things you wish you had done. In the theatre you can take a play and then change it on tour or cut it down, but once you have finished a film and shown it, that's it . . . No, I have no favorites.
[on Sophia Loren] She gives herself to you as an artist. During shooting, she'd ask me, "What did I do wrong? What can I do to make it better?" I never knew her to pull an act--the headache, the temperament. Usually with such a beauty, there is worry about the looks. She doesn't bother about looks. She's interested in acting.
I give the public what I like and hope they like it, too.

Salary (1)

The Key (1958) $150 000

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