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The Quiet American (1958)

When 2002's The Quiet American was released, critics often noted that Graham Greene's 1955's novel of the same name had been adapted to the screen before, and that the initial adaptation compromised the intent of the story. This version was made in 1958, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Many of the story's details were the same: A nameless American (Audie Murphy) is found dead, and British reporter Thomas Fowler (Michael Redgrave) is questioned as to his involvement. Both men had an interest in the same woman, Phuong (Giorgia Moll), and the American seemed to have the advantage, since he wasn't married like Fowler (whose wife is religious and won't grant him a divorce). Fowler watches the American's involvement in Vietnam and sees that he's interested in plastics, realizing he may be a government agent. But it's their romantic triangle that puts Fowler in the hot seat when the mysterious American's death is investigated. What was altered in the Mankiewicz version of The Quiet American was the American's lack of culpability; in the original story (and 2002 film) he's dirty-dealing and manipulative. Taken on its own, Mankiewicz's picture is a minor entry in the director's canon that offers small pleasures: Redgrave gives a fine performance, and the cinematography by Robert Krasker (who also shot one of the best Graham Greene adaptations, 1949's The Third Man) is excellent. Mankiewicz's strengths were based on his writing; unfortunately, the leisurely pace makes the film feel stagnant for a mystery, while as an examination of character, it's easy to link this to some of the director's best works, including All About Eve and The Barefoot Contessa. But knowing what it was adapted from makes 1958's The Quiet American seem declawed. Roger Ebert posited (in his review of the 2002 version) that perhaps the CIA had a hand in downplaying the nameless American character — considering America was already a part of the Vietnam conflict, it's possible that Mankiewicz was advised to change the nature of the story. But instead of comparing and contrasting the two versions, it's more interesting to compare both versions to their doppelgangers in the 1955 and 1999 versions of The End of the Affair. In both cases the stories were remade decades later in better and more faithful adaptations. It would almost be worth floating the thesis that Greene's novels were too adult to made in that era, although such would discount Carol Reed's The Third Man and Fallen Idol. It's better to suggest that Greene's books could never be turned into mainstream American entertainment without losing what made them so great. MGM presents The Quiet American in non-anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) and monaural DD 2.0 audio. No extras, keep-case.
—DSH



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