Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bonus Noir: The Man Between (1953, Carol Reed)

Directed by: Carol Reed
Written by: Walter Ebert (story), Harry Kurnitz (screenplay), Eric Linklater (screenplay) (uncredited)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 3 only]

Following the release of his masterpiece The Third Man (1949), a refreshingly-offbeat amalgam of British noir and Ealing-style whimsy, director Carol Reed was heralded as one of the era's most promising filmmakers. Critical admirers anxiously awaited his follow-up effort, which was four years coming. Today, the consensus appears to regard The Man Between (1953) as little but a pale imitation of The Third Man. Certainly, the two films share similar scenarios, both involving a foreigner's espionage-tinged visit to a war-torn city (Vienna and Berlin, respectively) that has been divided by opposing powers. However, despite lacking Graham Greene's wry sense of humour, and particularly the boyish charisma of Orson Welles, Reed's follow-up picture is nonetheless an excellent drama, blending romance and tragedy with the director's usual flair for generating atmosphere and international intrigue. The fine chemistry between stars James Mason and Claire Bloom finds a life of its own amid the rubble-strewn ruins of a city still at war with itself.

Young British woman Susanne Mallison (Claire Bloom, whom Chaplin had discovered the previous year for Limelight (1952)) arrives in Berlin to visit her brother (Geoffrey Toone), who has married German-born Bettina (Hildegard Knef). Through her sister-in-law, Susanne is introduced to the enigmatic Ivo Kern (James Mason), a professional kidnapper with ambiguous allegiances towards both the Eastern and Western powers. Screenwriter Harry Kurnitz had a talent for illustrating characters with hidden motives and concealed secrets (see Witness for the Prosecution (1957), The Web (1947) or either of his Thin Man features), and his screenplay spends its first half ominously exploring the intentions of Bettina, whose association with Ivo implicitly suggests a family betrayal. Interestingly, the character is effectively abandoned in the film's second half, but to the film's advantage, as Susanne and Ivo are relentlessly hunted in the Eastern Bloc following a botched kidnapping. Here, Reed narrows his dramatic focus, but the doomed romance between Bloom's young idealist and Mason's war-weary criminal remains appropriately understated, inspiring empathy without stooping to melodrama.

Despite the absence of Robert Krasker, The Man Between is a beautifully shot film, with director-of-photography Desmond Dickinson capturing, not only the atmosphere, but the foreboding personality of the crumbling German capital. John Addison's musical score is haunting and graceful, certainly a far cry from Anton Karas' zither, but nonetheless effective in its own right. One thing I've noticed about every Carol Reed film I've seen (and the tally currently sits at seven) is that all the performances are perfect – not only the main and supporting stars, but everybody down to the briefest of speaking roles. James Mason sports a convincing German accent, and Claire Bloom is simply adorable in her naive innocence, with a smile that will melt your heart. A particularly important character is young Horst (Dieter Krause), whose love Ivo instinctively rejects, for such a criminal can never allow himself to form attachments to those he must inevitably abandon. Ultimately, and tragically, it is Horst's devotion that results in Ivo's death, the final proof that love and death are never far apart.

Currently my #7 film of 1953:
1) From Here To Eternity (Fred Zinnemann)
2) Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder)
3) I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock) *
4) The Titfield Thunderbolt (Charles Crichton)
5) Le salaire de la peur {The Wages of Fear} (Henri-Georges Clouzot)
6) Roman Holiday (William Wyler)
7) The Man Between (Carol Reed) *
8) The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli)
9) Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller) *
10) The War Of The Worlds (Byron Haskin)


Ténèbres à la lumière... said...

Hi! Andrew,
I'am so happy to say that I'am about to get my hands on this hard-to-find film.(Along with 4 o 5
additional titles starring actor James Mason.)Therefore, I want to take this time to...
most definitely,...
Thank-you, for reviewing this film...
...and "introducing" me to this 1953, film directed by director Carol Reed.

Take care!
DeeDee ;-D

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrew,

Great article. I'm trying to get my hands on a copy of "The Man Between" on DVD - can you suggest places I could try?