Think a moment about books on film. Sometimes the adaptations are just wretched, a mangling of everything the author was trying to achieve, the images lifeless without the language. Then there’s the other side of that coin—a collaboration between a writer and a director that enhances the work of both. One such fortunate pairing was of British film director Carol Reed and author Graham Greene.
Carol Reed collaborated with Greene in adapting three of his works to the silver screen, and I’ve finally gotten to see all of them. Best known of these is the much-praised film The Third Man (1949), which stars Orson Welles. Its dark atmospherics and sharp angles evoke an eeriness that visually complements the desperation of the character of Harry Lime. It’s easy to find on DVD.
I saw the second of these collaborations at the Grand Illusion, a bijou revival house in the University district. Our Man in Havana (1959) features Sir Alec Guinness in the role of vacuum-cleaner salesman turned spy. I urge you to read the book, too, and in all fairness I warn you that Graham Greene is one of my favorite writers. Sadly, when I saw this film they said it is currently available only on celluloid. I hope that will change.
I finally completed the trilogy this week, viewing The Fallen Idol (1948). This film is based on Graham Greene’s short story The Basement Room. The author worked with the director to expand the story, and the resulting movie is marvelous. This film is about the child of a diplomat. Often left alone, his best friend is the butler who helps to run the embassy. The child believes the butler committed murder, and he tries to help him cover it up. The plot is very unusual, and I believe it succeeds in part because of the way it was directed. I’m glad to have finally seen it, and I enjoyed Ralph Richardson’s performance. It is available on DVD.
I am sure that film-making of that kind that Carol Reed did—who, by the way, was male—makes me see the world differently. I’ve always been one to notice the shadows, reflections cast on the world by other objects. I’m glad for that gift, and I think it comes from directors like Carol Reed. If I ran a book club, I’d suggest a comparison of these films to the written words. There’s a lot to discuss.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
163. Have you seen films of books you’ve read? What worked? What didn’t? Why do you think that is?