(1958)4Craig ButlerAlthough Graham Greene purists will object to the liberties Joseph L. Mankiewicz took in bringing The Quiet American to the screen, most viewers will find the end result an accomplished, involving, and intriguing, if occasionally talky, experience. The cynicism and the American indictment of Greene's original have been muted, and even those unfamiliar with the novel will likely be able to tell that something is not quite right; but this flaw is more than offset by Mankiewicz's atmospheric, often taut, direction and by the powerful, devastating effect produced by the actions of the two main characters. Viewers are likely to be divided on Audie Murphy's performance, which clearly lacks depth and texture; however, Murphy as a person, if not as an actor, exudes the naïveté and guilelessness that are at the heart of the character, and this helps to atone for much of his lack of acting technique. Michael Redgrave, of course, has technique for days, and he employs it to the full here, delivering a stunning performance that will have the audience on his side (even perhaps when they shouldn't be). Redgrave wraps his soul around the Greene/Mankiewicz dialogue, making a great deal out of even the simplest moments, and the strength of his work carries the film. There's also some gorgeous, very stylish black-and-white photography from Robert Krasker and some evocative location lensing that add to the film's effectiveness.
The Quiet American was the first major American-financed film to touch upon the powder-keg situation in Vietnam (still referred to as Indochina in 1958). Audie Murphy plays an enigmatic American who comes to Saigon, ostensibly on an economic mission. He meets an embittered journalist (Michael Redgrave) who is living with an Indochinese girl (Giorgia Moll). The American falls for the girl and promises to marry her. In retaliation, the reporter tells the communists that the American GI's economist stance is a cover, and that he is actually selling munitions to non-communist troops. Graham Greene had intended his novel The Quiet American to be an attack against American influence in Southeast Asia. Producer/director/adapter Joseph L. Mankiewicz would have none of that, so he changed the ending into a pro-Yankee tract -- thereby killing any impact the film might have had.