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Quiet American, The (1958)USA 1958
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Running time 120 minutes
Joseph L. Mankiewicz's adaptation of Graham Greene’s prescient 1956 novel is a relentlessly wordy affair that, rather surprisingly turns the origianl text into a murder thriller with anti-Communist spin, largely forsaking Greene’s critical focus on the nascent American involvement in Vietnam.
Michael Redgrave plays Thomas Fowler, a British journalist stationed in Saigon in the early 1950s, a time when the Communists in the North were just beginning their attempts to oust the French and their puppet Saigon-based government. Cynical and world weary, the only thing that really matters to him is a beautiful young Vietnamese woman, Phuong (Giorgia Moll) with whom he is having an extra-marital affair. This latter is threatened however when an idealistic young American aid-worker, Alden Pyle (Audie Murphy) arrives on the scene. The film opens with Chinese New Year celebrations and Pyle being found dead. The story of how he got dead is told in flashback by Fowler who is, as they say, “a person of interest”.
Although for its time an impressively authentic-looking production being shot (by veteran cinematographer Robert Krasker) largely in Vietnam with interiors at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, dramatically the film is far less convincing. The love triangle is handled rather perfunctorily, with Audie Murphy, in a role which would have been better suited to a Montgomery Clift, underwhelming as the idealistic young buck and Italian actress, Georgia Moll, awkward as a winsome Vietnamese beauty. We almost entirely dependent on Redgrave’s Fowler to convey the substance, of this unhappy state of affairs, something which, thankfully, he does very well.
The film is of interest for its depiction of Cao-Dai, a syncretist religion based in Southern Vietnam which apparently at the time was considered a “Third Force” alternative to the Communists and the French but really the various political interest are here reduced to cyphers in a plot which ends tragically for all concerned.
FYI: The film was re-made with greater fidelity and clarity in 2002 by Phillip Noyce.