The Quiet American (1952, Audie Murphy, Michael Redgrave)

Political intrigue and sexual jealousy in 1950s Saigon in Joseph Mankiewicz’s flawed yet engaging adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel. Michael Redgrave excels as the cynical English journalist, who abandons his ‘neutral’ detachment to become involved in an assassination plot.

“A propaganda piece for American policy in Vietnam” is how Graham Greene dismissed the film version of his novel ‘The Quiet American’, while according to writer-director-producer Joseph Mankiewicz “it was a very bad film I made during a very unhappy time in my life”. Both these verdicts seem unfairly vitriolic towards this intelligent thriller, which anticipates the disastrous involvement of the Kennedy administration in Vietnam.

Fowler (Redgrave) is the middle-aged British war correspondent, who appears to have become immune to the horrors of fighting. Seeking a divorce from his wife in England, he has taken up with a young Vietnamese mistress Phuong (Moll). One night he’s introduced to Pyle, the quiet American of the title (real-life war hero Murphy), an idealistic young Texan working for an American economic aid mission. Hoping to establish a so-called “third force” in Vietnamese society (one that is neither communist nor colonialist), he seeks contact with supporters of General The. Not only are Fowler’s and Pyle’s political views diametrically opposed, but the younger man is a rival for Phoung’s affections.

Greene particularly objected to the way Mankiewicz changed the ending of his book, yet the alteration, whilst creating an American martyr, does heighten the tragedy of Fowler’s mistaken intervention, which is fuelled by as much by sexual bitterness as by any humanitarian concerns. Atmospherically shot in black and white by The Third Man cinematographer Robert Krasker, The Quiet American does suffer from some verbose dialogue, the blandness of Murphy’s performance, and the miscasting and side-lining of the Phuong character, a Vietnamese woman played by here an Italian-German model.

Trivia: The Quiet American was filmed in Saigon and at the Cinecitta studios in Rome.

Cast: Audie Murphy, Michael Redgrave, Claude Dauphin, Giorgia Moll, Bruce Cabot, Fred Sadoff

Writer and Director: Joseph L Mankiewicz
Photographer: Robert Krasker
Composer: Mario Nascimbene