Larry has more thoughts on the novels to films of Graham Greene.
(Can you identify the pair pictured above, and the Green-inspired movie in which they appeared? No? Read on.)
Greene’s “The Third Man” classic is murky and morose, although sometimes funny. But his “Our Man in Havana,” another cinema classic, is outright hilarious, although frequently sad.
It’s a talent the Brits have: Really funny, really sad. With Greene, it’s a direct reflection of his own heart of darkness. A convert to Roman Catholicism, Greene even on his best days wouldn’t have qualified as an altar boy.
Best news: Carol Reed again was the director, a match made in celluloid heaven.
Although Greene appropriately insisted that none of the characters or events in “Our Man in Havana” were reality-based, it was a lovely coincidence that the 1960 movie came out just before JFK had to deal with the Cuban missile crisis – and not long before the first James Bond movie, which in its own way was even more absurd than “Our Man in Havana.”
Alec Guinness is Jim Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana whose wife has left him. He is barely able to pay his bills, is worried about a nubile daughter who is being leered at by the lecherous police chief (portrayed curiously by Ernie Kovacs), and is tenuously clinging to his modest way of life.
Along comes a British spy (definitely NOT Sean Connery) who recruits him as an operative. Wormold can’t resist the promised payments for intelligence information, so he makes up an increasing number of informants – based on people he barely knows and rarely sees – and guess what? ‘C’ in London buys it.
Wormold comes under increasing pressure to gather more information, and he comes up with the brilliant idea of sending off a schematic copy of one of his vaccum cleaners – an intelligence coup that is regarded in London as proof of the existence of a weapon of massive destruction – and this was BEFORE the Cuban missile crisis.
Give the man credit, Greene knew what he was doing, even though it was nothing but a comedy. Catch this show. The movie featured Burl Ives, Maureen O’Hara, Kovacs, Noel Coward, Jo Morrow and, as ‘C’, Ralph Richardson. The movie version of the novel gets a little off track at the end, but nothing to make you throw your copy in the dumpster.
But about that funny/sad business: The Alec Guinness character is Catholic, his wife will not come back to him, and consequently he is one sad dude. Because of his religion, he can never marry another woman. Ouch.
Read the book and/or watch the movie of Greene’s “The Heart of the Matter.” It has a major sad quotient, along the lines mentioned above. It’s a great book, though, and was a 1953 movie (1954 in the U.S.).
The cast (those Brits are not only good, they all seem to work for a living) includes Trevor Howard, Elizabeth Allan, Maria Schell, Denholm Elliott and Peter Finch.
“The Quiet American” will give you a few chills and cause for thought. Greene explored Vietnam after the French debacle, and his novel is piercing. Again, not a particularly loving self-portrait in the 1958 film, if you’re inclined to equate the fictional character who seems quite a bit like Greene.
The cast included the improbable Audie Murphy, along with Michael Redgrave, Claude Dauphin and Bruce Cabot, among others. The movie was remade in 2002, with Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser. Too bad Greene isn’t around for Iraq/Afganistan/Pakistan.
On second thought, maybe not.