Saturday, January 29, 2011

Graham Greene's Movies

Graham Greene was a wonderful storyteller. More than that, his stories made wonderful movies, especially when he also wrote the screenplays. The Third Man is one of the most memorable films ever made – who can forget the long closing shot of Valli walking along the cemetery road, or the fat-faced little Austrian boy shouting “Murther!”? The Comedians is another of my favorites. How could it miss, with Alec Guinness and Richard Burton? Our Man in Havana, The Fallen Idol, The End of the Affair, The Heart of the Matter – so many good stories, so well told.

Now a new Graham Greene picture is about to open: Brighton Rock, with Helen Mirren, Sam Riley, and Andrea Riseborough. This is a remake of a 1947 film noir starring Richard Attenborough. The original was good, but this promises to be better (at least the trailers look promising). Greene’s novels are the kind of stuff that film studios can’t stay away from. The End of the Affair was made in 1955 (with a strong performance by Deborah Kerr), but Hollywood, no doubt hooked by the title, remade the movie in 1999, with Ralph Fiennes. I have mixed feelings about the two versions. Ralph Fiennes was a much better Bendrix than was his predecessor, Van Johnson, but screenwriter Neil Jordan (1999) mangled the story as told by Greene. But sometimes the remake is far superior to the original. The Quiet American with Michael Caine was infinitely better than the 1958 version with Audie Murphy.

One of Graham Greene’s best spy thrillers, The Human Factor, was filmed in 1979. Directed By Otto Preminger, it starred Richard Attenborough, Nicol Williamson, Derek Jacobi, Robert Morley, and John Gielgud. Despite all this starpower (plus a screenplay by Tom Stoppard), the movie ran afoul of cold-war politics, and to this day no DVD is available.

Anyone interested in learning more about Graham Greene’s films can do no better than Graham Greene: The Films of his Fiction, by Gene Phillips S.J. Published in 1974, it does not cover the remakes, but it is good reading nonetheless.