The Quiet American [1958] & The Quiet American [2002]

From the Chicago Reader (February 1, 2002). — J.R.


Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1958 adaptation of the Graham Greene novel certainly makes hash of its anti-American, procommunist elements, but this story about a disillusioned British journalist (Michael Redgrave) and an idealistic American (Audie Murphy) battling over the heart, mind, and body of a Saigon woman was sufficiently provocative for Jean-Luc Godard to declare it the best film of the year. The fact that Mankiewicz cast Italian actress Giorgia Moll as the woman suggests how remote he was from Vietnam, yet the scene in which the American asks the Brit to translate his marriage proposal into Vietnamese must have struck Godard: five years later he cast Moll as an interpreter in Contempt. Though The Quiet American may seem a curious cold war artifact today, it embodies Mankiewicz’s talky cinema in all its measured ambiguity. 120 min. (JR)

Quiet American, The (1958)



From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 2002). — J.R.


Phillip Noyce’s first-rate adaptation of Graham Greene’s interesting 1955 anti-American novel about Vietnam, scripted by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan, was held back by Miramax, its U.S. distributor, for over a year because of September 11 — apparently on the assumption that Americans who considered the terrorist attacks unprovoked would find any criticism of their country’s overseas behavior in the 50s unwarranted and unnecessary. Now further events have shown Greene’s novel to be even more prescient about American do-gooders loose in the world. Against France’s war in Vietnam in the early 50s Greene juxtaposed a romantic triangle — a hardened and lazy English journalist (Michael Caine), his beautiful Vietnamese mistress (Do Thi Hai Yen), and the eager and idealistic young American aid worker (Brendan Fraser) who sets out to win her over — and the story carries more bite than ever. Caine’s Oscar-nominated performance is clearly one of the most nuanced to date from this first-rate actor, and Fraser is funny and effective as a foil to the old pro. Apparently trimmed by Miramax, which always knows what’s best for us, this 101-minute picture still packs a punch. (JR)

the quiet american

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