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Graham Greene and the cinema

I cannot think of any writer who has had a more profound effect on the cinema than Graham Greene. Many of his stories were filmed, he wrote screenplays, he was a film critic of The Spectator and he even appeared as an insurance broker in Truffaut’s  Day for Night.

He is perhaps best known for three films with Michael  Korda: the Third Man, Our Man in Havana and Fallen Idol. Yesterday I watched Fallen Idol. This stars  Ralph Richardson in an understated nuanced role as a butler called Baines in a foreign embassy anxious to hide his affaire with a secretary there from his vicious wife. Here he needs the help of the ambassador’s young son Phil. The problem is that the more he tries to help the bigger hole he digs for Baines. Phil is caught between keeping a secret and telling the truth especially when the police become involved. The action is set in the spacious hall of the embassy which provides a rather Hitchcokian eerie atmosphere to the drama which unfurls. Made in 1947 you see a supporting cast which includes the young Jack Hawkins, Dora Bryan and Bernard Lee. The associate director is Bond film director Guy Hamilton and I wonder if he cast Lee as M based on this film.

Greene was a notorious and flagrant womaniser. He made some regrettable comments about Shirley Temple’s sexuality. Baines makes reference to “blackies” which would trouble the modern audience and the novel Stamboul Train has carried the accusation of being anti-Semitic for the characterisation of a Jew. He probably wouldn’t have survived into today ‘s PC moral climate. Yet his best work is still the subject still of film making  – The Quiet American and  The End of the Affair were made within the last 15 years whilst The Third Man is rightly still regarded as  a classic of British cinema. Fallen Idol for all its fine acting and story telling is more neglected but well worth a viewing.

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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts