“The Quiet American,” (2002), a romantic war/political drama, is the second treatment to be made of the book of the same name, THE QUIET AMERICAN, by the great British master of the spy story, and several other genres, Graham Greene. An earlier, American treatment starring Audie Murphy attempted to leach out its undoubted anti-Americanism. This treatment, by British director Philip Noyce, (PATRIOT GAMES), leaves the strong anti-Americanism in. So much so that, although Miramax had paid $5.5 million for the rights to distribute the movie in North America and some other territories, they shelved it for more than a year after the attacks of 9/11/01, and planned to send it straight to video. But the hugely talented starring actor Michael Caine,(ALFIE, THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING), who was to be Oscar nominated for his part here, persuaded Miramax to screen it at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival. It then received many good reviews, so Miramax decided to chance a theatrical release of it in the United States. At its heart, this murder mystery centers on a love triangle set against the French Indochina War in 1952 Vietnam. It’s set in, and was filmed in, Saigon, then in the midst of the debilitating Vietnamese war of liberation against its French colonial masters. Soon to be followed by the overwhelmingly destructive Vietnamese struggle against American forces. The city was, then as now, a beautiful, exotic, mysterious place, suffused with opium, intrigue and betrayal. Caine, playing British reporter Thomas Fowler, correspondent for the London Times, loves his young Vietnamese mistress Phuong, but cannot get a divorce from his unseen British wife. He is dismayed when a recently arrived idealistic young American aid worker, graduate of an Ivy League University, Alden Pyle (played by Canadian born Brendan Fraser, BLAST FROM THE PAST), with whom he becomes friendly, also begins to vie for her attention. The tempestuous love triangle that results leads to a series of startling revelations, and, ultimately, murder. Rade Serbedzija, who played a singing Emile de Becque in a 2002 television treatment of RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S SOUTH PACIFIC, is on hand as Inspector Vigot, given the thankless task of trying to figure it all out. Nothing, and no one, is as it seems, in this adaptation of Graham Greene's classic powerful and prophetic story of love, betrayal, murder and the origin of the American war in Vietnam. Greene was one of the more influential and illustrious British writers of the 20th century. He enjoyed a very long life, most of the 20th century, and a very long, prolific writing career, during which he gave us THE COMEDIANS, OUR MAN IN HAVANA, and THE THIRD MAN among many other masterworks, most of which were made into notable films. Greene himself had first-hand spy experience, having served in the African nation of Sierra Leone during World War II. He’d been recruited to Britain’s World War II Secret Service, MI6, upon the recommendation of later notorious spy/counterspy Kim Philby, a friend from Oxford days, who did the British Secret Service a great deal of damage. However, Greene was later to say that, if ever he had to choose between his country and his friends, he hoped he’d choose his friends. The writer was instinctively anti-American, and left-wing. He traveled widely, as a journalist, and to research his novels, and had great serendipity in his wanderings. Many of them occurred at critical times. The Cuban-set OUR MAN made into a film, OUR MAN, starring Alec Guinness, was published in October, 1956. On New Years Day 1959 the revolutionary Castro came down from the Cuban mountains to sweep into power. THE COMEDIANS , made into a film of the same name, THE COMEDIANS, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, was set in the last days of “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s tyrannical Haiti regime. THE QUIET AMERICAN is set just before the important battle of Dien Bien Phu, which pulled America into the war happening a world away. It’s a film well-worth watching, no matter your politics, not least for a chance to feast your eyes on Saigon.
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