The Quiet American

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday June 26, 2017

The Quiet American

The Twilight Time Blu-ray edition of "The Quiet American" -- the 1958 Joseph L. Mankiewicz original, not the 2002 Philip Noyce remake starring Michael Caine -- is given star treatment, with a 1080p high definition transfer that's either been taken from a pristine print or subjected to restoration work. In any case, it looks great.

The story remains timeless -- and, what's more, pitiless, though (as film scholar Julie Kirgo notes in her liner notes essay) Mankiewicz, who also wrote the screenplay, took considerable liberties with the source material, the 1955 Graham Greene novel of the same title.

Michael Redgrave (father of Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave) plays the middle-aged Thomas Fowler, a journalist stationed in Saigon as the conflict between Communism and colonialism is escalating. The Americans are already circling the situation, worried about a "domino effect" spread of Communism. Fowler has a beautiful young consort named Phuong (Giorgia Moll), whom he treats as a comfort and a convenience; there's no question of marrying her since Fowler has a wife, Helen, back in England.

But his casual attitude toward Phuong suddenly takes on much more complexity when a young American man, Alden Pyle (Audie Murphy) appears on the scene and takes an interest in Phuong. Pyle is the "Quiet American" of the title, but whereas in the novel his was the stealth of a covert operative, in this case, Pyle's respectful effect is the result of a sincere desire to help; he's a self-assigned aid worker of sorts, but Fowler suspects him of being an American intelligence operative engaged in terroristic activities. Those suspicions detail nicely, of course, with Fowler's growing jealousy and anger at the idea of Pyle simply swooping in and stealing Phuong from him -- after all, Pyle has an irresistible commonality with the gorgeous woman, in that they are both young.

Greene's overtly political novel thus becomes a politically-tinged thriller in which Fowler seemingly plays fair in the love department while playing dirty -- and being played in turn -- in the nation's growing war, maneuvering Pyle into a position where ruthless elements can take him out and end his rivalry. In the process, Fowler's civility (and his self-respect) are stripped away. It's a pulverizing indictment of human weakness, but also of colonialism.

Redgrave remains an impressive actor, his performance mannered but not dated. Claude Dauphin appears in a framing story as Inspector Vigot, bringing an equally powerful portrayal to the film in his limited screen time. The rivalry might be between Fowler and Pyle, but the real match of equals -- and the hotter contest by far -- burns between Fowler and Vigot.

This Twilight Time release offers the signature extras of Kirgo's spirited essay as well as an isolated music track, but that's all -- no film scholars reeling off arcane trivia and personal anecdotes on a commentary track. That seems an odd omission, given the film's enduring stature, but on the other hand, the movie pretty well speaks for itself. It's hands-down a classic.

"The Quiet American"



Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.