Postwar Espionage: The Quiet American (1958) + Foreign Intrigue (1955)

July 22, 2017 | By

There’s a view held by some journalists where the older one gets, the more conservative become one’s views, resulting in greater political interest in things past, present, and future, but I don’t buy it as being age-specific, because with greater awareness of systems and administrations at home, next door, and abroad, I’d bet more people have become more savvy; some choose to step away altogether from the sordid details and nonsense in the news, while others absorb morsels in measured amounts, tuning out dismal behaviour when it becomes distracting, depressing, or revolting.

I kind of fall not quite into the news & political junkie realm, but I’m fairly close. There’s a correlation between a group of Neanderthals banging clubs and tossing rocks to make a point (‘Me Strong!’), protest an injustice (‘Mammoth pelt MINE!’), or gain dominance in a community (‘Him and him losers. Fake storytellers. So sad!’), and the clever maneuvers which modern politicians employ to look worldly, benevolent, stern & strict, and sage to all the ills of past history and future quandaries. Brains aren’t smashed in, but ignorance, arrogance, and meddling do greater damage because the effects are far-reaching.

Novels set in times of or between deep turmoil are irresistible, because the bellicose circumstances add extra stress to a romance, friendship, or family desperately trying to remain intact as their country is torn apart by civil war.

Political and social unrest also allowed deft novelists like Graham Greene to layer sharp critiques, add a dollop of stinging cynicism, and use conventional tales of woe to show meddling on a grand scale or very subtle levels before Hell is unleashed. Greene wrote both novels and screenplays during his fruitful career, yet his tales in print and film form never dulled over the years with fans.

Their settings during or between war & social strife are also time capsules, especially when they capture bad foreign policy that made matters worse.

Sure the film’s a major downer, but instead of feeling sad for the unhappy lovers, perk up with a pair of tunes by The Grape Stompers!

Greene wasn’t pleased when his 1955 novel The Quiet American was gutted of its anti-American critiques in 1958 by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, but the story of an idealistic American trying to engage locals in a free enterprise and become self-sufficient (and pro-capitalist) still works in spite of the major fiddling.

Twilight Time’s lovely Blu-ray presents the film in its loveliest (or grimmest, depending on one’s view). Phillip Noyce took a more faithful crack at the story in 2002, and in due time I’ll take a peek at that version, but for now there’s my take on the ’58 a film that’s shockingly astute, cynical, and features actual Vietnamese location.

Boy, did the ad boys lay on the bullshit to sell this not easy to quantify suspense tale.

I’ve also added a review of a film made a few years earlier in what was either an attempt to spin-off a film franchise based on a successful TV series, or use the film to launch a new show.

Sheldon Reynolds seemed to have tried to hedge his bets when he took aspects of his fifties show Foreign Intrigue and added star Robert Mitchum to portray an American becoming enmeshed in a weird cover-up planned by his recently deceased boss, with creepy figures in France, Sweden, and Austria tied to a unique scheme involving a fair amount of espionage.

KINO’s KL Studio Classics features a bare bones edition of the 1955 film – pity that a set of the original TV series isn’t available – but for its first half Foreign Intrigue lives up to its catchy name, and it’s fun to watch Mitchum playing a Cary Grant variant.

After my review of Dario Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome (1998) runs in an upcoming issue of Rue Morgue Magazine, I’ll have an expanded piece on Blue Underground’s excellent 3-disc set, which sports a nice transfer and a mix of new and archival extras.

What’s important is the film looks great, Argento’s deeply unsettling detective thriller has aged unexpectedly well, and the new set finally allows fans to replace that old and less than satisfactory Troma DVD we in Region 1 land had to settle with for a long, long time.

Now if only someone would tackle Sleepless (2001), preferably with an isolated score track of Goblin’s stellar music. (The CD’s a great re-recording and expansion of cues, but differs quite a bit from the film versions.)

Coming soon are reviews of a pretty dismal CanCon comedy non-classic, a guilty pleasure from the Orion Pictures catalogue that’s new to Blu, and a pair of titles from Britain’s Indicator, which offer some significant extras over their Twilight Time counterparts.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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