Inspector: In my profession there is neither good nor bad. There is innocence and guilt. That's all.
         Odd Man Out (1947)
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May Issue

Classic Film

Best of British

In May, our focus is on Carol Reed and two of the best films of his career. Both films are considered to film noirs with a difference. So in the eZine we take a look at both the Director and the Film Noir genre.

The star of one of the films is British actor James Mason, and we take a look at some of the lesser known facts about his life and his career in film.

And don't forget to check out more of the details about this month's screenings (including our cafe screening) by clicking the links at the bottom

We hope you enjoy this month's eZine.
Carol Reed
Director Carol Reed
Carol Reed was the second son of stage actor and founder of the Royal School of Dramatic Arts 'Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree'. Reed was one of Tree's six illegitimate children with Beatrice Mae Pinney, who Tree established in a second household. Reed grew up in a well-mannered, middle-class atmosphere. His public school days were at King's School, Canterbury, and he was only too glad to follow his father and become an actor. His mother instead shipped him off to Massachusetts in 1922, to his older brother's  chicken ranch.

After six months Reed was back in England and in 1924 made his stage debut. He met British writer Edgar Wallace, who enlisted Reed in his road troupe where he also worked as an assistant stage manager. In 1927 he followed to the British Lion Film Corporation where Reed became his personal assistant. He began learning the film trade by assisting in supervising the filmed adaptations of Wallace's works. At night he continued stage acting and managing. When Wallace passed on in 1932; Reed joined historic Ealing Studios as dialog director.

Reed rose from dialog director to second-unit director and assistant director in record time, his early directorial efforts attracted high praise from novelist/critic Graham Greene. However Reed would endure making British "B" movies until The Stars Look Down (1940), and his openly Hitchcockian Night Train to Munich (1940) often seen as a sequel to The Lady Vanishes (1938).

The British liked these films and, significantly, so did America. For Reed, who would decide to start producing his own films in order to have more control over them, was only too well aware that the film director led a team effort. As a result Reed gravitated toward the same script writers, art directors, and cinematographers as his movie list spread out.

He did service and war effort fare through World War II, with his Anglo-American documentary of combat, The True Glory (1945), winning the 1946 Oscar for Best Documentary.
                                Joseph Cotton in Carol Reed's The Third Man
Odd Man Out (1947) was Reed's first real independent effort before he made his most important move to Korda's London Films which was where he was introduced to Graham Greene. Their association would bring Reed his greatest successes -  The Fallen Idol (1948).

This was followed by the best known of Reed's films. The Third Man (1949) another Greene story, molded into a gem of a screenplay by him.The film was an international smash, and all the principal players reaped the rewards. Reed did not get an Oscar, but he did win the Cannes Film Grand Prix. Greene was motivated enough to take the story and expand it into a best-selling novel. Even Welles, with his minimum of screen timemilked the movie for all it was worth. He did not deny directorial influences, and even developed a Harry Lime radio show back home.

By now Reed was being sought by enterprising Hollywood producers. Trapeze (1956) however suffered from a slow script, as would the British-produced The Key (1958). Things finally picked up with his venture into another Greene-scripted film, the UK spy spoof Our Man in Havana (1959).

Hollywood called again or Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) with Marlon Brando however Brando's temperamental nature led Reed to leave after shooting a small part of the picture. Reed would ultimately be branded as a failure in directing historical movies.

The opportunity to make another film came knocking again with The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) but it was a "flop" at the box office. Shot on location in Rome and its environs, the film had a first-rate cast headed by Charlton Heston doing his method best as the temperamental artist with Rex Harrison, an effortless standout as the equally volatile Pope Julius II. 
Scene from Carol Reed's Odd Man Out
For Reed the only remaining triumph was, of all things, a musical--his first and only--yet again he was working with children. Howeer, the adaptation of the great Charles Dickens novel Oliver! (1968) to the screen was a sensation with a lively script and music amid a realistic 19th-century London that was up to Reed's usual standards. The film was nominated for no less than 11 Oscars, wining five and two of the big ones - Best Picture and Best Director. Reed had finally achieved that bit of elusiveness. He could never be so simplistically stamped with an uneven career; Reed had always kept to a precise craftsman's movie-making formula.

Fellow British director Michael Powell had said that Reed "could put a film together like a watchmaker puts together a watch". It was Graham Greene, however, who gave Reed perhaps the more important personal accolade: "the only director I know with that particular warmth of human sympathy, the extraordinary feeling for the right face in the right part, the exactitude of cutting, and not least important the power of sympathizing with an author's worries and an ability to guide him."
Classic Film Stars
A young James Mason
James Mason was a well know and much loved character actor who made his mark on the stage before making a big splash in British cinema. On his move to Hollywood he was also a great success, being awarded a star on the Hollwood Walk of Fame (at 6821 Hollywood Boulevard) on February 8, 1960.

While many people would know his face as well as his voice, there are many things people wouldn't realise about Mason.

  • An avowed pacifist, he refused to perform military service during World War II, a stance that caused his family to break with him for many years.
  • Was responsible for getting an unknown actor from New Zealand (Sam Neil) his first major film role.
  • He refused to wear make-up.
  • Never given a knighthood, but was awarded the Golden Seal, England's most prestigious film honor.
  • A devoted lover of animals, particularly cats. He and his wife co-authored the book The Cats in Our Lives, in which he recounted humorous and sometimes touching tales of the cats (as well as a few dogs) he had known and loved.
  • Purchased a house previously owned by Buster Keaton and discovered several nitrate film reels of previously-thought lost films. He immediately arranged to have them transferred to safety stock and saved them from being lost permanently.
Click on the film below for some more candid comments from Mason in a 1972 interview.
James Mason - Interview (1972)
                        Unedited James Mason interview from 1972
People spoke highly of Mason.

Critic Vincent Canby said: "He is, in fact, one of the very few film actors worth taking the trouble to see even when the film that encase him is so much cement".

Cinematographer Bill Fairchild said: In a noisy world, he spoke quietly and, yet, his voice will be remembered by millions who never knew him.

Mason also spoke highly (and honestly) of others.

Of Carol Reed he said -
He was always a director who got as much out of actors as could possibly be gotten. And he could stage individual scenes as well as they could possibly be staged. If he had a weakness, which I admit he has, it was that he didn't have a sufficiently keen story sense.

Of Alfred Hitchcock he said - You can see from the way he uses actors that he sees them as animated props. He casts his films very, very carefully and he knows perfectly well in advance that all the actors that he chooses are perfectly capable of playing the parts he gives them, without any special directorial effort on his part. He gets some sort of a charge out of directing the leading ladies, I think, but that's something else.

Of Judy Garland - In some of her films she showed talent which was very comic and touching. Touching because she played with a bright smile and a great spirit, while the situation was rather dramatic, even tragic perhaps. She had in fact a quality which can only be compared to Charles Chaplin's heartbreaking quality: always optimistic, always gay, always inventive, against poverty, against desperate situations - and that's when Judy is at her best.

Mason was asked by Liza Minelli to read the eulogy at her mother (Judy Garland's) funeral. Below is an excerpt from that speech:

I traveled in her orbit only for a little while but it was an exciting while, and one during which it seemed that the joys in her life outbalanced the miseries. The little girl whom I knew, who had a little curl in the middle of her forehead, when she was good she was not only very, very good, she was the most sympathetic, the funniest, the sharpest and the most stimulating woman I ever knew. She was a lady who gave so much and richly, both to her vast audience who she entertained and to the friends around her whom she loved, that there was no currency in which to repay her. And she needed to be repaid, she needed devotion and love beyond the resources of any of us.

James Mason... not only a very special actor.
Film Noir
Our May screenings can be categorised in several ways... they are both British films from the late 1940's, both directed by Carol Reed, and are both from the Film Noir genre. The most interesting thing about them is I think that they are British film noirs.

So lets discuss the genre further.

The term film noir (French for "black film,") was first applied to Hollywood films by French critic Nino Frank in 1946, but was not in common use with most American film industry professionals. Cinema historians and critics have come to accept and adopt the terminology and the genre over time and by the 1970's the term was widely adopted. Whether film noir qualifies as a distinct genre is a matter of ongoing debate among academics.

The genre has been defined in relation to the era in which the films were made, predominantly American cinema from 1945-55, but with its roots in earlier French cinema and in the expressionist German cinema of the 1930's. This period immediately preceding the post war period certainly saw many European film-makers moving to and working in Hollywood, likely bringing those influences with them.
Film Noir has also been defined in terms of its dark look, and the shadowy cinematography certainly defined many films of the era. The transition to colour film through the mid to late 50's seemed to bring this period to an end and with it the moody lighting and cinematography for which the genre was known.

Film Noir has also been defined in terms of storyline, with the identification of three key protagonists - The good guy with a critical character flaw, the Femme Fatale, and the unshakable detective or investigator. The basic story being... an average Joe who is somehow unhappy with his lot in life has a chance meeting with the Femme Fatale. He is mesmerised by her and drawn into infidelity (on his part or hers). Once he is hooked, she then pushes him further into criminality (probably murder and probably her husband). At first it seems they have 'gotten away with murder', but the relentless pursuit of the investigator eventually brings them down.
Make sure you come along to one of our screenings this month, and decide for yourself if our films fall into this category and why.

We love Film Noir, and we certainly love both The Third Man and Odd man out... and we hope you'll feel the same way.

Screening at School of Arts

Friday, 6th of May

7.00pm start

Odd Man Out (1947)

A wounded Irish nationalist leader attempts to evade police following a failed robbery. Action takes place in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Crime/Drama/Film Noir     Rated:M        116 min
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Screening at Cafe Nova

Sunday, 15th of May

7.00pm start

Monkey Business (1952)

A chemist finds his personal and professional life turned upside down when one of his chimpanzees finds the fountain of youth.

Comedy     Rated:PG        97 min
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Screening at School of arts

Saturday, 7th of May

7.00pm start

The Third Man (1949)

Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, Harry Lime.

Film Noir/Mystery/Thriller    Rated: M       93 mins
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