Today’s choice is a rare example of a remake that is so much better than the original, it leaves me recommending the modern version as the only one to watch. In 1958, Hollywood filmed the Graham Greene novel ‘The Quiet American’, starring Audie Murphy and Michael Redgrave. Neither stars were the first choices, or even the second, and despite some filming taking place in Vietnam (where the story is set) much of it was shot in Italy instead.
If you don’t know the story, it is set in 1952, during the revolt against French rule in the country. A young American (Murphy) has arrived to work for an aid organisation, though he may secretly be a CIA spy, checking out the country for later US involvement in the region. He meets a distinguished British journalist (Redgrave) and falls for the older man’s beautiful Vietnamese girlfriend, taking her away from his friend. As a result, the journalist exposes America’s shady dealings of supporting the anti-communists in the country, and giving them arms.
The film outraged Graham Greene by changing the political emphasis, and making it appear that America was doing the ‘right thing’. And despite a classically understated and powerful performance from the distinguished Redgrave, Audie Murphy was woefully miscast in his role.
Then in 2002, another version was made, by Philip Noyce. This starred Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, with Caine as the journalist, and Fraser in the role played by Audie Murphy in the earlier film. By this time of course, we had seen the French defeated in Vietnam, and the long war that followed against the US and their South Vietnamese allies. Most people had some idea of the background, and the events that led up to it, shown in Greene’s novel, and the earlier film.
But crucially, the modern film stuck to Greene’s original story, and ending. The often clumsy Fraser stepped up to portray the American so well, and Michael Caine gave one of his best performances as the world-weary journalist, which earned him three nominations for Best Actor. The whole film was shot in Vietnam, with locations including Hanoi and Saigon. This was the film that should have been made in 1958, if it hadn’t been for casting errors, and the dark shadow of the McCarthy witch-hunts. If you have never seen it, I really recommend you do.