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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 15, No. 14. July 24, 1952

Films — Sir Carol Reed


Sir Carol Reed

The Announcement of Carold Reed's knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours List was received with enthusiasm by all students and lovers of the cinema. Here was a justified reward for a director who has made it his job to explore the film as an art. Even at the beginning of his film-making career, critics noticed a style that was both individual and firm. Since then the quality of his work has improved, and to-day we recognise him as a superb artist who has completely mastered his medium.

Such mastery has dominated his last four films: "Odd Man Out," "The Fallen Idol," "The Third Man," and "An Outcast of the Islands." The first of these, "Odd Man Out," deals with a conventional figure; the hunted man. But this film is above the ordinary, as something deeper is achieved.

We see Johnny MacQueen being chased through the city (what city? It doesn't matter) but we also see those people who are vitally concorned with his fate. The police want to bring him to justice; his comrades want to rescue him; the girl wants him because she loves him; the priest wants to save his soul; the painter wants to paint his dying face. The film is used to search out the inner soul of society itself.

Reed's next film offers us a very different subject: it deals with a little boy who, wrongly thinking that his hero, the butler, has murdered a woman, unwittingly causes the near arrest of the innocent butler. Once again a fairly conventional plot, but a plot which Reed uses to show the habits and ideas of a small child, and the progressive disillusionments of childhood. Reed's handling of children is always sympathetic, and in his next film. "The Third Man" another child is prominent. Do you remember the child "motif" in a film that is full of brilliant moments? The plot of this film is familiar; the Hitchcock type of thriller set in postwar Vienna. However, there is something more in this film than mere "Hitchcockism;" we are concerned with the conflict of loyalties in a city corrupted and in ruins, tamperings with Penicillin and dying, half-crazy children.

Reed's latest film "An Outcast of the Islands" is again different in character and atmosphere. Here, amongst the rich and varied tropical scenery of Borneo and Ceylon, we see the soul of the Englishman Willems going rotten because of his love for the beautiful native girl. Aissa. "The Outcast of the Islands" is a barbarous film, but a film that is full of the poetry usually associated with Carol Reed's work. Reed's camera explores and takes note of significant detail; little brown children slipping in and out of the water, natives shouting and unloading ships, fans twirling in hot billiard-rooms. The camera, by capturing such details, gives a description of tropical life and atmosphere that is imaginative and poetic. But such work is traditional. We are also given brilliant descriptions in his other films; for example, in the film "The Third Man" we see a fear-ridden, corrupted post-war Vienna. Reed always regards his camera as a commentator, both versatile and puckish. Reed's camera attacks reality from all sides—comic, ironic, tragic and sentimental.

With such a camera there is little wonder that Reed always extracts from his players performances that are excellent and that fit into the pattern of his film. Actors and actress a of various quality have, no doubt, a longing desire to be in a Carol Reed film. Reed is not fussy about his subjects, so even music-hall artists may have a chance. "It's dull to stick to the same sort of subject," Reed says, "and bad for one's work in the bargain. Repetition makes a director grow stale in his work, and lose his grip as an entertainer. I happen to like a dark street, with wet cobbles, and a small furtive figure under a lamp at the corner. Whenever I go on location. I instinctively look for something of that kind. Now that is bad; thoroughly bad for me and tedious for the public. Variety is an essential exercise to a director. Every new film should be a new beginning, and nobody should ever be able to say with certainty. 'Oh, that's a Carol Reed subject' or That's not a Carol Reed subject.' It's doing the particular job well—any and every sort of job—that primarily interests me. I don't think the type of subject matters much, do you?"

Those who have seen the films I have discussed will realise that Reed practises what he preaches. If you have not seen the films, I exhort you to see them and give Sir Carol Reed his due as the best director in England today.

Ian Rich.