Sir Carol Reed


Suggested Films:


The Fallen Idol (1948)
The Third Man (1949)
Our Man in Havana (1959)
Oliver! (1960)

Carol Reed was born on the 30th December 1906. He was educated at Kings School and somewhat interestingly was only a few years older at the school than future Brit filmmaker Michael Powell.

His father died when he was just 10 and it was quite a struggle for one parent families in those days. But he had been born into a family with some of the best theatrical credentials. His father was Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1853-1917), the leading actor of his day. But like the parents of other successful actors / directors of that time his mother tried to discourage the increasing interest Carol has in the theatre and pointed him instead to considering running a farm. At one point he was even dispatched to America to learn how to effectively run a chicken farm, but it was not to be…and thank goodness for British Cinema.

He made his stage debut at 17 with Sybil Thorndike's theatre company and then later aged 20, joined Edgar Wallace's company as an assistant to Edgar Wallace at British Lion films, supervising the adaptation of Wallace's works into film. After a brief spell ‘learning the craft’ for Basil Dean, he had an early directing credit of his own with "Men of the Sea" (1936). He also directed Talk of the Devil (1936), the first movie made at Pinewood Studios, the huge, state-of-the-art facility financed by Alexander Korda. Reed soon earned a reputation for his finely observed portrayals of working-class life such as ‘The Stars Look Down’ (1939) it was to be this film which established Reed as a major director.

He also earned attention for "Night Train to Munich" (1940), a wartime comedy-thriller which borrowed heavily, but creditably, from Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes". (Both films were written by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat.) These early features confirmed Reed as a capable craftsman with a sharp eye for detail, an unpretentious style and a knack for extracting fine performances from his actors.

During WWII Reed joined the British army's film unit, where he made a series of documentaries. It was here that he directed the acclaimed propaganda feature, "The Way Ahead" (1944), starring David Niven He also co-directed, with Garson Kanin, "The True Glory" (1945), an Oscar-winning documentary compiled from footage shot by Allied army cameramen.

It was immediately after the war that Reed ascended to the front rank of British filmmakers with 'Odd Man Out' (1947). This coincided with his becoming his own producer, and for the next four years, everything he touched as a director turned to gold. Odd Man Out was a beautifully complex psychological thriller that overcame its grim subject - the final hours of a mortally wounded IRA gunman on the run - to become a critical and box-office success on both sides of the Atlantic. Along with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, David Lean, and Launder and Gilliat, Reed was part of that generation of British filmmakers whose movies transformed the British film industry

The success of 'Odd Man Out' led to a contract with Alexander Korda, for whom Reed made five films, beginning with 'The Fallen Idol' (1948). This was a superbly crafted thriller which turns on a child's misconception of adult emotional entanglements. It was followed in 1949 by the director's acknowledged masterpiece, 'The Third Man'. This was his second collaboration with Graham Greene and is the best film noir ever made out of Britain. Like all the best of the genre, the film is deeply romantic, despite its surface cynicism, and it's this that has caused it to remain in the public memory for so long. It was also a popular film that did not underestimate its audiences' intelligence.

It is set in a crumbling, depressed post-war Vienna, divided up by the Allied occupying forces - a city Reed knew well from his wartime experiences. Beautifully shot by Robert Krasker in atmospheric black and white, the city almost seems to be a character in the story. The insistent, haunting zither music is by Anton Karas, whom Trevor Howard discovered playing outside a restaurant in Vienna.

There are at least two extraordinary sequences - the first showdown between Lime and Martins on the slowly revolving ferris wheel of an almost deserted fairground, and the chase through the sewers of Vienna that ends with Lime's death. Hitchcock could not have accomplished these sequences better, and there is no doubt that Reed owed some debt to him. Note should be made that Reed did not just direct this film but also adapted and produced for the screen.

After his excellent but unjustly neglected 'An Outcast of the Islands' (1951), Reed found his critical reputation taking a somewhat downward turn in the 1950s and early 60s, when he turned out a number of more expensive, but less meticulously crafted productions such as the Hollywood-made 'Trapeze' (1958) and 'The Agony and the Ecstasy' (1965). He also directed some of 'Mutiny on the Bounty’ (1962) but found he was unable to handle Marlon Brando's ego (and we sure don’t blame him for that). He was unaware that the studio had given Brando control of the picture.

His fortunes revived with "Oliver!" (1968), an exuberant musical version of Dickens's "Oliver Twist" which won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Carol Reed was now known throughout the world and more interestingly to different generations of film lovers. Some had seen 'The Third man' shortly after the war and others had been captivated by the majesty and splendour of 'Oliver!' .We now look back over the career of his distinguished directing knight and wonder where has the talent and vision of people like Sir Carol gone now?

Reed's first marriage (1943-47) was to the distinguished stage and screen actress Diana Wynyard. He then married another actress, Penelope Dudley Ward, in 1948 they stayed together for nearly thirty years until his death in 1976. He was the first British director ever knighted (this happened in 1952) for his services to the British film industry.













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