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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.