restricted access Graham Greene and Cinema, and: The Achievement of Graham Greene (review)
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Reviewed by
Judith Adamson. Graham Greene and Cinema. Norman: Pilgrim, 1984. 191 pp. $31.95.
Grahame Smith. The Achievement of Graham Greene. Totowa: Barnes, 1986. 228 pp. $22.50.

By any standard Graham Greene is a major writer whose career, as Grahame Smith concludes, is "one of the more remarkable" in 20th century literature. One has the impression, however, that he fits rather uneasily into the syllabus of an academic course on "modernist" writers. He wanted to write for common readers and took for his models forms most likely to catch their imagination—the thriller and the adventure story in the tradition of Anthony Hope and Rider Haggard. [End Page 665] But it is the religious dimension of his work that has set him apart; that has been the stumbling block for the modern critic who is inclined to consider it a blemish or an irrelevance.

Judith Adamson is such a critic, though her study is sympathetic to Greene's achievement. She recounts Greene's long association with the film industry, an association often frustrating but not without its triumphs, notably in his collaboration with Carol Reed, who directed The Third Man. Her research is the most complete to date: we are treated to glimpses backstage into the fascinating bustle of film-making. She summarizes Greene's film criticism and his program for a popular "poetic" cinema; we learn both how Greene suffered at the hands of directors, producers, and censors, and how readily he cooperated in making changes (he willingly softened his original endings in his adaptations).

Adamson makes perhaps too little of her knowledge; the account is essentially a chronicle. She does analyze film sequences, at times quite perceptively, but depends more on a literary and stylistic than on a filmic point of view. In this she seems at cross purposes with herself. From the start she deals with Greene as a visual writer: in one of two interviews Greene granted her, he explained that he wrote with camera techniques in mind. But in the end she concedes that this approach to fiction is questionable, for "the printed page is entirely different from the filmed one"—a truth that has long been staring us in the face. Nevertheless, in the middle of her argument she deals with Greene's prose in terms of its suitability for cinematic translation. Because film is flatly "empirical," she argues, Greene is always difficult to film because he combines the "empirical" and the "psychological." His work is most adaptable when, as in Brighton Rock (made into a successful film), his focus is on "social" realities, and concrete detail serves as an index to the character's inner world. In the religious novels, which for her do not include Brighton Rock or A Burnt-Out Case, Greene's style turns in upon itself to record private religious musing ("intellectual experiences" she calls them) that are unfilmable. Pinkie's experience of heaven and hell is linked to the "tangible injustices" of Brighton; the whiskey priest's dilemma in The Power and the Glory (badly butchered in John Ford's expurgated adaptation) has no such connection to "material reality." Only when Greene returned to social and political concerns did his prose become "objective" once again—although (Adamson admits) Our Man in Havana was hard to film because the novel is reflective and philosophical. To claim, as she does, that in the religious novels Greene focuses on the protagonist's souls and in the "social" novels on "deeply imbedded psychological reality" is to make a distinction without a significant difference. For Brighton Rock deals with sin, damnation, and salvation; The Power and the Glory, because of its allegorical depth, is one of Greene's most vividly realized political statements. A picture is no doubt worth a thousand words, but it does not follow necessarily that a thousand words (of a novel especially) can be rendered in a film sequence: the problem resolves itself to finding a cinematic (not an exact) equivalent. That film can suggest a metaphysical level is shown, for example, when in the film The Third Man Harry Lime is hunted like a rat through the Dantesque sewers beneath Vienna. The problem...


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