One of the films showing at the London Film Festival later this month is The Quiet American, starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, directed by Philip Noyce, and based on Graham Greene's novel. (It isn't the first time the book's been adapted for the screen: Mankiewicz made a version in 1958 which Greene, who anyway tended to have a very low opinion of films based on his novels, couldn't stand - he was particularly enraged by its anti-Communist distortions.) The narrator of Greene's book - for those who've forgotten - is Thomas Fowler, a cynical, world-weary, middle-aged, opium-smoking English journalist in Saigon. (Caine has said: 'I met Greene a couple of times and I'm kind of basing myself on him.') The quiet American is Alden Pyle, a naive young Bostonian recently arrived in Indochina, 'impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance', who works for the US Economic Mission. He's a follower of one York Harding, the author of books of political theory called things like The Advance of Red China, The Challenge to Democracy and The Role of the West, who believes that all Vietnam needs is a Third Force - the first two being colonials and Communists - to set it on its proper path. Fowler and Pyle don't argue only about politics: they're both in love with the same girl, Phuong. Nonetheless, they like each other.
LRB 14 November 2002 | PDF Download