Saturday, February 5, 2011

223) The Man Between (1953)

223) The Man Between (1953) Dir: Carol Reed Date Released: November 1953 Date Seen: July 9, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

Carol Reed's post-war melodrama is mostly so good at conjuring up a totally oppressive sense of atmosphere thanks to two presences. The first is naturally the city of Berlin. Shooting on location was a tremendous boon to this project: the scenes where James Mason and Claire Bloom are on the run really take advantage of the city's decimated landscape as much as possible. That having been said, I still don't think Reed knew how to shoot kinetic action scenes well. His sense of pacing for these scenes is characteristically off and he's just too indecisive in his camera placement for us to often get a good view of the frenzied action on display (I like to see my spectacles and get a sense of their urgency, thanks). 

Still, Reed did know how to turn chase scenes into fantastic set pieces solely based on his ability to elicit mood from wherever his films' were set. With Berlin, he didn't need to try very hard: the city's history is ingrained into its architecture. The film's depiction of the polis as a blitzed sprawl makes Berlin look like a natural haunt for ghosts. The night-time scene at the construction site is extraordinary for its distinct, hyper-real sense of place. The dark lights, the grime and toil of never-ending construction and the hot white lights all present a vaguely recognizable shadow of the Berlin I know, even if I've only ever been there once and even then only decades after Reed's film was made. That last scene, where they're racing to escape the city's limits, is searing.

The other essential presence to the film is Mason. His sleazy mercenary act is a little kitschy at times but it's never not satisfying. You don't need me to point this out but Mason is just that good. He oozes charm and malice, as when he casually settles into a Berlin cafe and casually pumps Bloom's character for information (mind out of the gutter, you). And throughout that scene, he never stops flashing these little toothy, enigmatic grins, making it harder and harder to tell whose side he's on (naturally his own but determining what that means in the context of the film's plot at any given moment is a treacherous proposition). Too bad The Man Between is so hard to get a copy of; would like to rewatch it if only to hear Mason's Sturm und Drang accent.

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