Nationality: British. Born: Putney, London, 30 December 1906, son of actor Herbert Beerbohn Tree. Education: King's School, Canterbury. Family: Married 1) Diana Wynyard (divorced); 2) actress Penelope Ward, two sons. Career: Actor on London stage, from 1924; dramatic advisor to author Edgar Wallace, 1927; stage director, from 1929; dialogue director for Associated Talking Pictures, 1932; directed first feature, 1933; served in British Army Film Unit, World War II; began collaboration with writer Graham Greene, 1946. Awards: Best British Film Award, British Film Academy, for Odd Man Out, 1947; Best British Film Award, British Film Academy, and Best Direction, New York Film Critics, for The Fallen Idol, 1948; Best British Film Award, British Film Academy, and Quarterly Award, Directors Guild of America, for The Third Man, 1949; Knighted, 1952; Oscar for Best Director, for Oliver!, 1968. Died: In London, 1976.
Films as Director:
Midshipman Easy (Men of the Sea)
Laburnum Grove; Talk of the Devil (+ story)
Who's Your Lady Friend?
Bank Holiday (Three on a Week-End); Penny Paradise
Climbing High; A Girl Must Live; The Stars Look Down
Night Train to Munich (Night Train); The Girl in the News
Kipps (The Remarkable Mr. Kipps); A Letter from Home (short documentary)
The Young Mr. Pitt; The New Lot
The Way Ahead
The True Glory (collaboration with Garson Kanin)
Odd Man Out
The Fallen Idol
The Third Man
Outcast of the Islands
The Man Between
A Kid for Two Farthings
Our Man in Havana
The Running Man (+ pr)
The Agony and the Ecstasy (+ pr)
Follow Me (The Public Eye)
No Parking (Raymond) (story)
By REED: article—
Interview in Encountering Directors, by Charles Samuels, New York, 1972.
On REED: books—
Greene, Graham, The Third Man, London and New York, 1968; published as The Third Man: A Film by Graham Greene and CarolReed, New York, 1984.
Phillips, Gene D., Graham Greene: The Films of His Fiction, New York, 1974.
DeFelice, James, Filmguide to Odd Man Out, Bloomington, Indi-ana, 1975.
Armes, Roy, A Critical History of the British Cinema, London, 1978.
Moss, Robert F., The Films of Carol Reed, New York, 1987.
Phillips, Gene D., Major Film Directors of the American and BritishCinema, Cranbury, New Jersey, 1989.
Wapshott, Nicholas, The Man Between: A Biography of Carol Reed, London, 1990; as Carol Reed: A Biography, New York, 1994.
On REED: articles—
Goodman, E., "Carol Reed," in Theatre Arts (New York), May 1947.
Wright, Basil, "The Director: Carol Reed," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1951.
De La Roche, Catherine, "A Man with No Message," in Films andFilming (London), December 1954.
Sarris, Andrew, "Carol Reed in the Context of His Time," in two parts, in Film Culture (New York), no. 10, 1956, and no. 11, 1957.
Sarris, Andrew, "First of the Realists," and "The Stylist Goes to Hollywood," in Films and Filming (London), September and October 1957.
Fawcett, Marion, "Sir Carol Reed," in Films in Review (New York), March 1959.
Voigt, M., "Pictures of Innocence: Sir Carol Reed," in Focus on Film (London), Spring 1974.
Obituary, in Cinéma (Paris), June 1976.
Phillips, Gene D., "Carol Reed," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1982.
Kemp, Philip, "Fallen Idol," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1988.
Lefèvre, Raymond, and Claude Beylie, "Carol Reed, un cinéaste au carrefour des influences," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), March 1989.
Driver, Paul, "A Third Man Cento," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1989/90.
Thomson, D., "Reeds and Trees," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 30, July-August 1994.
Danel, Isabelle, "Un homme sans illusion," in Télérama (Paris), 21 September 1994.
Everschor, Franz, "Der unbekannte Carol Reed," in Film-Dienst (Köln), vol. 48, no. 15, 18 July 1995.
* * *
Carol Reed came to films from the theater, where he worked as an assistant to Edgar Wallace. He served his apprenticeship in the film industry first as a dialogue director, and then graduated to the director's chair via a series of low-budget second features.
Reed's early films, such as Midshipman Easy, are not remarkable, but few British films before World War II were. In the 1920s and 1930s British distributors were more interested in importing films from abroad, especially from America, than in encouraging film production at home. As a result British films were, with rare exceptions, bargain-basement imitations of Hollywood movies. In 1938, however, the British government stipulated that producers must allocate sufficient funds for the making of domestic films in order to allow an adequate amount of time for preproduction preparation, shooting, and the final shaping of each picture. Directors like Carol Reed took advantage of this increased support of British production to produce films which, though still modestly made by Hollywood standards, demonstrated the artistry of which British filmmakers were capable. By the late 1930s, then, Reed had graduated to making films of considerable substance, like Night Train to Munich. "For the first time," Arthur Knight has written, "there were English pictures which spoke of the British character, British institutions—even social problems such as unemployment and nationalization—with unexpected frankness and awareness." An outstanding example of this new trend in British film making was Reed's The Stars Look Down, an uncompromising picture of life in a mining community that brought the director serious critical attention on both sides of the Atlantic.
Reed went on to work on some of the best documentaries to come out of the war, such as the Academy Award-winning The True Glory. He also directed the documentary-like theatrical feature The Way Ahead, an unvarnished depiction of army life. The experience gained by Reed in making wartime documentaries not only influenced his direction of The Way Ahead, but also was reflected in his post-war cinematic style, enabling him to develop further in films like Odd Man Out the strong sense of realism which had first appeared in The Stars Look Down. The documentary approach that Reed used to tell the story of Odd Man Out, which concerns a group of anti-British insurgents in Northern Ireland, was one to which audiences were ready to respond. Wartime films, both documentary and fictional, had conditioned moviegoers in Britain and elsewhere to expect a greater degree of realism in post-war cinema, and Reed provided it.
The more enterprising British producers believed that films should be made to appeal primarily to the home market rather than to the elusive American market. Yet the films that Carol Reed and some others were creating in the post-war years—films which were wholly British in character and situation—were the first such movies to win wide popularity in the United States. Among these, of course, was Odd Man Out, the first film which Reed both produced and directed, a factor which guaranteed him a greater degree of creative freedom than he had enjoyed before the war.
For the first time, too, the theme that was to appear so often in Reed's work was perceptible in Odd Man Out. In depicting for us in this and other films a hunted, lonely hero caught in the middle of a crisis usually not of his own making, Reed implies that man can achieve maturity and self-mastery only by accepting the challenges that life puts in his way and by struggling with them as best he can.
The Fallen Idol was the first of a trio of masterful films which he made in collaboration with novelist-screenwriter Graham Greene, one of the most significant creative associations between a writer and a director in the history of film. The team followed The Fallen Idol with The Third Man, which dealt with the black market in post-war Vienna, and, a decade later, Our Man in Havana. Commenting on his collaboration with the director, Greene has written that the success of these films was due to Reed, "the only director I know with that particular warmth of human sympathy, the extraordinary feeling for the right face for the right part, the exactitude of cutting, and not the least important, the power of sympathizing with an author's worries and an ability to guide him."
Because most of the films which Reed directed in the next decade or so were not comparable to the post-war films mentioned above, it was thought that he had passed his peak for good. Oliver! in fact proved that Reed was back in top form. In her New Yorker review of the film, Pauline Kael paid Reed a tribute that sums up his entire career in the cinema: "I applaud the commercial heroism of a director who can steer a huge production and keep his sanity and perspective and decent human feelings as beautifully intact as they are in Oliver!"
A genuinely self-effacing man, Reed was never impressed by the awards and honors he garnered throughout his career (he was knighted in 1952). Summarizing his own approach to filmmaking some time before his death at age sixty-nine in 1976, he said simply, "I give the public what I like, and hope they will like it too." More often than not, they did.
—Gene D. Phillips