The Quiet American- Film and Novel


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Philip Noyce's adaptation of Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American to film was a large success. It stayed true to the script, and kept the basic essence of the characters; pulling them from the pages of the book and creating them visually into marvels on screen. The earlier film made on the book was made in 1958 by Joseph Mankiewicz. Fowler was played by Michael Redgrave, with Audie Murphy as Pyle. This version was forced to reverse Greene's political stand taken in the book however, meaning it had no-where near as much impact as Noyce's production. Noyce chose to film in actual Vietnamese locations and without compromise, boldly sticking to the novel by not letting the Americans come out of the story too kindly. The Vietnamese conflict-its roots, effects, and lifestyle was captured brilliantly with Brendan Fraser depicting the deceivingly innocent yet devious Pyle, and Michael Caine as Fowler the ageing and unhappy journalist.
The most obvious problem encountered when translating this tale that has been described as a Drama/Thriller/Romance/War all in one is the fact that the book has been written in first person, and the movie being presented in third. This meant that there were extra scenes added into the film that were actually not part of the novel itself, though this being said they filled in gaps and made certain aspects of the film much more obvious and easy for the audience to understand. Films are of course made in accordance to what type of audience they are aiming for, and Noyce decided naturally to aim for a more main stream audience. In order to meet the demands of the main stream audiences he had to adapt the story to third person, so as to be able to give a more balanced or better rounded representation of the events, and to allow us more obviously to find out what the other characters were doing and thinking. It also allowed for what turned out to be a slightly different interpretations of the main characters.

Thomas Fowler in the novel is the more sinister character. Despite his obvious wit he is very cynical, and has an almost pessimistic outlook upon human relationships. It is Pyle in the novel that we are slightly softer towards, for Fowler is quite bitter. He says that he doesn't care for Phuong's interests, he just wants her and her body, and that he'd rather have a woman in the room with him that he didn't love rather than no woman at all.

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This makes the reader rather sceptical of him. Michael Caine is excellent as Fowler in the movie however. He plays the aging unmotivated yet skilled reporter well. Fowler in the film is a lot more vulnerable, especially as the film progresses, and his weaknesses start to become a lot more obvious. We are not given any of the dialogue with Fowler telling Pyle how he feels about Phuong. He says that he is detached
yet he becomes ferociously involved in what is going on around him. Thomas Fowler is an extremely complex character, and it is extremely difficult to give him the same depth on film compared to what we get in the book, and we just simply don't. We are given are more likeable main character who has a little more dignity, and is a little less bitter Fowlers character does still give us that deep sense of how the political and the personal collide

Pyle is of course almost the more likeable character in the book, but in the novel he is betrayed as being quite the nasty deceitful character. For instance, in the movie Fowler finds out Pyle can speak Vietnamese, when he has been pretending that he cannot
for a long time, and not only that, but he speaks it as if it is his native language. Brendan Fraser does still portray him as the perfect gentleman however, unfailingly amiable and optimistic, slightly more confident than the novels version. Brendan Fraser brings to the screen visually Pyle's young enthusiasm and eagerness, and also his apparent naivety. In the film though, at the end we really do question whether he was as innocent as we thought. Both characters are of course very different from one another; one representing youth's headstrong buoyancy the other a grizzled old man, and is the counter part to Fowlers experience and cynicism. Both are strangers in a place that both try to understand, yet fundamentally neither of them do.

Phuong is such an inscrutable character that it would have been quite difficult to try and realize her character on film, yet Do Thi Hai Yen, a local who they pulled off the street for the role, is excellent. She displays perfectly the demure of a woman in her position, of her country, and of her era. That fact that she is so inscrutable makes her intriguing enough to give credible means for the central love triangle. The delicate, sensual and rather innocent Phuong delicacy, sensuality and innocent Phuong is realized perfectly on the screen in a marvelous performance by a beautiful woman.

When people watch a war movie, they don't usually expect a love story to be the main focus, yet Philip Noyce and screenwriters Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan have turned what is usually the trivial sub-plot into the main focus. Pyle's actions are defined by his falling in love with a woman who he see's as a representation of all Vietnamese- an innocent face he wants to save yet he starts to destroy the very people he claims to save. Fowler's fear of losing Phuong is what acts as a catalyst for his actions also and all these aspects were seen in the play, even if Pyle came out of the story in worse light than Fowler.
We are presented in the film a war-stricken country that is still intensely beautiful; the Mekong river, the normality of life in Saigon even as grenades go off, the country side, all being displayed to us in a way that usually isn't seen in films about Vietnam's conflict. The beauty of the country that the film manages to capture manages to exceed the beauty described in the book. The movie on a whole was more palatable than the book.

"They say you come to Vietnam, and learn a lot in a few minutes. The rest has got to be lived".


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