I wrote about Carol Reed’s The Third Man for Turner Classic Movies a couple of years ago and more recently wrote on The Fallen Idol. Now they are screening his rarely-see The Man Between, which returns Reed to the post-war European theater, this time with the focus on cold war tensions.
The cold war proved such a hot setting for Carol Reed’s brilliant continental thriller The Third Man (1949) that he made a return visit to the territory in The Man Between (1953). Instead of a Vienna carved up by the Allies, this film takes us to Berlin of the early fifties, a city divided into West and Soviet-controlled East Berlin with checkpoints and security stations. Our introduction to this post-World War II Berlin is much like that of our heroine, Susanne (Claire Bloom), a decisive young British woman who flies to Germany to visit her brother, Martin (Geoffrey Toone), and his German wife, Bettina (Bettina Mallison). Susanne is whisked from the international modernity of the airport to the quaint beauty of old Berlin, a tourist vision of Bavarian charm that Susanne finds enchanting. It’s Bettina’s way of showing this impressionable young woman the best of her home before taking her to the reality of the rest of the war-ravaged city.
From the opening scenes, Reed establishes a tension: strangers ominously eye their movements through the airport and a young boy on a bicycle, an otherwise unobtrusive figure of innocence playing in the streets, tails their taxi and makes lazy figure-eights outside their home, a lone building jutting out of the rubble and ruins of their sector of the city. Bettina is nervous and agitated and a night on the town does nothing to ease her disposition; she slips out for a surreptitious meeting that only jangles her nerves more. Susanne finally sees the mystery man on a day trip to East Berlin. As they settle in for tea at a café, the figure (guided by the boy on a bicycle, keeping up his dogged surveillance) steps into the room and over to their table like an old friend. James Mason is the smoothly shady and romantically sinister Ivo Kern, an acquaintance – and surely much more – of Bettina. Susanne is instantly fascinated and an odd kind of courtship begins between the impressionable but headstrong young woman and the older man with an ulterior motive, one that inevitably draws her into the political intrigue of citizens fleeing the East for the West and the espionage by agents no better than mercenary thugs attempting to staunch the flow. “He’s not the government and neither am I,” the weary skeptic Ivo confesses to Bettina after she’s snatched from the streets of West Berlin by an East German agent. “He’s just a gangster trying to get what he can.”
Read the entire piece here. The film, which is not on home video in any form (at least in the U.S.), plays on TCM on January 24.