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Foreign Intrigue

11 Oct

When television was still in its infancy, and for quite some time afterwards, it was quite common to see the appearance of small screen shows inspired by their big screen cousins. Today it seems like a reversal of that trend has taken place with a fair number of big budget productions hitting the cinema that have spun off from TV series. This phenomenon was noticeable in the 1970s when British TV shows frequently found themselves becoming movie features. However, even as far back as the 50s this was not unheard of, though it tended to be less pronounced in Hollywood. One early example of the US studios raiding their rival medium to produce a feature film is Foreign Intrigue (1956). I’ve never seen the TV show but I understand the movie isn’t really an adaptation in the strict sense of the word – it borrows the title and general concept, but that’s about it.

The movie opens on the French Riviera, with a man sauntering round the beautiful grounds of his equally beautiful villa. As he passes into his library and begins to browse the bookshelves, he’s struck down by a massive heart attack. The man is Victor Danemore and the first person to come upon him as he draws his dying breath is Dave Bishop (Robert Mitchum), his publicist. It’s soon revealed that Danemore was a genuine mystery man, one of those characters that could really only be a product of the 50s. Bishop was hired to fabricate an identity for his enigmatic employer and he knows no more about him than the inventions he’s been feeding the outside world. One would think the dead man’s young widow, Dominique (Genevieve Page), could fill in a few gaps but no, she knows nothing of the years before her marriage. So Bishop takes it upon himself to delve into Danemore’s past, to find out who this man was and why a Viennese lawyer is seeking confirmation of the circumstances surrounding his death. The quest moves from France to Austria and then on to Sweden, with Bishop encountering a variety of shady characters and dangerous situations as he tries to piece together Danemore’s fractured history. As he chases the shadows of the past down the murky, cobbled alleys of post-war Europe, a picture begins to emerge. The tale involves murder, blackmail, Nazis and collaborators, and how a legacy of treachery can poison the futures of the unsuspecting. Foreign Intrigue is a film that is very much of its time, sharing some of the characteristics of The Third Man and Mr Arkadin, yet never attaining the levels of suspense or artistry of either. There are some nicely crafted set pieces and atmospheric moments but the end result isn’t entirely satisfying. In short, the build-up promises much more than the pay-off can hope to deliver.

Foreign Intrigue was brought to the screen by Sheldon Reynolds – he wrote, directed and produced the movie – after Robert Mitchum expressed an interest in working with him. Reynolds had had some success with his TV show of the same name, and hastily knocked out a script. As I understand it, a good deal of the appeal of the show was its use of authentic European locations, and the movie employs the same tactics. This aspect is probably the greatest strength of the film, lending it an air of glamour and reality that even the most lavish studio mock-ups couldn’t hope to achieve. Leafing through Lee Server’s biography of Mitchum certainly gives the impression that the movie was an enjoyable one to make, and the star seems to have had a good time hopping around Europe. Reynolds and cameraman Bertil Palmgren compose some very attractive images and create atmosphere and suspense here and there, but the script fails to provide adequate backup. There’s too much shallow characterization to generate real interest in the people involved, and there are too many plot holes and unresolved questions. Even the finish is weak, its open-ended quality betraying Reynolds’ television background – it actually comes off like a pilot where the groundwork is being laid for the forthcoming episode.

Mitchum was the biggest name in the film and the whole thing revolves around his star power. While this could never be counted among his better roles, he’s good enough in the part. His trademark nonchalance is used well and he handles the thick-ear moments with the kind of toughness that makes it feel believable. Amid all the shadowy cloak and dagger stuff, he gets involved in two romantic sub-plots, but I didn’t feel either of these worked especially well. The two females in question, Genevieve Page and Ingrid Thulin (here billed as Ingrid Tulean), certainly look attractive yet the performances are just passable. Page is poorly served by a role that’s seriously underwritten and underdeveloped, while Thulin simply appears uncomfortable and unsure – disappointing when you consider her later success with Ingmar Bergman. However, there’s some fine support offered by Frédéric O’Brady as the double-dealing foil to Mitchum. A quick look at O’Brady’s IMDB entry reveals the man led a life that could comfortably be described as quirky, fascinating and off-beat. A good deal of this unpredictable quality shines through in his performance and some of the film’s best moments occur when Mitchum and he share the screen.

Foreign Intrigue is a film that I’d never had the opportunity to view until recently. It was one of those titles that you see included in filmographies and wonder what it’s like. Being a United Artists production, it’s part of the MGM library and recent arrangement with TGG Direct has seen it making its DVD debut. The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen I’d describe it as typical of many MGM releases we’ve seen down the years. I mean that the transfer is about medium, some dirt and speckles, fair enough colour and no visible restoration. There are no extra features whatsoever and the movie shares disc space with an non-anamorphic version of The Quiet American. However, the fact that the title has been made available at last, and the very attractive price, should be taken into consideration. All in all, I found Foreign Intrigue to be a reasonably pleasant, if unremarkable, way of passing the time. The movie isn’t anything special and, realistically, will probably appeal mainly to Mitchum completists like myself. Still, bearing in mind how cheap the DVD is, it’s worth a look at least.

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33 Comments

Posted by on October 11, 2012 in 1950s, Mystery/Thriller, Robert Mitchum

 

33 responses to “Foreign Intrigue

  1. Dafydd Jones

    October 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Thanks for reviewing this Colin. A film I haven’t seen for some time and one I look forward to revisiting. One thing though…I can’t quite work out which DVD you’re referring to here. The only two I can see after a quick search are the Spanish one, which seems to be discontinued and, therefore, quite expensive, and a two-fer Australian one, where it’s paired with Audie Murphy’s Quiet American. Is there another one? I seem to recall that it was scheduled for a UK release a few years ago but it never materialised.

     
    • Colin

      October 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm

      Dafydd, the DVD I’m referring is a US release – I wasn’t aware of any other to be honest. The film is paired up with The Quiet American on this disc.
      Amazon don’t appear to be stocking it themselves right now – I got mine via Oldies.com here.

       
  2. Dafydd Jones

    October 11, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Got you. Thanks for clarifyning. This is the one I had mistakenly assumed was an Australian release…because an Aussie seller had one for sale on e-Bay! An order will be placed forthwith.

     
    • Colin

      October 11, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      No problem. Let me know what you think when you’ve seen it again.

       
  3. Cavershamragu

    October 11, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    I’ve never seen this one either Colin. In fact, I think I’ve barely ever come across any references to it! What strikes me most from your review is the extent to which it might be seen as a warm up for Leonard’s later on-location espionage show, I, SPY. Great stuff.

     
    • Colin

      October 12, 2012 at 2:10 am

      I think it’s safe to say this one is definitely a rarity Sergio.
      And yes, there is a feeling of one Sheldon (Reynolds) perhaps influencing another (Leonard) with regards to globetrotting drama.

       
      • Cavershamragu

        October 12, 2012 at 7:24 am

        You see what I did there? Got my Sheldon;s mixed up – what a pratt! Feel free to ignore anything I say until 2013 (at last) – sheesh … I my defence, yesterday was a very long day indeed. Thanks again for pointing to such a little known movie as I love Mitchum’s work. Annoying that the full double bill isn’t anamorphic though.

         
        • Colin

          October 12, 2012 at 8:55 am

          :)
          I did wonder if you hadn’t gotten them mixed up, but I was giving you the benefit of the doubt. In truth, pretty much the same thing happened to me when I first heard of Foreign Intrigue – I thought: Hey, that’s from the guy who did…No, wait a minute, it’s not.

           
          • Cavershamragu

            October 12, 2012 at 9:00 am

            Well, you were right (and I was half asleep).

             
  4. Rod Croft

    October 11, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Colin,

    This is but one of those minor projects that Mitchum salvaged, (albeit to a limited degree), through his participation. On release, “Foreign Intrigue”, although profitable, made little lasting impression upon critics and audiences alike.

    Charles Laughton saw through Mitchum’s seemingly laconic and world-weary facade to declare him, “one of the best actors in the world” and, although critics have dislike some of the films in which Robert Mitchum has appeared, it is seldom, if ever, that his acting ability receives less than favourable comment.

     
    • Colin

      October 12, 2012 at 2:23 am

      Hi Rod. I agree that this is essentially a minor project – not a bad effort but nothing special either. It would appear that Mitchum’s enthusiasm for the TV show was an important factor in getting the movie off the ground in the first place. Were it not for his presence, there wouldn’t be a lot to recommend it.

      Appreciation of Mitchum’s abilities has grown over the years and, I think, remains at a fairly high level these days. As much as anything, the man’s own relaxed and self-deprecating style of presentation away from the movie set played a big part in creating the myth that he was a limited actor. His performances, even in lesser films, tell a different story.

       
  5. Blake Lucas

    October 12, 2012 at 1:03 am

    THE QUIET AMERICAN (1958, Mankiewicz, which I assume is the one you mean here) is not anamorphic. If you mean it should play in 1.85 that may be right–or maybe 1.66 would be ideal. But it’s not ‘Scope. It is an excellent movie, much better than the later version–and conventional wisdom that it is a compromised version of the novel overlooks a lot of subtleties and interesting aspects that it has.

     
    • Colin

      October 12, 2012 at 2:37 am

      Yes Blake, it’s the Mankiewicz movie that’s included on this disc. MGM released The Quiet American themselves in the past, and I think it’s the same transfer here. The film is certainly presented at 1.66:1 but, like a lot of earlier MGM releases, hasn’t been transferred anamorphically – I mean that on a widescreen set the image will display letterboxed within a 4:3 frame, with black bars around all four sides. Of course it can be zoomed in to block the horizontal bars, and retain the correct ratio, but some resolution is lost.

      It’s a long time since I read Greene’s novel but I thought the film was a reasonable representation. I guess it may lack some of the subtleties of the book, but that’s almost inevitable when a piece of literature is adapted. I’ve seen the remake too – I thought it was ok, though I prefer the Mankiewicz version myself.

       
      • Cavershamragu

        October 12, 2012 at 7:29 am

        THE QUIET AMERICAN is a wonderful novel, easily ranks with THE END OF THE AFFAIR as the best of his output from the 50s and 60s in my view. I like both the film adaptations of AMERICAN – the Mankiewicz famously (or shoudl I say notoriously?) subverts the political slant of the novel’s ending, which is very frustrating, though he absolutely keep the integrity of the characters intact. A flawed movie then, but very nearly an excellent one.

         
        • Cavershamragu

          October 12, 2012 at 7:58 am

          PS Re: THE QUIET AMERICAN – do you know if the UK release is anamorphically enhanced?

           
          • Colin

            October 12, 2012 at 9:21 am

            I just pulled the Optimum disc off the shelf to double check as I didn’t trust my memory. As I suspected, it’s not anamorphic either. Seeing it was licensed from MGM, I guess that’s to be expected.

             
            • Cavershamragu

              October 12, 2012 at 9:28 am

              Thanks – I think I have an old VHS of it but that’s it and all fo a sudden got a real urge to watch it again. Sounds like your double bill is definitely the one to get!

               
              • Colin

                October 12, 2012 at 9:43 am

                A quick look at both suggests that they’re the exact same transfer. So yes, in terms of value for money, the new TGG Direct release would be my recommendation.

                 
                • Cavershamragu

                  October 12, 2012 at 9:56 am

                  Done!

                   
        • Colin

          October 12, 2012 at 9:19 am

          I think that was probably a sign of the times as much as anything.
          As I said to Blake, I think the remake of The Quiet American was an ok picture. Still, I reckon the Mankiewicz version is better for a number of reasons: Mankiewicz was a far better filmmaker than Phillip Noyce (apart from Dead Calm, I haven’t been especially impressed with his stuff); the black and white photography just seems to capture the downbeat, fatalistic mood of it all more effectively; and I think Audie Murphy nailed the stiffness and social unease of Pyle’s character without making him totally unsympathetic – I felt he was far more convincing than Brendan Fraser.

           
  6. Rod Croft

    October 13, 2012 at 12:54 am

    Hi Colin,

    It would appear that the companion movie on the DVD to “Foreign Intrigue” – “The Quiet American” (1958) would benefit from a review in its own right, especially in light of the interest it has excited. The fact that an angry Graham Greene was moved to disavow the Mankiewicz’s film, as well as the changes to the original cast and participation of Audie Murphy make interesting reading.

     
    • Colin

      October 13, 2012 at 9:08 am

      Yes Rod, I was thinking the same thing myself. It is a good movie, better than the one I’ve written about here it has to be said, and I do hope to add a piece on it at some point.

       
  7. Blake Lucas

    October 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I hope we’ll all come back when Colin does a piece on “The Quiet American” (1958).

    When I said “compromised” before it was a reference to the political aspects, but the Mankiewicz is not some naive film politically despite the changes (likely inevitable and dictated by the time it was made), while the characters are done with far more depth and subtlety. Michael Redgrave especially has rarely if ever been better than as Fowler, while the eternally Audie Murphy was perfect and Mankiewicz surely knew he was doing in casting him; that Murphy holds his own with Redgrave shows how good he really was.

    When writers disavow a movie for being unfaithful–and it has happened so many times–and complain about casting as well as changes made, they are only really complaining that it is no longer their work. But it has no obligation to be–fidelity should be a non-issue in adaptations because the movie should be realized as its own work. If it were only going to be faithful, why do it
    at all? So as great as Graham Greene is, and as much as I admire his writing, his judgement on this means nothing.

    This came up recently because I rewatched THE NAKED AND THE DEAD (also, 1958, and directed, magnificently, by Raoul Walsh). Norman Mailer pilloried this adaptation of his novel, and there are again significant changes. But the movie is its own work, with is own meaning, different from Mailer’s, and I believe a masterpiece judged for itself. And I know it has a lot of admirers now.

     
    • Colin

      October 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm

      “When writers disavow a movie for being unfaithful–and it has happened so many times–and complain about casting as well as changes made, they are only really complaining that it is no longer their work. But it has no obligation to be–fidelity should be a non-issue in adaptations because the movie should be realized as its own work. If it were only going to be faithful, why do it
      at all?”

      That’s perfectly expressed Blake. It sums up my own feelings about film adaptations of literature. Harshly criticizing a movie for straying from the source material, and laboring this point, is akin to belittling the art of filmmaking itself. If any adaptation is to have any worth in itself then it’s almost obliged to offer its own interpretation of the source. Literature and film are two entirely different media, although they do often complement each other, and should be judged on their own distinct merits.

      I’m glad to see you sticking up for Murphy too; all too often he has been maligned as an actor when the truth is he had a lot of talent and ability. Perhaps not all of his movies showcase his versatility, but the best of his work, and I think The Quiet American qualifies on that score, proves that he was a quality performer.

       
  8. Blake Lucas

    October 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Thanks, Colin. Meanwhile, I obviously proofread carelessly and so left out the key word in what was supposed to read as follows: “…while the eternally underrated Audie Murphy was perfect…”

    I think you’ve done a good job here of sticking up for Murphy’s gifts as an actor, especially in your piece on NO NAME ON THE BULLET, one of his other most outstanding performances and best movies ever.

     
  9. Rod Croft

    October 13, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Hi Colin,

    Certainly, as you have written, Audie Murphy was all too often maligned as an actor, but conversely he did enjoy strong support from people such as John Huston who fought MGM to cast Murphy in the lead role of Henry Fleming in “The Red Badge of Courage” (1951). Anthony Mann was not so supportive of Murphy’s inclusion in “Night Passage” (1957), and withdrew, reportedly for this and other reasons. With regard to “The Quiet American” (1958), Laurence Olivier withdrew from the role of Thomas Fowler when Montomery Clift was replaced, (for health reasons), by Murphy.

    It remains, without dispute, that Audie Murphy enjoyed the strong support of his audiences and appeared in a total of 44 films during his lifetime.

    One can quite understand authors disclaiming association with a film when the underlying theme of their book has been severely tampered with, as they have spent considerable time and effort in expressing their views. Howsoever, once they have sold their rights to the book, their only recourse seems to be, to withdraw their name from the project. Authors, as do everyone else in a democracy, have the right to express their opinion of a film. In the case of Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American”, the advertising states “Based on a novel by Graham Green. Written for the screen by Joseph.L. Mankiewicz” so it is apparent that it is an adaptation.

    Many readers of novels, etc., are attracted to the subsequent film, and have certain expectations, sometimes they are enhanced other times, not. Perhaps, morally, in similar circumstances, the answer would be to change the name of a film from that of the book, but acknowledge its original source, thereby allowing the movie stand on its own two feet.

     
    • Colin

      October 14, 2012 at 4:31 am

      I can certainly understand the frustration felt by an author when he/she sees the theme or thrust of their work altered significantly in film adaptations. But I also see the filmmaker’s point of view – their product must have its own integrity too, as a separate piece of art. Of course, I do think that a movie like the 1958 version of The Quiet American was going to be altered for political reasons as much as, probably more than, artistic ones.

      Rod, the compromise you suggest of changing the name is a good one, and has been employed on occasion, though I suspect marketing considerations are a factor.

       
  10. Blake Lucas

    October 14, 2012 at 7:28 am

    I don’t see that changing the name would mean much–you’d still have to acknowledge the work you were adapting in the credits. Rod, I understand writer’s unhappiness too when something different than they had created emerges in the film, but I stand by what I said about any work being allowed to stand or fall on its own merits, and especially responded to Colin’s subsequent observation that filmmaking is belittled as an art in the process when it’s said a literary source is betrayed, as it often was when movies were unfairly compared to the sources.

    Have you ever seen it documented that Anthony Mann didn’t want to direct Audie Murphy in NIGHT PASSAGE? I saw this said in a book once, but it wasn’t attributed to any source. In everything I’ve read where Mann was asked about what happened, he always said he didn’t like the script–I don’t even share his view about that, but that seemed to be how he felt about it

    But THE QUIET AMERICAN story I’ve seen several times certainly sounds plausible. Only I’ll say this about it–it partly confirms that Laurence Olivier was not the actor that Michael Redgrave was, nor do I think he would have been nearly as good in that role. He could be very good but is too rarely convincing, and usually much more actorish. Redgrave showed good judgement in taking the role and knowing it would work well with Murphy and we see the results.

    But a kind word about John Huston–whose mostly unimaginative, faithful literary adaptations by a director who plainly had read and admired the books always seemed to get points with critics though they are mostly very overrated; he did believe in Audie Murphy, and not only directed him well in RED BADGE but remembered him at the end of the decade and again was one of his very best directors in THE UNFORGIVEN in which, in my experience of it, Murphy is the clear standout in that movie’s best role.

     
    • Colin

      October 14, 2012 at 7:53 am

      Blake, whatever the relative merits of Olivier and Redgrave as actors, I think the latter made the role of Fowler his own to such an extent that I find it hard to imagine Olivier in that part. And I couldn’t imagine Olivier playing off Murphy, or vice versa, so effectively either.

      The Unforgiven
      is a fine movie, and Murphy is really first rate in a difficult, complex and fairly unsympathetic role.

       
  11. Jeff Flugel

    October 14, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Interesting post on a little-seen movie, Colin, that’s also sparked some fascinating discussion. I’ve never seen this one either, but have read about it in Lee Server’s Mitchum biography. (Speaking of Server’s book, I think it’s easily one of the best of its kind, helped by a fascinating subject, but extremely well-written and researched.)

    Regarding FOREIGN INTRIGUE (there’s a boilerplate title if I’ve ever seen one), it looks like an interesting little thriller, the kind of film that’s right up my alley, and with Mitchum in the lead, it’s a no-brainer. Thanks for pointing out the double-feature disc with THE QUIET AMERICAN (which I haven’t seen either, though I’m a big fan of the Michael Caine remake).

     
    • Colin

      October 14, 2012 at 10:26 am

      Jeff, I think Lee Server’s Mitchum biography is a great piece of writing – entertaining, informative and comprehensive. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in Mitchum, or just the movies in general.

      I think if you’re a fan of Mitchum then you will get something from Foreign Intrigue, just don’t go expecting a lost classic. The fact you haven’t seen the Mankiewicz film either helps. I was already a fan of the original before I saw the remake; it should be interesting to approach it the other way round.

       
  12. Rod Croft

    October 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    Hi Colin,

    To be accepted as an art form, and not “belittled” , I think we all agree, filmmaking must stand on its own feet. By trading off the name of a popular literary work, then betraying the authors vision (eg changing the theme from an “anti-war” scenaro to a “drama romantic thriller”), is not the way to earn respect, especially from the author. Films will always be compared to their source, particularily when extensively publicised as such; if that production fails to measure up to expectations, then it is to be expected that it will be severely criticised. Fortunately there are a number of exceptions, very successful adaptations that stay true to the theme as well as the source novel that earn respect, as well as monetrary rewards, (e.g. “The Godfather” Trilogy).

    The departure of Anthony Mann from the production of “Night Passage” is detailed on both Wikipedia, (which invites imput (and I would expect, “corrections”) from reliable sources) and IMDB. Discussions relating to this matter also appear elsewhere. When preparing my comments, I was careful to use the terminology “reportedly”.

    Colin, thank you for allowing this interesting exchange of ideas on “Riding The High Country”.

     
    • Colin

      October 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm

      To be honest Rod, the real pleasure of keeping this thing up and running comes from the comments and exchange of ideas that yourself and others like you provide.
      I’m always delighted to see a discussion take off and draw a variety of views and responses. It really does make everything worthwhile. In other words, I’m the one who ought to be thanking you and all the other contributors for breathing life into this place.

       

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