Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Comedians (1966)

Graham Greene
The Comedians (1966)


Next day I sat in a deck-chair on the sheltered starboard-side and let myself roll languidly in and out of the sun with the motions of the mauve-green sea. I tried to read a novel, but the heavy foreseeable progress of its characters down the uninteresting corridors of power made me drowsy, and when the book fell upon the deck, I did not bother to retrieve it. My eyes opened only when the traveller in pharmaceutical products passed by; be clung to the rail with two hands and seemed to climb along it as though it were a ladder. he was panting heavily and he had an expression of desperate purpose as though he knew to what the climb led and knew that it was worth his effort, but knew too that he would never have the strength to reach the end. Again I drowsed and found myself alone in a blacked-out room and someone touched me with a cold hand. I woke and it was Mr Fernandez who had, I suppose, been surprised by the steep roll of the boat and had steadied himself against me. I had the impression of a shower of gold dropping from a black sky as his spectacles caught the fitful sun. "Yes," he said, "yes," smiling an apology as he lurched upon his way.

– Graham Greene, The Comedians, chapter 1.


from A Sort of Life, 1971 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974):

I suffered in those days [my school days], like a character of mine, Jones, in The Comedians, from flat feet, and I had to wear supports inside my shoes and have massage from a gym mistress. The massage tickled a little and my soles sometimes ached, but on the whole I found the treatment agreeable, perhaps because it was given by a woman. (48)

Does this imply that Greene has put as much of himself into Jones as into Brown?

[T]he hidden spots of the Chilterns were all the dearer because they were on the very borders of Metroland. They had the excitement of a frontier. (79)

Experiments with Russian Roulette [pp.92-96]:
"It was the fear of boredom which took me to Tabasco during the religious persecution, to a leproserie in the Congo, to the Kikuyu reserve during the Mau-Mau insurrection, to the emergency in Malaya and to the French war in Vietnam. There,in those last three regions of clandestine war, the fear of ambush served me just as effectively as the revolver from the corner-cupboard in the life-long war against boredom." (95-96)

I suppose ... that every novelist has something in common with a spy: he watches, he overhears, he seeks motives and analyses character, and in his attempt to serve literature he is unscrupulous. (103)

There was a wonderful absence of traffic [during the General Strike of 1926] ; it was a beautiful hushed London we were not to know again until the blitz, and there was the exciting sense of living on a frontier, close to violence. (127)

Now when I write I put down on the page a mere skeleton of a novel - nearly all my revisions are in the nature of additions, of second thoughts to make the bare bones live - but in those days [1929] to revise was to prune and prune and prune. (138)

Ways of Escape, 1980 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981):

In those black days for authors - they ended with the [Second World] war and a change in the libel laws - there was one firm of solicitors who went out of their way to incite actions for libel, checking the names of characters with the names in the London telephone directory ... the more uncommon the name the greater the danger, which was one reason why in my novel The Comedians I called my principal characters Brown, Jones and Smith (24).

How dangerous it is for a critic to have no technical awareness of the novel. Surely the great prefaces of Henry James have marked one novelist's route indelibly - the route of 'the point of view'. There was no ambiguity in my mind; the ambiguity was in the minds of Kate and Anthony [in England Made Me] whom I had chosen for my 'points of view'. (32)

Indecision ruled the Government before the Emergency [in Kenya] and it ruled the Emergency because it is part of the modern mind. We have lost the power of clear action because we have lost the ability to believe. (154)

The Comedians (1967)
directed by Peter Glenville
screenplay by Graham Greene
starring Richard Burton, Alec Guinness, Elizabeth Taylor & Peter Ustinov

Critical Responses:
"This film does not belong to Burton, Taylor, Guinness, Ustinov, Jones or Lillian Gish. It belongs to Greene, Glenville and the French cinematographer Henri Decae.

I do not imply that Burton was not good - but George C Scott said one should evaluate a performance by remembering the character more than the actor. It is in that context that I remember the four main characters. Burton's kisses are different here than say in "Boom" or "Cleopatra" - only to add detail to the character. Taylor is strangely subdued only to add power to her smoldering role. Guinness gradual unmasking is pathetic yet endearing only to add more substance to the character. Decae's camera captures details that shock - e.g., empty drawers in desks to collect bribes, public executions of rebels watched by school kids ..." - Internet Movie Database.

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