Oscar Directors: Reed, Carol–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

September 12, 2020

Carol Reed Career Summation

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Carol Reed was born on December 30, 1906.

Between 1948 and 1950, he made three of the best films in world cinema: “Odd Man Out,” “The Fallen Idol,” and “The Third Man.”  These Reed’s masterpieces, all in the noir-thriller genre, are male-driven, boasting great performances from James Mason in the first, Ralph Richardson in the second, and Orson Welles in the third.

Reed was intended to become a farmer and after graduating from King’s School at Canterbury was sent by his family to the U.S. for onthejob training at a large chicken farm. But his love of the theater prevailed and after six months he retained home to begin a career as an actor.

He made his London debut in 1924 with Dame Sybil Thorndike’s troupe. After a long succession of mainly minor roles, he began working for Edgar Wallace in 1927 as an. advisor on the adaptation of the writer’s mystery novels to the stage and as an actor and stage manager in the resultant productions.

Turning to films in the early 1930s, Reed began as a dialogue director and assistant to producer-director Basil Dean and began directing in 1935.

His early features were modestly-budget ventures, but his reputation grew steadily thanks to such films as Bank Holiday/Three on a WeekEnd (1938), The Stars Look Down (1939), Night Train to Munich/Night Train (1940), Kipps/The Remarkable Mr. Kipps (1941), and The Young Mr. Pitt (1942).

During WW II, Reed was assigned to the British army’s film unit, for which he directed a propaganda short, A Letter from Home (1941), and training short for new recruits, The New Lot (1942). As a result of the success of the latter film, he was commissioned to direct a feature-length documentary along a similar theme, The Way Ahead (1944), which remains one of the most memorable nonfiction films of the war years.

In 1945 he co-directed, with Garson Kanin, “The True Glory,” an Oscar-winning compilation documentary recording the progress of the war in Europe from D Day to V Day.

Reed’s internatioanl reputation reached its peak in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when he directed five of his finest films: “Odd Man Out” (1947), a meticulously conceived and richly executed thriller melodrama about the final hours in the life of an Irish revolutionary, played by James Mason.

This was followed by “The Fallen Idol” (1948), a keenly observed, intelligently told drama of the adult world as seen through the eyes of a child.

Reed’s masterpiece, “The Third Man” (1949), his best known film, a fascinating thriller set against the seedy background of postwar Vienna.

“Outcast of the Islands (1952)” is a fine adaptation of the Joseph Conrad story about moral corruption in the South Seas, and “The Man Between” (1953) is an intriguing drama set in postwar Berlin. The second and third of these five films, based on material by Graham Greene, were particularly successful, receiving unanimous critical praise.

Reed’s best work was characterized by a keen sense of locale and atmosphere, a sharp eye for small revealing details, a sympathetic treatment of characters, skillful plot development, and a civilized but restrained tone.

From the mid-1950s, Reed’s reputation went into decline, as his films, some made for Hollywood studios, grew larger in scope and budget, obliterating his gifts for detail and atmosphere and magnifying dramatic and technical flaws.

In 1962, Reed began directing “Mutiny on the Bounty,” starring Marlon Brando, but he was replaced by Lewis Milestone, and the resulting film was both an artistic and commercial failure, though it was nominated for Best Picture.

In 1968, however, Reed won an Academy Award as Best Director for the musical movie “Oliver!” based on the hit stage play. The film won a Best picture Oscar as well, and became one of his most popular, if not best, films.

Reed’s first wife (1943-1947) was actress and Oscar nominee Diana Wynyard.  In 1948, he married actress Penelope Ward.

He died in London in 1976, age 72.