The Man Between
"Tension tightens as the black leathered storm troopers move ever closer. It would help if their motive was understandable and the plot more transparent."

You might think that The Man Between was ahead of its time. It is an international thriller - not set in London or New York. It is complicated - you don't know what is going on. It stars an English actor and one of Charlie Chaplin's ingenues in her second film - not a Hollywood heavyweight, nor an established European beauty.

Carol Reed, considered by some to be the greatest British director of his time, better even than David Lean, made history with The Third Man four years earlier, with Graham Greene behind the typewriter and Orson Welles in the sewers.

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Susanne (Claire Bloom) comes to Berlin after the war when the place is in ruins to see her brother Martin (Geoffrey Toone) who is working as a military doctor and married to the mysterious East German Bettina (Hildegard Neff).

Susanne is an English rose, which is shorthand for virgin, naive, pretty. Martin is from similar stock, stiff upper lipped, handsome, repressed. Bettina, on the other hand, looks furtive, suspicious, troubled. Something is going on, or someone. Susanne, who should not understand such things, suspects that Bettina is having an affair.

Enter well dressed Ivo Kern (James Mason), whose relationship with Bettina is historic rather than immediate. He was a lawyer, did terrible things during the war - hints at Nazi atrocities - and is involved with the Stasi - maybe/maybe not.

"He's a kidnapper," a big man says, "He steals people."

Actually, he seems perfectly decent, certainly more interesting than the others. But what is he doing? And what are those menacing thugs, who linger in deep shadow around every corner, doing?

It is an East/West Berlin intrigue, involving a fat man who is wanted in the East and Susanne who is used as bait. She is innocent, naturally, but finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ivo intervenes on her behalf and there is a chase, reminiscent of The 39 Steps, only in a snowy city rather than across the windswept moor.

Bloom's role is underwritten which does her a disservice, appearing lightweight beside Mason, who, as always, finds depth in shallow space. His performance brings the film back from the edge where even the cityscape looks staged.

Tension tightens as the black-leathered storm troopers (East Berlin police) move ever closer. It would help if their motive was understandable and the plot more transparent.

"It isn't safe to ask questions of people," Ivo tells Susanne.

All you are left with at the end are questions.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2017
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The Man Between packshot
Intrigue and kidnaps amongst the ruins of Berlin immediately after the war
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Director: Carol Reed

Writer: Harry Kurnitz

Starring: James Mason, Claire Bloom, Hildegarde Neff, Geoffrey Toone, Ernst Shroeder, Dieter Kranse, Hilde Sessak, Karl John, Ljuba Welitsch

Year: 1953

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: England


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