The Man Between


1h 41m 1953
The Man Between

Brief Synopsis

An East Berliner helps a British woman trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

Film Details

Also Known As
Berlin Story, Man Between
Genre
Thriller
Spy
Release Date
1953

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

An East Berliner helps a British woman trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

Film Details

Also Known As
Berlin Story, Man Between
Genre
Thriller
Spy
Release Date
1953

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

The Man Between


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 (Hildegarde Neff). 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."

Mason had starred in Reed's Odd Man Out (1947), playing an Irish nationalist in one of Reed's greatest critical triumphs, but was no stranger to taking on German characters. He played Field Marshall Erwin Rommel twice on screen and plays shady East Berlin agent Ivo Kern with a dancing lilt that is more intriguing than convincing. Claire Bloom was a pretty and talented young stage actress relatively new to the screen (her breakthrough role in Chaplin's Limelight (1952, was yet to be seen) when Reed cast her as the impressionable romantic lead, and Hildegarde Neff was a veteran of the stage and screen with a career that straddled Germany and Hollywood. The rest of the film was cast locally on location where possible.

Shooting on location in Berlin, Reed makes evocative use of the city. The despair of the defeated nation is felt in every bombed-out cityscape and chilly street scene, and the bustle of West Berlin's downtown is shown in sharp contrast to the shuffling citizens and empty public spaces of East Berlin. Reed was unable to shoot in the Eastern sectors but found effective stand-ins on the western side close to the border, which he dressed up with banners of Stalin and actors in East German uniforms. An escape from East German agents and the border cops takes Susanne and Ivo into a construction site at night, where the skeleton frame lit by stark spotlights creates a shadowy web of light and shadow through which they duck and scurry. Reed also gave the film distinctive character by working memorable Berlin landmarks into The Man Between. A night on the town takes them to the Resi Restaurant, where a system of telephones at every table invites patrons to call one another across the room. It becomes an effective way for black market operators and agents to make connections.

Unfortunately, Reed is hampered by an uneven script. The wit and wile of Graham Greene filled The Third Man with vivid characters and dramatic turns. For The Man Between, based on the novel Susanne in Berlin by Lothar Schuler (a nom de plume for Walter Ebert), Reed and producer Alexander Korda turned to Hollywood veteran Harry Kurnitz, a screenwriter of such light fare as The Inspector General (1949) and a couple of Thin Man sequels. Reed found the collaboration trying at best. He was unable to work on the script directly with the writer (as he had with Greene) and, constrained by time and budget and actors' schedules, was forced to begin production with a first draft he found unsatisfactory. Kurnitz rewrote as the production traveled to Berlin for the location shooting. Budget cuts only made the tensions greater while Reed insisted on shooting all the location footage himself. According to Reed biographer Nicholas Wapshott, Reed was "haggard, harassed and tired" by the time his stars, James Mason and Claire Bloom, arrived for their scenes. Upon returning to Britain for the studio scenes, Kurnitz made himself unavailable and Reed turned to Graham Greene and a young British playwright named Janet Green for advice. They were forthright in their criticism of Kurnitz's script ("The whole business of spying by means of one bicycle ridden by a boy seems to be too childish and fantastic," wrote Greene in a note to Reed) and Reed finally hired a script doctor to rewrite what he could salvage.

The Man Between was inevitably compared to The Third Man and it suffered in the comparison, due in large part to the convoluted plotting and pedestrian dialogue. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther complained: "If this is nothing like the picture that The Third Man or Odd Man Out was, it occasionally gives a vain illusion of being as formidable as either of those films." Reed himself was sanguine about the production. "It wasn't a particularly good story, but I liked the atmosphere of Berlin after the war, and I wanted to work again with James Mason." Nevertheless, Reed creates a vivid backdrop for The Man Between and a rich atmosphere of cold war intrigue with his location shooting and stark visual style. It makes for a unique snapshot of Berlin rebuilding from the devastation of World War II, a look at the city before the blockade and The Wall (the defining symbol of the Iron Curtain) where the population is caught between the political gamesmanship between East and West.

Producer: Carol Reed
Director: Carol Reed
Screenplay: Harry Kurnitz; Walter Ebert (story); Eric Linklater (uncredited)
Cinematography: Desmond Dickinson
Art Direction: Andre Andrejew
Music: John Addison
Film Editing: A.S. Bates
Cast: James Mason (Ivo Kern), Claire Bloom (Susanne Mallison), Hildegarde Neff (Bettina Mallison), Geoffrey Toone (Martin Mallison), Aribert Waescher (Halendar), Ernst Schroeder (Olaf Kastner), Dieter Krause (Horst), Hilde Sessak (Lizzi), Karl John (Inspector Kleiber), Ljuba Welitsch (opera singer, Salome).
BW-100m.

by Sean Axmaker
The Man Between

The Man Between

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 (Hildegarde Neff). 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." Mason had starred in Reed's Odd Man Out (1947), playing an Irish nationalist in one of Reed's greatest critical triumphs, but was no stranger to taking on German characters. He played Field Marshall Erwin Rommel twice on screen and plays shady East Berlin agent Ivo Kern with a dancing lilt that is more intriguing than convincing. Claire Bloom was a pretty and talented young stage actress relatively new to the screen (her breakthrough role in Chaplin's Limelight (1952, was yet to be seen) when Reed cast her as the impressionable romantic lead, and Hildegarde Neff was a veteran of the stage and screen with a career that straddled Germany and Hollywood. The rest of the film was cast locally on location where possible. Shooting on location in Berlin, Reed makes evocative use of the city. The despair of the defeated nation is felt in every bombed-out cityscape and chilly street scene, and the bustle of West Berlin's downtown is shown in sharp contrast to the shuffling citizens and empty public spaces of East Berlin. Reed was unable to shoot in the Eastern sectors but found effective stand-ins on the western side close to the border, which he dressed up with banners of Stalin and actors in East German uniforms. An escape from East German agents and the border cops takes Susanne and Ivo into a construction site at night, where the skeleton frame lit by stark spotlights creates a shadowy web of light and shadow through which they duck and scurry. Reed also gave the film distinctive character by working memorable Berlin landmarks into The Man Between. A night on the town takes them to the Resi Restaurant, where a system of telephones at every table invites patrons to call one another across the room. It becomes an effective way for black market operators and agents to make connections. Unfortunately, Reed is hampered by an uneven script. The wit and wile of Graham Greene filled The Third Man with vivid characters and dramatic turns. For The Man Between, based on the novel Susanne in Berlin by Lothar Schuler (a nom de plume for Walter Ebert), Reed and producer Alexander Korda turned to Hollywood veteran Harry Kurnitz, a screenwriter of such light fare as The Inspector General (1949) and a couple of Thin Man sequels. Reed found the collaboration trying at best. He was unable to work on the script directly with the writer (as he had with Greene) and, constrained by time and budget and actors' schedules, was forced to begin production with a first draft he found unsatisfactory. Kurnitz rewrote as the production traveled to Berlin for the location shooting. Budget cuts only made the tensions greater while Reed insisted on shooting all the location footage himself. According to Reed biographer Nicholas Wapshott, Reed was "haggard, harassed and tired" by the time his stars, James Mason and Claire Bloom, arrived for their scenes. Upon returning to Britain for the studio scenes, Kurnitz made himself unavailable and Reed turned to Graham Greene and a young British playwright named Janet Green for advice. They were forthright in their criticism of Kurnitz's script ("The whole business of spying by means of one bicycle ridden by a boy seems to be too childish and fantastic," wrote Greene in a note to Reed) and Reed finally hired a script doctor to rewrite what he could salvage. The Man Between was inevitably compared to The Third Man and it suffered in the comparison, due in large part to the convoluted plotting and pedestrian dialogue. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther complained: "If this is nothing like the picture that The Third Man or Odd Man Out was, it occasionally gives a vain illusion of being as formidable as either of those films." Reed himself was sanguine about the production. "It wasn't a particularly good story, but I liked the atmosphere of Berlin after the war, and I wanted to work again with James Mason." Nevertheless, Reed creates a vivid backdrop for The Man Between and a rich atmosphere of cold war intrigue with his location shooting and stark visual style. It makes for a unique snapshot of Berlin rebuilding from the devastation of World War II, a look at the city before the blockade and The Wall (the defining symbol of the Iron Curtain) where the population is caught between the political gamesmanship between East and West. Producer: Carol Reed Director: Carol Reed Screenplay: Harry Kurnitz; Walter Ebert (story); Eric Linklater (uncredited) Cinematography: Desmond Dickinson Art Direction: Andre Andrejew Music: John Addison Film Editing: A.S. Bates Cast: James Mason (Ivo Kern), Claire Bloom (Susanne Mallison), Hildegarde Neff (Bettina Mallison), Geoffrey Toone (Martin Mallison), Aribert Waescher (Halendar), Ernst Schroeder (Olaf Kastner), Dieter Krause (Horst), Hilde Sessak (Lizzi), Karl John (Inspector Kleiber), Ljuba Welitsch (opera singer, Salome). BW-100m. by Sean Axmaker

Noir City 2008 Report, Part Two - The Man Between (1953) and One Way Street (1950)


The same smoothness that made James Mason so likable on screen could also make him supremely menacing and dangerous, given the right role of course. He was no stranger to film noir, having starred in Caught (1949) and The Reckless Moment (1949) - each directed by Max Ophuls and each a highly respected example of the style. Two more fascinating Mason films highlight his unique persona even more.

The Man Between (1953) is a crisp British thriller from director Carol Reed shot on location in post-WWII Berlin, but its feeling is unmistakably noir. A young and most fetching Claire Bloom arrives in Berlin to visit her brother (Geoffrey Toone) and his German wife (Hildegarde Neff), but right from the get-go, she and we sense something ominous afoot. Soon enough, Bloom is embroiled in the thick of a plot involving spies, gangsters and kidnappers from the east and west sides of the city. Mason plays Ivo Kern, a "friend" of Neff's whose mysterious actions and associates have us wondering if he's a good guy or a bad guy. Ultimately, he's both, and he brings a great deal of complexity and sympathy to his character (despite an atrocious and half-hearted attempt at a German accent!).

Eventually Bloom herself is kidnapped and brought to East Berlin, and the final act of the story has Mason trying to get her back across the border. Bloom's affections for Mason turn into love when he opens up to her about his vulnerabilities, and a genuinely touching relationship is built, making us truly care about them making it across safely. The ending is bleak and downbeat, true to the spirit of the setting and to film noir. Mason's final act of self-sacrifice makes him literally "the man between": between east and west, good and bad, selfish and selfless. His character is truly a shade of gray.

Director Carol Reed constantly stresses this ambiguity in the way he visually presents Mason in the frame. The way Mason's startling entrances are blocked, and the way he looks ominous in his dark overcoat with the gray city around him, contrasts with his polite, suave manner, and the result is we're fascinated by him even as we don't know what to think about him.

Mostly, though, The Man Between is full of memorable images of a city that is barren and crumbled, full of rubble and despair. Even in the snow, it looks dark and dangerous, conjuring in the audience a feeling a dread. With Mason and Bloom trying by car, train, and foot to escape, the feeling of being trapped in a shadowy, unsafe city in which everyone is trying to get you becomes palpable.

One Way Street (1950) begins as a more traditional noir, with credits over a black-and-white, rain-soaked L.A., but it eventually turns into one of the weirdest noirs you'll ever see. Mason plays an angst-ridden doctor who is associated with a criminal gang led by Dan Duryea. The gang has just stolen $200,000 and they all hide out in an apartment. But Mason quickly pulls off a scheme he has been hatching with Duryea's girlfriend (Marta Toren), and he escapes with her and the money. After disposing of tough-guy Jack Elam, they survive a car crash, rent another car, drive to Tijuana, and hire a small plane to Mexico City. But the plane is forced to make a crash landing in the Mexican wilderness, and Mason and Toren (and the money) end up in a tiny village waiting for the plane to be repaired. This forms a long stretch of the film; the effect is of two "noir" characters being plopped into the middle of a Mexico western, complete with vicious bandits and federales on horseback, and a scene or two of brutal violence. Mason evens dons a sombrero, for goodness sake!

Mason finds joy in applying his medical skill to decent people (and animals), and the peaceful landscape has a calming, rejuvenating effect on Mason and Toren both. By the time they return to L.A. to finish their business with Duryea, who's been trying to track them down, they're in love. The Mexico sequence is something like an extended version of the Mexico sequence in Out of the Past, though One Way Street is not nearly as good as that classic. The Mexico sequence here, full of daylight, openness and kind people, does contrast startlingly with the L.A. of the beginning and the end, which has the effect of making those bookends seem even more strongly "noir." Ever-oily Duryea and his henchman William Conrad also lend a noir feel by their presence alone.

As in The Man Between, Mason in One Way Street spends much time on the run with a woman with whom he falls in love. In both films, his character is fatalistic and cynical, and in both films he dies tragically. In The Man Between, there's poignancy in the sacrifice; in One Way Street, it feels more like the result of the Hollywood Production Code, but the movie, uneven as it is, nonetheless is memorable and worth seeing if one ever gets the chance. Both titles screened in very nice 35mm prints, so hopefully that chance will come.

by Jeremy Arnold

Noir City 2008 Report, Part Two - The Man Between (1953) and One Way Street (1950)

The same smoothness that made James Mason so likable on screen could also make him supremely menacing and dangerous, given the right role of course. He was no stranger to film noir, having starred in Caught (1949) and The Reckless Moment (1949) - each directed by Max Ophuls and each a highly respected example of the style. Two more fascinating Mason films highlight his unique persona even more. The Man Between (1953) is a crisp British thriller from director Carol Reed shot on location in post-WWII Berlin, but its feeling is unmistakably noir. A young and most fetching Claire Bloom arrives in Berlin to visit her brother (Geoffrey Toone) and his German wife (Hildegarde Neff), but right from the get-go, she and we sense something ominous afoot. Soon enough, Bloom is embroiled in the thick of a plot involving spies, gangsters and kidnappers from the east and west sides of the city. Mason plays Ivo Kern, a "friend" of Neff's whose mysterious actions and associates have us wondering if he's a good guy or a bad guy. Ultimately, he's both, and he brings a great deal of complexity and sympathy to his character (despite an atrocious and half-hearted attempt at a German accent!). Eventually Bloom herself is kidnapped and brought to East Berlin, and the final act of the story has Mason trying to get her back across the border. Bloom's affections for Mason turn into love when he opens up to her about his vulnerabilities, and a genuinely touching relationship is built, making us truly care about them making it across safely. The ending is bleak and downbeat, true to the spirit of the setting and to film noir. Mason's final act of self-sacrifice makes him literally "the man between": between east and west, good and bad, selfish and selfless. His character is truly a shade of gray. Director Carol Reed constantly stresses this ambiguity in the way he visually presents Mason in the frame. The way Mason's startling entrances are blocked, and the way he looks ominous in his dark overcoat with the gray city around him, contrasts with his polite, suave manner, and the result is we're fascinated by him even as we don't know what to think about him. Mostly, though, The Man Between is full of memorable images of a city that is barren and crumbled, full of rubble and despair. Even in the snow, it looks dark and dangerous, conjuring in the audience a feeling a dread. With Mason and Bloom trying by car, train, and foot to escape, the feeling of being trapped in a shadowy, unsafe city in which everyone is trying to get you becomes palpable. One Way Street (1950) begins as a more traditional noir, with credits over a black-and-white, rain-soaked L.A., but it eventually turns into one of the weirdest noirs you'll ever see. Mason plays an angst-ridden doctor who is associated with a criminal gang led by Dan Duryea. The gang has just stolen $200,000 and they all hide out in an apartment. But Mason quickly pulls off a scheme he has been hatching with Duryea's girlfriend (Marta Toren), and he escapes with her and the money. After disposing of tough-guy Jack Elam, they survive a car crash, rent another car, drive to Tijuana, and hire a small plane to Mexico City. But the plane is forced to make a crash landing in the Mexican wilderness, and Mason and Toren (and the money) end up in a tiny village waiting for the plane to be repaired. This forms a long stretch of the film; the effect is of two "noir" characters being plopped into the middle of a Mexico western, complete with vicious bandits and federales on horseback, and a scene or two of brutal violence. Mason evens dons a sombrero, for goodness sake! Mason finds joy in applying his medical skill to decent people (and animals), and the peaceful landscape has a calming, rejuvenating effect on Mason and Toren both. By the time they return to L.A. to finish their business with Duryea, who's been trying to track them down, they're in love. The Mexico sequence is something like an extended version of the Mexico sequence in Out of the Past, though One Way Street is not nearly as good as that classic. The Mexico sequence here, full of daylight, openness and kind people, does contrast startlingly with the L.A. of the beginning and the end, which has the effect of making those bookends seem even more strongly "noir." Ever-oily Duryea and his henchman William Conrad also lend a noir feel by their presence alone. As in The Man Between, Mason in One Way Street spends much time on the run with a woman with whom he falls in love. In both films, his character is fatalistic and cynical, and in both films he dies tragically. In The Man Between, there's poignancy in the sacrifice; in One Way Street, it feels more like the result of the Hollywood Production Code, but the movie, uneven as it is, nonetheless is memorable and worth seeing if one ever gets the chance. Both titles screened in very nice 35mm prints, so hopefully that chance will come. by Jeremy Arnold

Quotes

The Germans always had to learn languages - the army never knew where it would be going next.
- Ivo Kern

Trivia