Based on a story by Walter Ebert and fleshed out into a script by Grisha Dabat, The Man Between / Gefährlicher Urlaub (“Dangerous Holiday”) is regarded by some fans of director Carol Reed as a thematic sequel to The Third Man (1949), although the latter film has a far vsuperior story of intrigue and betrayal in a postwar landscape (Austria) where no one can be trusted.
Set in 1953 Berlin, for Between, Reed made excellent use of the ruined surroundings to convey the shattered world of a grand city not only attempting to rebuild it self, but seek out a new postwar identity as the communists consolidate control of the eastern sector, and make it tougher for anyone to travel back and forth between Allied and Soviet border crossings.
The arrival of naïve Susanne Mallison (Claire Bloom) allows the audience to discover how the war has affected a proud city: Mallison’s brother Martin (Geoffrey Toone), a British officer, oversees aiding refugees in a huge dusty compound; his German wife Bettina (Hildegard Knef) is immediately chilly towards her new sister-in-law, and worries when Susanne starts to cavort around Berlin’s divided sectors with Bettina’s ex-husband Ivo (James Mason), a grey character whose nefarious associations include an East German gangster named Halendar (Aribert Wäscher).
Ivo, in turn, is an emotionally numbed character because of some prior wartime acts and questionable postwar behaviour, but his motivations in breaking the newfound bliss of his ex-wife and Martin are still kept vague until the final escape sequence. During most of film’s first half, he frequently escorts Susanne around Berlin, and secretly communicates with a mysterious boy on a bike in order to stay clear of Halendar and the East German police, who keep Ivo in line by holding onto incriminating wartime documents.
Susanne’s romantic fixation for Ivo, though, is never believable because Bloom plays her character like a snotty, dreamy-eyed teenager; Susanne is clearly trying to annoy Bettina by breaking curfew and hopping over the border like an insolent teenager, but there’s no emotional arc to trace her emerging affections for Ivo.
Equally unsatisfying is Susanne’s brother Martin, a dim bulb who disappears from the film once her escape to the border is underway. He basically exists in the film so Susanne has a reason to visit Berlin (and show the audience the war-damaged city), but his blasé attitude towards Ivo is incomprehensible, and a sign the screenwriters and director Reed hammered out the basic conflicts purely to enact a lengthy and elaborate escape montage for the finale.
The stylistic commonalities among Man Between and Third Man are evident in the use of high contrast cinematography and canted angles, and composer John Addison also mirrors the Third Man style template by repeating the film’s danger and love themes over and over again. (What’s more unique about Addison’s music, though, are the orchestrations and the warped orchestral jazz style that focuses on specific moods rather that onscreen action. Anton Karras’ Third Man music was virtually more monothematic.)
Even if Reed had the art department dress up sections of the west to resemble the east (or parts of damaged London, for that matter), there are no illusions of Berlin’s damaged infrastructure. The placards of Lenin and local communists displayed in the film’s eastern sector are evocative of the socialist banter in GDR propaganda films, and there is an undeniably tense atmosphere where everyone is looking for some way to either survive crushing poverty, or find a venue to flee to the west. The Germans are neither bad nor duplicitous in the film; they’re a bruised populace searching for a means to establish stable lives under tremendous postwar stressors and shuttered guilt.
The Man Inside isn’t really a gem in the rough or a lost classic, but it’s certainly an orphaned film in need of a proper DVD release. Reed’s prior film was Outcast of the Islands (1952), and The Man Between was followed by A Kid for Two Farthings (1955), and the fluffy Trapeze (1956).
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan