Carol Reed

Sir Carol Reed
b. December 30, 1906, Putney, London, England
d. April 25, 1976, London, England

web resources

Born December 30, 1906 in London, British director Sir Carol Reed was the second son of the actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree and his mistress May Pinney. Following a public school education, Reed made his theatrical debut in 1924. He joined Edgar Wallace’s troupe and acted in several plays, later overseeing film adaptations of Wallace’s plays by Basil Dean’s Associated Talking Pictures. (1) Between 1932 and 1934, Reed worked for Associated Talking Pictures, first as a dialogue director, then later as a second-unit director and an assistant director. (2) With Robert Wyler, he co-directed It Happened in Paris (1935), a comedy based on a French play. Reed’s directorial debut came with Midshipman Easy (1935), a historical romance that marked his first foray into novel-to-film adaptations.

He began his directing career as the British film industry blossomed under producers Sir Alexander Korda, Basil Dean, J. Arthur Rank and Edward Black. Reed’s first successes, Midshipman Easy (1935) and Laburnum Grove (1936), were produced by Basil Dean and scripted by Anthony Kimmins from popular novels, respectively, Marryat’s Mr. Midshipman Easy and J.P. Priestley’s Laburnum Grove. Reed collaborated with Anthony Kimmins on the story and the screenplay for Talk of the Devil (1937). Kimmins scripted four of Reed’s first five films, bringing his own directing expertise to Reed’s productions.

Collaboration marks Reed’s most successful films as he himself claimed. (3) He worked not only with the same writers (Kimmins, Eric Ambler, Graham Greene) but often with the same art directors (Victor Korda, Vetchinsky), cinematographer (Robert Krasker) and editor (R.E. Dearing). Reed served as his own producer during the 1940s and 1950s, only relinquishing control after the flop, The Agony and the Ecstasy, in 1965.

The British film industry served up a steady diet of literary adaptations during the 1930s and 1940s, particularly during the post-war World War II era. F.L. Green’s Odd Man Out provided Reed with a hit in 1946. Graham Greene scripted two hits for Reed during this period, The Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949). Of Reed’s 31 films, fifteen were based on novels, four based on plays, and three on stories. Reed himself earned writing credit for one film, Talk of the Devil, and added much to Graham Greene’s original story idea for The Third Man. Less successful adaptations include Outcasts of the Islands (1952), A Kid for Two Farthings (1955), Trapeze (1956) and The Agony and the Ecstasy .


Odd Man Out

Reed’s first successes were followed by the uneven comedies, Who’s Your Lady Friend (1937), Penny Paradise (1938) and A Girl Must Live (1939). Reed’s 1938 Bank Holiday has more in common with Edmund Goulding’s Grand Hotel (1932) than with Reed’s other films. (4) Shot on location, Bank Holiday follows the doings of various working-class Londoners as they enjoy a weekend at the seaside resort, The Grand. Bank Holiday, with its episodic nature, irony, sociological subplots, and contrasting characters (young lovers, a family, single woman, retired man), established a British film staple. (5) Robert Moss regards this film as remarkable for its atmosphere, created by long shots of the seaside resort, quick cuts and juxtaposition. (6) Throughout the 1940s Reed used these techniques skillfully to produce both dark thrillers and riveting documentaries.

Reed remained in Britain during World War II, joining the British film unit of the War Office. (7) He scored both critically and popularly with The Stars Look Down (1940) and Night Train to Munich (1941). Stars was the second Cronin novel that Reed brought to the screen. This coal-mining tale, replete with class struggle, treachery and a love triangle, gave Reed a chance to employ a documentary look and feel in a big-budget feature film. (8) Night Train, scripted by the same authors as Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), tested Reed’s skill at controlling melodrama with comedic episodes and speeding the action along with wit.

These films were followed by a biographical fiction, Kipps (1941), based on an H. G. Wells novel, and The Young Mr. Pitt (1942), staring Robert Donat. Reed became known for films of great style, strange shadows and allegorical locations involving single individuals facing a bewildering world. Both films present men surmounting odds. Kipps raises himself from a draper’s life after receiving a legacy. Mr. Pitt distinguishes himself as Prime Minister against great odds, including his own youth. Pitt also offered British audience heroics and political parallels between the Napoleonic era and contemporary Britain.

Reed’s wartime effort, The New Lot (1942, later released publicly as The Way Ahead [1944]) took the documentary style to new heights, “sparing no sentiment at the end as the entire squad goes into battle and death.” (9) An Anglo-American film, The True Glory (1945), compiled by Reed and American playwright, Garson Kanin, from ten million feet of film (10) of the invasion of Europe from D-Day to the war’s end, added to Reed’s reputation of superbly edited features. (11)

The Third Man

The post-war period brought Reed international acclaim for three films whose subject matter displayed the dilemmas of orphans and outcasts. Reed won the British film of the year (awarded by the British Film Academy, now known as BAFTA) three times for Odd Man Out (1947), The Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949). Like his compatriot Alfred Hitchcock, Reed turned popular fiction into smart thrillers. Reed adds twists to this plot structure, including bleak settings, post-war angst, and ruined aristocrats. In Reed’s films, the innocent are more naive than noble, the real villains are smarter and more charming than the hero, and the hero commits the very act he has been trying to prevent. In Odd Man Out, the wounded Irish gangster is killed as his girlfriend attempts to rescue him. In The Fallen Idol, a lonely ambassador’s son almost causes his beloved servant, Baines, to be arrest for the murder of Baines’ wife based on the lies a child tells in an attempt to save the man. In The Third Man, the lonely, displaced and foolish Holly Martin (Joseph Cotten) kills the very man he seeks, his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles), after a pursuit through the Viennese sewers. George Perry describes the basic Hitchcockian plot as “the double chase, with innocent hero, searching for the real villain, pursued by the law.” (12) But other plot complications and daring camerawork stamped the film as Reed’s masterpiece.

The Third Man

Carol Reed won the Cannes Film Grand Prix in 1949 for this 104 minute black and white film noir. The Third Man stunned audiences with its raw vision of the bombed out Vienna, its mysterious main character, Harry Lime, Lime’s loyal lover, Anna (Alida Valli), his foolish American friend, Holly, the post-war powersharing by the allies, and the desperate chase in Vienna’s cavernous sewers. Often criticized for its melodrama and cynicism, Graham Greene’s story can be described as:

Vienna is seen by day and night as Holly, an American pulp writer searches for clues to the death of his friend, Harry Lime. He [Holly] is unable to find the third witness to the death, and eventually learns that the third man was Lime – who had another man killed in his place, and is alive and flourishing as a black marketeer. After many twists of plot, Holly kills Lime. (13)

Yet the film’s eerie Dutch tilts camera work produced the necessary tension and irony of the tale, as it had in Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941). (14) The daylight scenes are as dark as the nighttime scenes. Only the visit to Harry Lime’s opulent apartment has an unshadowed feel, though the severely angled shots through the apartment’s doors reinforce the landlord’s anxiety about Holly’s and Anna’s visit there. Adding to the film’s disquietude are those scenes in which the German dialogue (Lime’s landlord, the landlord’s son, and Anna’s landlady) is left untranslated. As in a silent film, gesture (child pointing, landlady clutching her shawl) substitutes inadequately, leaving the protagonist and the audience helpless, confused, threatened and disbelieving, unable to trust anyone. Haunting, gritty zither music, originally recorded underneath a table in Reed’s hotel room in Vienna, (15) adds to the uneasiness of every scene. Surprised bits of humor (Anna’s cat’s rejection of Martin, a balloon seller upsetting a stakeout) draw the audience into the action and speed the film to its grim conclusion.

The Third Man

Carol Reed filmed The Third Man‘s sewer chase scenes in both Vienna, with the assistant director sometimes doubling for Welles, and in London, on the Shepperton lot, Welles attempting to double for Reed, giving Robert Krasker shooting directions and running one sequence numerous times. (16) Four different cameramen shot scenes in the town and in the sewers, morning, noon and night, under the influence of Benzedrine. (17) Reportedly, Carol Reed did not use any of the footage directed by Welles, (18) and presumably that footage was carefully and subsequently lost.

Reed worked with cinematographer Robert Krasker, author Graham Greene and Sir Alexander Korda to produce this signature work. In turn, The Third Man radiated success on all its participants, due to its unique atmosphere, music, cast, camerawork, and unhappy ending. Krasker won an Academy award for his work on the film. The zither player, Anton Karas, was nominated for an academy award. His composition for the film became a hit record and brought him fame and fortune. Greene issued the story as a book. Later, in 1951, Orson Welles wrote and performed episodes of a radio series, The Lives of Harry Lime, playing upon the success of The Third Man and feeding the myth of his importance to the film’s success. (19) Though Orson Welles starred in less than half of the film, he has often received credit for its style, its chase scenes (completed on specially built stages in England), and the eerie, politically-cynical dialogue as he and Joseph Cotton face each other inside the Ferris wheel.

Political hot potato

American audiences saw a significantly shorter film (93 minutes), recut by producer David O. Selznick in response to a 1949 New Rochelle preview (20) and his personal concerns. Selznick feared three things: one, American audiences would not accept a weak, easily duped American, played by Joseph Cotten; two, that censors would never accept nudity, violence on screen (“law-enforcing officers dying at the hands of criminals”) (21) and drunkenness of the hero (Cotten); and three, that Americans might find Lime’s dialogue more like Communist propaganda:

Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Government’s don’t, so why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about the suckers and the mugs. It’s the same thing. They have their five year plans and so have I. (22)

Though Selznick did not cut this speech nor Welles’ “cuckoo clock” speech, he did radically alter the opening narrative delivered by Reed, rewriting the speech to highlight Cotten’s role as narrator and hero of the story.

Anyway, I was dead broke when I got to Vienna. A close pal of mine had wired me offering me a job doing publicity work for some king of charity he was running. I’m a writer, name’s Martins, Holly Martins. Anyway down I came all the way to old Vienna happy as a lark and without a dime. (23)

Other changes, including radical edits of the railway cafe conversation between Holly and Anna, resulted in continuity problems about which Selznick remained unconcerned. The Third Man also generated imitations, one by Reed himself, The Man Between (1953), shot this time in post-war Berlin.


Reed made masterpieces, successes, and flops during his career (1935-1971). Though Carol Reed would hardly be labeled a political theorist, his films Odd Man Out, Fallen Idol, The Third Man, Outcasts of the Island, The Man Between and Our Man in Havana (1959), all contained questionable lead characters making selfish choices for political ends.

Reed won the Grand Prix at Cannes for The Third Man in 1949 and, much later, two Academy awards (Best Picture and Best Director) for Oliver! (1968). The Festival Internacional de Cine de San Sebastián honored Reed with a retrospective in 2000.

Reed was knighted in 1952 for his considerable contributions to British filmmaking. His last two films, The Last Warrior (1970) and Follow Me (1971), made for American studios, did not add to Reed’s reputation. Reed died April 25, 1976, and was survived by his second wife, Penelope Dudley Ward, and their son Max and his step-daughter Tracy Pelissier.

Carol Reed



It Happened in Paris (Associated Talking Pictures, 1935)
Producer: Bray Wyndham
Co-director: Robert Wyler
Screenplay: John Houston and H.F. Maltby, from Yves Mirande’s play L’Arpete

Midshipman Easy (Associated Talking Pictures, 1935)
U.S. title: Men of the Sea
Producer: Basil Dean, Thorold Dickinson
Screenplay: Anthony Kimmins, from Captain Frederick Marryat’s novel, Mr. Midshipman Easy
Cinematographer: John W. Boyle
Editor: Sidney Cole

Laburnum Grove (Associated Talking Pictures, 1936)
Producer: Basil Dean
Screenplay: Anthony Kimmins, from J.P. Priestley’s novel, Laburnum Grove
Cinematographer: John W. Boyle
Art Director: Edward Carrick, Denis Wreford
Music: Ernest Irving
Editor: Jack Kitchin

Talk of the Devil (British & Dominions, 1936)
Producer: Jack Raymond
Story: Carol Reed & Anthony Kimmins
Screenplay: Carol Reed, Anthony Kimmins and George Barraud
Cinematographer: Francis Carver
Art Director: Wilfred Arnold
Music: Percival Mackay
Editor: Helen Lewis, Merrill White, Ltd, John Morris

Who’s Your Lady Friend (Dorion, 1937)
Producer: Martin Sabine
Screenplay: Anthony Kimmins and Julius Hoes, from the play Der Herr Ohne Wohnung by Oesterreicher and Jenbach
Cinematographer: Jan Stallach
Art Director: Erwin Scharf
Music: Richard Stolz, Ernest Irving, Vivian Ellis
Editor: Ernest Aldridge

The Third Man

Bank Holiday (Gainsborough, 1938)
US title: Three on a Weekend
Producer: Edward Black
Story: Rodney Ackland, Hans Wilhelm
Screenplay: Rodney Ackland, Hans Wilhelm, Roger Burford
Cinematographer: Arthur Crabtree
Art Director: Vetchinsky
Music: Louis Levy
Editor: R.E. Dearing

Penny Paradise (Associated Talking Pictures, 1938)
Producer: Basil Dean
Story: Basil Dean
Cinematographer: Ronald Neame, Gordon Dines
Art Director: Wilfred Shingeleton
Editor: Ernest Aldridge

Climbing High (Gaumont-British, 1938)
Story: Lesser Samuels, Marian Dix
Screenplay: Stephen Clarkson
Cinematographer: Mutz Greenbaum
Art Director: H. Murton, Alfred Junge
Music: Louis Levy
Editor: Michael Gordon, A. Barnes

A Girl Must Live (Gainsborough, 1939)
Producer: Edward Black
Story: Emery Bonnet
Screenplay: Frank Launder, Austin Melford
Cinematographer: Jack Cox
Art Director: Vetchinsky
Music: Louis Levy
Editor: R.E. Dearing

The Stars Look Down (Grafton, 1940)
Producer: Issidore Goldsmith
Screenplay: J.B. Williams from A.J. Cronin’s novel The Stars Look Down
Cinematographer: Mutz Greenbaum, Henry Harris
Art Director: James Carter
Music: Hans May
Editor: Reginald Beck

Night Train to Munich (20th Century-Fox, 1940)
US title: Night Train
Producer: Edward Black
Story: Gordon Wellesley
Screenplay: Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat
Cinematographer: Otto Kanturek
Art Director: Vetchinsky
Music: Louis Levy
Editor: R.E. Dearing

The Girl in the News (20th Century-Fox, 1941)
Producer: Edward Black
Screenplay: Sidney Gilliat, from Ray Vicker’s novel The Girl in the News
Cinematographer: Otto Kanturek
Art Director: Vetchinsky
Music: Louis Levy
Editor: R.E. Dearing

Kipps (20th Century-Fox, 1941)
U.S. title: The Remarkable Mr. Kipps
Producer: Edward Black
Screenplay: Sidney Gilliat, from H.G. Wells’ novel Kipps
Cinematographer: Arthur Crabtree
Art Director: Vetchinsky
Music: Louis Levy
Editor: Alfred Roome

Outcasts of the Islands

A Letter from Home (20th Century-Fox, 1941)
Producer: Edward Black
Screenplay: Rodney Ackland and Arthur Boys
Cinematographer: Jack Cox

The Young Mr. Pitt (20th Century-Fox, 1942)
Producer: Edward Black
Story: Viscount Castelrosse
Screenplay: Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat
Cinematographer: Frederick Young
Art Director: Vetchinsky
Music: Louis Levy
Editor: Alfred Roome

The New Lot (Army Kinematographic Service, 1942)
Released publicly as The Way Ahead (Two Cities, 1944)
Producer: Norman Walker, John Sutro
Story: Eric Ambler
Screenplay: Eric Ambler, Peter Ustinov
Cinematographer: Guy Green
Art Director: David Rawnsley
Music: William Alwyn
Editor: Fergus McDonell

The True Glory (Ministry of Information, Britain; Office of War Information, U.S., 1945)
Co-director: Garson Kanin
Screenplay: Private Harry Brown [et al]
Music: William Alwyn
Editor: Lt. Robert Verrell, Sgt. Leiberwitz, Sgt. Bob Farrell, Sgt. Jerry Cowen, Sgt. Bob Carrrick, Sgt. Bob Clark

Odd Man Out (Two Cities, 1947)
Producer: Carol Reed
Screenplay: F.L. Green, R.C. Sherrif, from Green’s novel Odd Man Out
Cinematographer: Robert Krasker
Art Director: Ralph Brinton
Music: William Alwyn
Editor: Fergus McDonell
Award: British Film of the Year

The Fallen Idol (London Films, 1948)
Producer: Carol Reed
Screenplay: Graham Greene, from his story, The Basement Room
Cinematographer: Georges Perinal
Art Director: Vincent Korda, James Sawyer
Music: William Alwyn
Editor: Oswald Hafenrichter
Award: British Film of the Year

The Third Man (London Films, 1949)
Producer: Carol Reed
Screenplay: Graham Greene
Cinematographer: Robert Krasker
Art Director: Vincent Korda
Music: Anton Karas
Editor: Oswald Hafenrichter
Award: Prix D’Or, Cannes
Award: British Film of the Year

Outcasts of the Islands (London Films, 1952)
Producer: Carol Reed
Screenplay: William Fairchild, from Joseph Conrad’s novel An Outcast of the Islands
Cinematographer: John Wilcox
Art Director: Vincent Korda
Music: Brian Easdale
Editor: Bert Bates

The Man Between (London Films, 1953)
Producer: Carol Reed
Screenplay: Harry Kurnitz from Walter’s Ebert’s novel Susanne in Berlin
Cinematographer: Desmond Dickinson
Art Director: Andre Andrejew
Music: John Addison
Editor: A.S. Bates

A Kid for Two Farthings

A Kid for Two Farthings (London Films, 1955)
Producer: Carol Reed
Screenplay: Wolf Mankowitz from his novel A Kid for Two Farthings
Cinematographer: Edward Scaife
Art Director: Wilfred Shingleton
Music: Benjamin Frankel
Editor: A.S. Bates

Trapeze (Hecht-Lancaster/Susan, 1956)
Producer: James Hill
Screenplay: James R. Webb, Liam O’Brien; from Max Catto’s novel The Killing Frost
Cinematographer: Robert Krasker
Art Director: Rino Mondellini
Music: Malcolm Arnold
Editor: Bert Bates

The Key (Open Road, 1958)
Producer: Carl Foreman
Screenplay: Carl Foreman, from Jan De Hartog’s novella Stella
Cinematographer: Oswald Morris
Art Director: Geoffrey Drake
Music: Malcolm Arnold
Editor: Bert Bates

Our Man in Havana (Columbia, 1959)
Producer: Carol Reed
Screenplay: Graham Greene, from his novel Our Man in Havana
Cinematographer: Oswald Morris
Art Director: John Box
Music: Hermos Deniz Cuban Rhythm Band
Editor: Bert Bates

The Running Man (Columbia, 1963)
Producer: Carol Reed
Screenplay: John Mortimer, from Shelley Smith’s novel The Ballad of the Running Man
Cinematographer: Robert Krasker
Art Director: John Stoll
Music: William Alwyn
Editor: Bert Bates

The Agony and the Ecstasy (20th Century-Fox, 1965)
Producer: Carol Reed
Screenplay: Philip Dunne, from Irving Stone’s novel The Agony and the Ecstasy
Cinematographer: Leon Shamroy
Art Director: Jack Martin Smith
Music: Alex North
Editor: Samuel E. Beetley

Oliver! (Romulus/Warwick/Columbia, 1968)
Producer: John Woolf
Screenplay: Vernon Harris, from the musical Oliver! by Lionel Bart
Cinematographer: Oswald Morris
Art Director: Terence Marsh
Music: Lionel Bart
Editor: Ralph Kemplen
Academy Award: Best Picture, Best Director

The Last Warrior (Warner Brothers, 1970)
U.S. title: Flap
Producer: Jerry Adler
Screenplay: Clair Huffaker, from his novel Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian
Cinematographer: Fred J. Koenekamp
Art Director: Mort Rabinowitz
Music: Marvin Hamlisch
Editor: Frank Bracht

Follow Me (Universal, 1971)
U.S. title: The Public Eye
Screenplay: Peter Shaffer, from his play The Public Eye
Cinematographer: Christopher Challis
Art Director: Robert Cartwright
Music: John Barry
Editor: Anne Coates

Select Bibliography

Gary Arnold, “Third Man‘s Second Take,” Insight on the News, 15 (36), September 27, 1999, p. 26

Rudy Behlmer, “Deja view,” American Cinematographer, June 1999, pp. 128-138

Jay Carr, “’The Third Man‘ comes back from the sewers,” The Boston Globe, June 18, 1999, p. 10

Carol Reed: edición bilingüe castellano/ingles, San Sebastián, Festival Internacional de Cine de San Sebastián, Madrid, Filmoteca española, 2000

Pam Cook and Mieke Bernink (eds.), The Cinema Book, 2nd ed., BFI Publishing, London, 1999

Charles Drazin, In Search of The Third Man, New York, Limelight Editions, 2000

Paul A. Driver, “Third Man,” Sight and Sound, 59 (1), Winter 1989, pp. 36-42

Graham Greene, The Third Man, London, Faber and Faber, 1988

Penelope Houston, Keepers of the Frame: the film archives, British Film Institute, London, 1994

Stanley Kauffmann, “Orson Welles: The One-Man Band,” New Republic, 216 (1-2), January 6, 1997, pp. 24-26

Philip Kemp, “The Third Man,” Sight and Sound, 4, April 1994, pp. 54-56

Grant Lobban, “The restoration business part three: the quest for the definitive version,” SMPTE, July 1998, pp. 432-435

Jeff Miller, “Restoration of ‘Third Man‘ doesn’t diminish its quality,” The Houston Chronicle, September 10, 1999, p. 3

“Moreover: Past it,” Economist, 351 (8121), May 29, 1999, p. 85

Robert F. Moss, The Films of Carol Reed, New York, Columbia University Press, 1987

George Perry, The Great British Picture Show, Little Brown and Company, Boston, 1974

Paul Read and Mark-Paul Meyer, Restoration of Motion Picture Film, Butterworth Heineman, Oxford, 2000

Jonathan Romney, “Touch of Evil,” New Statesman, 128 (4439), June 7, 1999, pp. 40-41

Barry Salt, Film Style and Technology: history and analysis, London, Starword, 1983

Michael Sragow, “Truer to the main men of the ‘The Third Man‘,” New York Times, Sec2, May 9, 1999, p. 28

Robert Krasker, “The Third Man, Robert Krasker, BSC,” American Cinematographer, March 1999, p. 116

François Truffaut, Hitchcock, Secker and Warburg, 1968; USA, Simon & Schuster

Web Resources

Compiled by Albert Fung

Contains brief biography and plot synopsis for each film.

Film Directors: Articles on the Internet
Several online articles can be found here.

Good Golly, Mr. Holly
Article by Gary Morris in January 2000 issue of Bright Lights Film Journal.

Guardian Unlimited Film
An article on The Third Man.


  1. Robert F. Moss, The Films of Carol Reed, New York, Columbia University Press, 1987, p. 66
  2. Moss, p. 68
  3. Moss, p. 71
  4. Moss, p. 96
  5. George Perry, The Great British Picture Show, Little Brown and Company, Boston, 1974, pp. 84, 98
  6. Moss, p. 99
  7. Moss, p. 69
  8. Pam Cook and Mieke Bernink (eds.), The Cinema Book, 2nd ed., BFI Publishing, London, 1999, p. 276
  9. Perry, p. 103
  10. Moss, p. 139
  11. Perry, p. 125
  12. Perry, p. 82
  13. Robert Krasker, “The Third Man, Robert Krasker, BSC,” American Cinematographer, March 1999, p. 116
  14. Barry Salt, Film Style and Technology: history and analysis, London, Starword, 1983, p. 298
  15. Carol Reed: edición bilingüe castellano/ingles, San Sebastián, Festival Internacional de Cine de San Sebastián, Madrid, Filmoteca española, 2000, pp. 304, 348
  16. Charles Drazin, In Search of The Third Man, New York, Limelight Editions, 2000, pp. 80-81
  17. Drazin, p. 56
  18. Drazin, pp. 76, 81
  19. Drazin, pp. 139-140
  20. text
  21. Drazin, p. 112
  22. Festival Internacional de Cine de San Sebastián, p. 276
  23. Greene, p. 127
  24. Taken from Moss, pp. 285-295

About The Author

Deirdre Feehan, a librarian was born in Hollywood where she lives and catalogs audio-visual materials.

Related Posts