Graham Greene on Knight Without Armour
Graham Greene, author of The Graham Greene Film Reader: Reviews, Essays, Interviews, & Film Stories, shared his Knight Without Armour review with On Channel. Check out an excerpt below.
by Graham Greene
One had thought it was good-bye to M. Feyder when he entered the gates of the Denham studios: one began to write the obituary of the director of Thérèse Raquin and La Kermesse Héroïque. The news that Mr. (‘Hungarian’) Biro and Mr. (‘Naughty’) Wimperis were responsible for the scenario and dialogue: the sight of Miss Dietrich floodlit before well-advertised crowds at first nights: a New York premiere—followed by months of silence: rumours of gigantic expenditure—some put it over £300,000: all prepared us for the traditional Denham mouse.
But—astonishingly—a first-class thriller has emerged, beautifully directed, with spare and convincing dialogue and a nearly watertight scenario (only marred by a bath and a bathe in the Naughty Wimperis vein). The story, of course, is melodrama, but melodrama of the most engaging kind, the heroic wish-fulfillment dream of adolescence all the world over—rescues, escapes, discarnate embraces. A young Englishman, who translated novels for a Russian publisher in pre-war St. Petersburg is ordered by the police to leave the country because of an indiscreet magazine-article. Instead he joins the British Secret Service, takes on with beard and passport a Revolutionary personality and is condemned to Siberia after a bomb outrage of which, naturally, he is innocent. From this point his second personality has complete control: as an Englishman he is dead. War is followed by Revolution and he becomes automatically and will-lessly a hero of the New Russia, a Commissar. He is entrusted with the job of taking an important prisoner, a Countess, to Petrograd. He lets her escape, she is recaptured, he saves her again: White prisoners fall to Red machine-guns and Red prisoners to White and White to Red again, a kaleidoscope of murder: we get the impression, so difficult to convey on the screen, of almost interminable time and almost illimitable distance, of an escape along the huge corridors of a prison an Asiatic empire wide. Mr. Robert Donat as the stubbornly chivalrous Englishman deserves more than the passing tribute we accord to a director’s dummy. Mr. Donat is the best film actor—at any rate in star parts—we possess: he is convincing, his voice has a pleasant roughness, and his range is far greater than that of his chief rival for film honours, Mr. Laurence Olivier. Mr. Olivier’s burnt-out features, his breaking voice requires the emotional situation all the time; he wants all Blackfriars to rant in: he must have his drowned Ophelia, his skull and sword-play. Mr. Donat is sensible, authentic, slow; emotion when it comes has the effect of surprise, like plebeian poetry.
Read the entire excerpt here.