The Third Man, with both films dealing with war-torn central European cities and the aftermath of the war. It won’t do to push the comparison too far however. Carol Reed was not the man to make the same film twice. James Mason (who’d given a fine performance for Reed in Odd Man Out) stars.
Susanne (played by a very young Claire Bloom) arrives in Berlin to stay for a few days with her brother Martin, a British officer, and Martin’s wife Bettina (Hildegard Knef). Martin and Bettina live in a large house surrounded by rubble, not far from the frontier with the Eastern Sector. Bettina is obviously very ill at ease and she seems to be hiding something. Martin seems completely oblivious to this. Susanne however has certainly noticed.
Reed starts building the suspense right from the start. Nothing has actually happened but we feel certain that something mysterious and dangerous is going on and the fact that we have no idea what it might be makes it all the more unsettling.
And who is the small boy on the bicycle who keeps popping up everywhere in a rather furtive manner?
Susanne hears Ivo and Bettina arguing frequently but since Susanne speaks no German she has no idea what they are arguing about. Ivo tells Susanne that he and Bettina have been having a bit of a romantic dalliance but that he intends to put an end to it before it becomes serious. Susanne is innocent but not quite innocent enough to be convinced by that story.
I don’t want to say too much more about the plot because I think it’s better for Ivo’s actions to remain mysterious and for the viewer to put the pieces together gradually the way Susanne does. Suffice to say that the core of the movie is a series of extended chase scenes in East Berlin as circumstances continually thwart every attempt to escape from the eastern sector.
James Mason is excellent as always. He really makes us work trying to figure out what makes Ivo tick. We don’t know whether or not to like Ivo, whether or not to trust him, whether or not to approve of him. It’s the sort of ambiguous rôle Mason always played supremely well.
Claire Bloom is very good as the naïve but far from stupid Susanne. She and Mason certainly have the right chemistry.
Carol Reed directs this movie is a less flamboyant manner than The Third Man but there’s still plenty of style and plenty of beautifully framed shots. And yes, there are plenty of tilted camera angles. The suspense builds and builds as the two escapees find one escape route after another closed off to them. I don’t think any other director could have improved on these sequences. Despite the brilliance of the chase sequences this is also very much a love story and it’s a love complicated by questions of loyalty and betrayal, and deception.
The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. People expected his subsequent movies to be masterpieces as well. The Man Between is a fine film but it’s not quite a masterpiece and as such it has been somewhat dismissed. The fact that it sounded superficially similar to The Third Man only made things worse. The setting is similar and Berlin is used just as effectively as a backdrop as Vienna in The Third Man (with some great location shooting) but it’s not The Third Man. The Man Between can stand up very well on its own merits and needs to be judged as such.
Kino Lorber’s DVD offers an excellent transfer. There are numerous extras including an audio commentary.
The Man Between is a taut tense Cold War spy thriller combined with a troubled love story. It’s not top-tier Carol Reed but those chase sequences and the performances of Mason and Bloom are enough to earn it a highly recommended rating.