Literature: The Quiet American

The Quiet American is a novel written in 1955 by Graham Greene. It was made into a movie on two occasions, in 1958 by Joseph L Mankiewicz and in 2002 by Philip Noyce.

The story takes place in Indochina, during the last days of the French presence. The war for Vietnam's independence has been raging for years and the French are losing. Thomas Fowler is an aging and emotionally detached British journalist who treats his assignment in Saigon as a way to live in lazy self-indulgence, far from his wife and his boss; he has taken up a much younger Vietnamese girl, Phuong, as a mistress. He one day meets Alden Pyle, a young and idealistic American expatriate, ostensibly in Vietnam with a medical mission. Pyle begins to compete with Fowler for the attention of Phuong.

Contains examples of:

Examples specific to the film adaptations:

  • Call Forward: The bit in the second adaptation where Pyle's Vietnamese allies massacre a bunch of villagers for basically no reason at all can be seen as foreshadowing the atrocities committed by both the ARVN and American forces—think My Lai—during The Vietnam War.
  • The Film of the Book:
    • The first film adaptation completely changed the message of the story, assuming that Pyle couldn't possibly be a Villain since a) he was American and b) he had good intentions. It may actually have been a deliberate Take That to Graham Greene: Edward Lansdale, who might have been the inspiration for Pyle, was involved in the script.
    • The second adaptation was much closer to the original. If anything, it goes the complete other direction; amongst other things, it adds a scene where Pyle's Vietnamese allies massacre villagers For the Evulz and changes Pyle's character to make him rather less sympathetic.
  • Ironic Echo: Pyle is ostensibly in Vietnam to cure and prevent trachoma, an illness which causes blindness. The final image in the film is of an American soldier in Vietnam blinded after battle.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Pyle's Vietnamese lines.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Pyle is smarter than he lets on, and although he feigns not to speak Vietnamese, he is in fact fluent in it. (This scene is only in the second film. The novel suggests that Pyle was genuinely far out of his depth.)
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: The village of massacred civilians and the car bombing scene.
  • Pull the Thread: Subverted - the police commander in the 2002 film adaptation correctly notes some discrepancies in Fowler's account of the events leading to Pyle's death (even catching him out on an I Never Said It Was Poison in the opening scene, when Fowler assumes Pyle is dead before the commander had even mentioned it), but Fowler's involvement is never proven and he gets away scot free.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The epilogue displays newspaper articles written by Fowler in the years after Pyle's death, as the Americans begin to deploy troops in Vietnam and the war escalates.