Carol Reed: Didn’t Fall Far from the Tree

Fun fact, and it’s too exciting to make you wait for: the British movie director Carol Reed (1906-1976) was the illegitimate son of the great English actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, as well as the uncle of actor Oliver Reed. The “Reed” comes into it via Carol’s mother Beatrice May Pinney, who adopted it after his birth.

Reed was only 18 when he first went on the stage with Sybil Thorndike in 1924. He then began to work for Edgar Wallace, as an actor, stage manager, personal assistant, and helping to adapt his works for the screen. When Wallace passed away in 1932, he went to work for Basil Dean at Associated Talking Pictures (precursor to Ealing Studios), working his way up from dialogue director to second unit director to assistant director to (by 1935) director. Appropriate for someone who cut his teeth under Edgar Wallace, Reed is associated largely with mystery thrillers and noirish techniques like skewed and tilted angles, although he explored all styles and genres. His best known films include Night Train to Munich (1940), Odd Man Out (1947), The Fallen Idol (1948), The Third Man (1949), Trapeze (1956), Our Man in Havana (1959), The Running Man (1963), The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), the multiple award winning Oliver! (1968), Flap (1970, which I wrote about here), and Follow Me a.k.a. The Public Eye (1972) starring Mia Farrow, his last.

The Third Man, based on a Graham Greene novel, and made in collaboration with Orson Welles (who also went to play Harry Lime on British radio) is a particular favorite, as I saw it on my first date with my wife! He won a Best Director Oscar for Oliver, which featured his nephew Oliver Reed as Bill Sykes, and can be regarded as one of the last successful musicals of the classic era. Many of Reed’s earlier films were produced by Alexander Korda; later he self-produced most of his his movies. Reed was Knighted in 1952, one of the first motion picture professionals to be thus distinguished.