Your sister-in-law is acting suspicious. What do you do?
A. Tell your brother
B. Confront her
C. Use mirrors to watch her inconspicuously
This is the first time Susanne (Claire Bloom) has met Bettina (Hildegard Knef), so it’s not like she owes her any loyalty yet Susanne picks option C and it might not be the right decision, but it’s certainly the most interesting.
Carol Reed’s The Man Between begins with Susanne on a plane. World War II is over and she’s going to Berlin to visit her brother (Geoffrey Toone), who’s a doctor in the British military. Susanne is English and doesn’t speak German, and while it would be great if that were a lie, it’s not. At one point she even slams the door to let Bettina know that she’s home despite the fact that she couldn’t listen in on her conversation anyway.
Susanne doesn’t need to understand what’s being said to know that something’s bothering her sister-in-law and that something has to do with Bettina’s friend, Ivo Kern (James Mason). Her brother might be oblivious but Susanne catches everything, so the question is why doesn’t she say anything?
Maybe she thinks tipping Bettina off will only make her defensive. Maybe she’s reluctant to start a fight with her brother’s wife. Whatever her motives are, the result is this weird middle ground between curiosity and concern, and it shouldn’t work, yet Bloom is so magnetic, that it does.
The reason it seems doomed, though, is because the setting is so tense. Reed was able to shoot some of the film on location but, as film historian, Simon Abrams explains in his commentary track, West Berlin had to double for East Berlin since they couldn’t shoot there. All of this is to say that Bettina’s behavior should set off alarm bells, yet Susanne stays calm and, because of that she’s able to observe Bettina unnoticed in these wonderful, silent scenes where the characters let their guards down. In a way it’s a gift that Susanne can’t speak German because it gives people this false sense of security. They think they can speak freely but then forget how revealing their body language can be.
Call it naiveté (and Bettina and Ivo probably would, since they often pick on Susanne’s age and the fact that she doesn’t have the same wartime experiences), but they’re not as stealthy as they think they are, and Harry Kurnitz‘s screenplay gives viewers a chance to try and figure out what’s going on alongside Susanne.
In addition to Abrams’ commentary, Kino Lorber’s disk includes a short documentary on Reed’s career, an audio interview with Mason (where Mason does most of the talking), and an interview with Bloom (where she dares to go against the documentary’s blanket praise of the director).
Today The Man Between is often overshadowed by Reed’s The Third Man (and it’s been too long since I’ve seen the latter film to make a comparison). For sure, it’s not a perfect movie and Bettina could’ve prevented a lot of what happens by speaking up sooner, but I’d still rank it above Reed’s Odd Man Out and Bloom is a revelation.
The Man Betweenis available on Blu-Ray and DVD from from Kino Lorber.