Man Between, The (1953)

Man Between, The (1953)

“Berlin is a strange, large city; there are many reasons why a girl should simply vanish from the streets.”

When a young British woman (Claire Bloom) comes to visit her brother (Geoffrey Toone) and his new wife (Hildegard Knef) in West Berlin, she quickly finds herself caught up in a complex web of intrigue involving a man (James Mason) with mysterious ties to both Knef and East Berlin.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carol Reed Films
  • Claire Bloom Films
  • Cold War
  • James Mason Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Refugees

The Third Man (1949) was such a success for director Carol Reed that his choice to make a similarly themed film just two years later (this time based on a screenplay by Harry Kurnitz and Eric Linklater, set in Berlin eight years before the construction of the Wall) seems to have colored critics’ perceptions. As in Jacques Tourneur’s Berlin Express (1948) — and, to a certain extent, Billy Wilder’s more satirical, American-centric A Foreign Affair (1948) — we’re presented with the stark reality of a traumatized, war-damaged German landscape.

It’s clear from the opening scenes that Knef (who looks astonishingly like Ginger Rogers) is distressed and distracted about something, though we don’t know what:

Meanwhile, her over-worked husband (Toone) is so busy helping refugees (shown here jam-packed in the background):

… that he doesn’t appear to notice his wife’s concerns. Once Mason enters the picture, we suspect we’ll begin to learn more about Knef’s past and his involvement in it — which we gradually do.

Following a key kidnapping sequence, however, the focus shifts away from Knef and towards Bloom, who seems to have fallen for Mason but isn’t sure who to trust or believe.

To say more would give away key elements of the twist-laden, at times Hitchcockian narrative, which merits watching without spoilers. Suffice it to say that Reed (with support from DP Desmond Dickinson) once again brings a particular city to life (as he did for Vienna in The Third Man, and [unnamed] Belfast in Odd Man Out), filling it with atmospheric sets and locations — including a meet-up in a skating rink:

… a stalking on snowy winter streets:

… an escape from an opera house:

… a clever ruse at a generator site:

… an encounter with a wary prostitute (Hilde Sessak):

… and a tense climax at the border, among others:

This film remains well worth a look on its own merits, as long as viewers can resist comparing it to The Third Man.

Note: Having just watched a History Channel documentary about the Berlin Wall to help my older daughter with a school project, I found myself particularly interested in seeing how Berliners’ lives and loyalties might be portrayed at the time this film was made — and to me, Reed’s depiction rings reasonably true (albeit with plenty of added atmosphere and adventure and romance). Just fyi, the Wall was constructed in 1961 to physically prevent Eastern Bloc citizens from fleeing to the West in droves, as we see happening in this film:

The Wall went through several iterations of increasing solidity and oversight until finally… it was torn down (starting in 1989) at the first indication this was possible.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • James Mason as Ivo
  • Claire Bloom as Susanne
  • Fine location shooting in Berlin

  • Desmond Dickinson’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a well-crafted outing by a master director.


  • Important Director


One thought on “Man Between, The (1953)

  1. First viewing (today). Agreed; must-see, as “a well-crafted outing by a master director.” As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Believe me *now*.”

    ‘The Man Between’ (1953): This thriller directed by Carol Reed, came a few years after his triumph with ‘The Third Man’ – and bears a certain tonal, post-WWII resemblance.

    It is a prime example of the thriller at its best – with a plot you should know as little of as possible before seeing it. What’s even better: for most of the film’s first half, you will have just about no idea what is going on anyway.

    Oh, you’ll know the basics that set up where you are as a viewer and why you are there. You’ll know that Claire Bloom is playing a young British woman who goes to West Berlin to pay a visit to her military doctor brother and his German wife (Hildegard Knef).

    But you’ll notice almost immediately that ‘something is up’ with the wife… and you won’t know what that is throughout the film’s first half. Along the way you’ll meet James Mason playing a German (interesting accent; not too thick, a nice approximation) who seems to know the wife… quite well. But you still won’t know what’s going on exactly.

    Certain helpful specifics are revealed midway but even those pieces of information can’t be completely trusted. Mainly because a wrench is going to be thrown into the works – leading to most of the rest of the film being an extremely inventive, non-stop cat-and-mouse chase that hardly ever eases up on the tension.

    With photography that is often moody as hell, this is edge-of-your-seat stuff!

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