Greene said the American “might have felt a religious sect, the Cao Daists,” could have fit the bill. But Greene found this notion bizarre; Caou Dai, as Frances FitzGerald says, was a “synthetic religion,” based loosely on Catholicism but with very oddball features
“One of their patron saints was Victor Hugo.” Greene said. “And they had female cardinals. They also had a private army with mortars made out of car engines. Inside the church was fantastic. It was sort of like a Disney set.”
I suggested this might represent the ultimate American political fantasy: a third-force revolutionary movement based on the ideology of Walt Disney. Certainly, aspects of the Panama invasion resembled a Hollywood production, with US soldiers blasting heavy-metal Rock and Roll at Noriega’s hideout in the papal Nunciate, and Army public-relations men promoting a slogan — Operation Just Cause — rather than a political principle
Not surprisingly, Greene has had difficulty through the years with Hollywood. Its version of The Quiet American was no exception.
“Hollywood made a bad film of nearly every book I did,” he said. “They did a very bad one of The Quiet American, where they’re saving Vietnam from communism and so on. They completely reversed the plot and got permission from President Diem to shoot in Vietnam. I can’t remember who did the awful film of The End of the Affair. Fritz Lang made a bad film of The Ministry of Fear. And he apologized for it when I ran into him in a bar in Los Angeles. He was old, it was the end of his time, you know, and he’d been handed a script and had to stick to it. He cut out the whole central portion of he book and it lost all its point. You’d think that somebody of Fritz Lang’s reputation would have been able to do something.”
Greene was a film critic for The Spectator in the late 1930’s and could hardly be more opinionated on the subject. His persistent attacks on Alexander Korda’s work eventually spurred Korda to invite Greene’s collaboration, and the two became close friends.
“I’m afraid the only good films made of my work have been made by myself,” Greene said. “The Third Man was good and so was The Fallen Idol. Our Man in Havana wasn’t a bad film. The Comedians was not very good, but it wasn’t bad. Brighton Rock was not bad.”
Greene related the story of a meeting with producer David O. Selsnick that seems to sum up his experience with Hollywood:
“Carol Reed [the director of The Third Man] and I went to see Selznick in San Diego,” he said, “because he was providing two of the stars and he had made a contract with Alexander Korda that he would have to pass on the script. And the first thing he said when we came in the door was ‘Graham’— because Americans always call you by your Christian name —‘can’t you think of another title? Who do you think is going to see a film called The Third Man? I mean, I’m not a writer — you are — but how ’bout something like, you know, Night in Vienna?’