Saturday, August 23, 2014

Graham Greene's The Tenth Man

Walter Giersbach reviews Graham Greene. You can (will be happy to) find more writings by Walter Giersbach at

What Would You Trade for Your Life?

Graham Greene is a truly amazing writer for having “outlined” a novella — 30,000 words — that lay fallow from 1948 until it was discovered at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in 1987 and finally published.

“The Tenth Man” takes place in wartime France.  Thirty men have been imprisoned by the Gestapo, who insist three must die — the prisoners are to choose which.  Jean-Louis Charlot, the lawyer, trades his marked ballot in return for giving another prisoner his house and all his belongings.  Upon being released, Charlot drifts back to the home he once owned to find young Thérèse and her aged mother (the dead man’s sister and mother) occupying the estate.

Never admitting who he is, Charlot receives all the anger the young woman has for the man who bargained away her brother’s life.

Without reprising the plot — the criminal who appears claiming he was the rightful owner of the estate and who accuses Charlot of being the charlatan and two other characters who are simply plot devices — this story offers a tight examination of guilt and the search for absolution.  Greene presents a deep examination of remorse and redemption within a tightly written plot of accusations, deception and lies.  The writing is extremely tight, with no extraneous description that doesn’t move the plot forward.

A specific time period frames the story, when the Nazis still occupied France, but it is a universal story of fear and cowardice that leads to spiritual emancipation.

You will remember Greene, probably, for his “Our Man in Havana” and “The Quiet American,” both of which were made into movies with, respectively, Alec Guinness and Michael Caine.  It was while Greene was working on “The Third Man” under contract with MGM that he remembers dashing off the story line of “The Tenth Man.”  Thirty-five years later, MGM (which owned the copyright) had the book published, with Greene’s revisions.  Is it too late for MGM or another studio or film maker to put this story on the screen?  Like much of Greene’s writing, it is a timely story for our times.

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