Monday, 27 August 2012

A Trip To Greeneland

'A Gun For Sale' (1936)

For many years, Graham Greene made a strict distinction between his ‘novels’ (the big, deep stuff) and his ‘entertainments’ (popular fiction), rather like The Human League did with their ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ singles (Dance and Pop, respectively). Later on, reputation assured, just like The Human League, he dispensed with the categorisation, either because he thought it unnecessary or because he now thought that everything he wrote was really important (i.e. like when The Human League did 'The Lebanon').
‘A Gun For Sale’ is very much an entertainment, so much so that it was snaffled up by Hollywood to provide a classic noir vehicle for little Alan Ladd. Naturally, the golden haired, handsome Ladd doesn’t resemble to novel’s protagonist, Raven, in any way: Greene’s character has a hare lip and a complex about it that makes him hate the world enough to tip it into catastrophe.
A hired killer, Raven has assassinated a leading political figure, and the ensuing crisis looks likely to lead to war. He bears this responsibility lightly – he is far too embittered and lonely to care about anything as distant as other people – but when he realises he has been paid in counterfeit notes, he sets out to put things right with his paymasters.  
What follows is a typically seedy trawl through Greeneland, a place of wet back streets, stifling trains, provincial theatres and dingy boarding houses. Even a brand new estate becomes a venue for a kidnapping, the darkness of the old city enveloping the shiny suburbs. Mostly there’s the stench of violence and corruption– the fatalistic Raven slowly moving towards his revenge – and his death, like an even less principled Jack Carter.

Greene is absolutely in his milieu when writing about Britain inbetween the wars - a declining Empire that tries to forget that it is forever on the edge of chaos by drawing its net curtains and hoping for the best. But worse was to come, of course, much worse, which probably suited Greene down to the ground: he liked chaos and uncertainty and the dark side of human nature, which is perhaps why he called his books about these subjects 'entertainments'. A bit like The Human League, in fact.*

* Not much like the Human League, really. I just thought the comparison was funny. Yes, I am a tosspot. 

1 comment:

  1. Dear Mr Unmann-Wittering,

    A couple of years ago I produced an adaptation of Midwich Cuckoos by Wyndham I am now looking to do an adaptation of "Went the Day Well" by Greene, do you know if a play exists of it or if the screenplay is available, and do you know anything about rights, Greene's estate etc.? Lots of questions but you're the best Greene expert out there...