The Tenth Man, by Graham Greene
This book, like several that are part of Greene’s body of work, is a somewhat forgotten film treatment that was published as a result of the work being found by someone many years later. During the early 1940’s when Greene wrote the book, he was certainly known as an excellent writer, but by the time the work was found decades later after having been forgotten and neglected for many years, the situation was very different and anything that Graham Greene had written had taken on such a larger importance culturally speaking that its publication was inevitable with or without his permission. Gratefully, he chose to grant his permission and provide some of the context to the works provided, which makes this a more enjoyable reading experience than it would have been otherwise. I am not sure how much writers appreciate having their early and somewhat unfinished or unpolished works published when they are aged or after they are dead, but in this case the choice was not a bad one and I am sure that everyone involved in the book and its publication enjoyed having a worthwhile time of it and a work that was so enjoyable to read.
The first part of this short volume of about 150 pages consists of Greene’s own writing about how the manuscript of the Tenth Man came to be found decades after Greene had written it as part of his contract with MGM and that Greene was pleased and surprised that the treatment had been so detailed and complete. After that there is a short treatment of a story that was never filmed but that Greene later simplified and moved to Cuba to make his excellent novel “Our Man In Havana.” The rest of the story consists of a dark morality tale told by Greene called “The Tenth Man,” where a cowardly rich French men persuades someone to take his wealth in exchange for his life, in which he finds himself living in his old house and dealing with the contempt of the dead man’s sister who had taken his wealth and willed it to his mother and sister after he died in place of the wealthy coward. As is perhaps not too surprising the surviving man finds himself involved in deeply complicated ways of trying to recover his honor and his understanding of his own bravery as he deals with a dangerous surviving collaborator.
As one might imagine, this book deals with some serious questions that are worth exploring. What are the costs of redeeming one’s life with one’s money, and what is the moral cost of being a coward? Is it worthwhile trading one’s money for one’s life and then dealing with the knowledge and the reputation that one has behaved less than bravely? How would one receive money for one’s surviving families at the cost of one’s life? What kind of people are willing to take on an identity, even if it happens not to be a very good or a very noble identity, because theirs is even wore? These questions were definitely relevant ones in World War II and postwar France, a society that suffered deep scars as a result of the German occupation and what it revealed about the French national character, and they are certainly relevant questions today. If the title of the book is a bit too alike that of his classic work “The Third Man,” it is still a worthwhile and enjoyable work that deserves to be better known. Certainly a treatment this fine deserves a better fate than getting lost for decades within the MGM studio.