Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A is for Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler is well known for espionage novels that are as much character driven as plot driven. His novels had more emphasis on political themes than the thrills of escapist adventures.

From the entry on Eric Ambler in Encyclopedia Mysteriosa by William L. DeAndrea:
"Eric Ambler was among the first to write spy novels not about dashing adventurers swashbuckling their way through danger, but about common people in unnerving and often squalid situations. His first novel, The Dark Frontier (1936), anticipated nuclear weapons; his last, The Care of Time (1981), discusses chemical warfare and the danger to the world of unbalanced leaders in the Middle East."

Earlier this month I read A Coffin for Dimitrios (published in 1939) and I just finished The Light of Day (published in 1962). I am on a mission to read more of his books in the next year or so.

In looking around the web (and reading through my mystery reference books), I have noticed that five of Ambler's novels were adapted as films.  I knew this was true of the two books I have read, but was surprised that there were so many. There have also been adaptations on TV.

I have already commented on the movie based on A Coffin for Dimitrios, in my review of the book.  The movie is titled The Mask of Dimitrios, as is the UK version of the book.

The Light of Day was adapted in a film called Topkapi in 1964.  I have seen Topkapi several times; it is a popular movie in our household. I won't say having seen the movie detracts from the experience of reading the book, because the novel has more depth in characterization and I enjoyed it very much. However, I do think it would be preferable to read the book with no knowledge of the story.

I won't say too much about the film here, I will cover it more when I review the book. Maximilian Schell, Robert Morley and Melina Mercouri star in this film which features Peter Ustinov's Oscar- winning Supporting Actor performance. Directed by Jules Dassin.

Uncommon Danger, Ambler's second novel, is described in an overview on the California Literary Review:
"...the central character, Nicholas Kenton, is an archetypal antihero rather than the conventional ultra-patriotic hero of earlier thrillers. A cosmopolitan journalist, Kenton is the model for the typical Ambler protagonist in subsequent novels: an ordinary, unexceptional person who, by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, is suddenly involved in a network of political and criminal duplicity of which he was previously unaware."
The movie based on the book, titled Background to Danger, stars George Raft, with Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. That title is the same one used for the US version of the book.

DVD Beaver has this to say about Background to Danger:
"Maybe not up there with the best of Walsh's action pics, but still an efficient and entertaining WWII spy thriller. Raft is the American agent travelling to Turkey to prevent the country from allying itself with the Nazis, and encountering that colourful pair, Greenstreet (a Nazi) and Lorre (his Turkish opponent) en route."
Uncommon Danger was published in 1938, and the following year Ambler published Epitaph for a Spy. That book is described in this post at Slate magazine.

That book was made into a movie in 1944. It was called Hotel Reserve, and it starred James Mason, Lucie Mannheim, and Herbert Lom.

There is a good overview of the movie at Mystery*File. The author of the post did not like the movie very much, but several comments presented different opinions. So it is a balanced discussion with a lot of interesting facts.

Journey Into Fear will be the next book I read by Eric Ambler. Primarily because I have a copy to read already. But also because of this very interesting post and recommendation from author Charles Cummings at the Rap Sheet.

Journey Into Fear was also made into a movie, featured in this post at Noir of the Week. As the post mentions, rumors abound that Orson Welles directed at least part of the film, even though Welles denied it. In addition to Delores Del Rio and Welles, the film stars Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane, Joseph Cotten, and Ruth Warrick, all of whom were directed by Welles in Citizen Kane.

I am excited to be participating in the Crime Fiction Alphabet community meme this year.  Check here for other submissions for the letter A.


Unknown said...

I've never heard of this author before but I like the sounds of his spy novels. I'm going to check it out. Thanks.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Great post Tracy - DIMITRIOS is probably my favourite of his books and made the best film too. Ambler and Graham Greene probably did more than anyone after Conrad and Maugham's earlier efforts in developing the modern spy genre as we understand it in the le Carre mould, plausible and full of dishevelled characters. If you haven't read it, I would reccommend DOCTOR FRIGO, which Julian Symons thought was as amongst the most successful of the author's postwar novels.

TracyK said...

Sergio, thanks for the recommendation. I am sure I read Ambler in my youth but don't even remember titles, much less plots. So I am trying to determine which of the novels will appeal to me, although I plan to read all that I can find (at a reasonable price).

Peggy Ann said...

Just saw this author for the first time over at My Readers Block and had added him to my wish list and here he is again!

Marce said...

I haven't heard of the movies or the books. I ready an espionage thriller this year and loved it, my first taste so I should try one of his also.

I chose Andrea Kane

J.L. Campbell said...

I suspect that at the end of this meme, I'll have found a lot more writers whose books I should be checking out. I think I saw Journey into Fear at some point.

srivalli said...

I have borrowed Journey into fear from library. I am planning to read it next.