"The Tenth Man," is a bleak suspenseful thriller, a crime drama of a novel, and a puzzling anomaly in the writing career of distinguished British author Graham Greene. For years, I couldn't figure it out. It is only 156 pages, really novella length, yet it has his usual power, though it lacks the accreted detail I've gotten used to in his work. Still, it gives us an excellent picture of wartime, occupied France, and the people who had to live there; the city of Paris, and the countryside at the time. Greene's characters, as ever, are sharply drawn, and ring true to their natures.
It is set in 1944, in a Gestapo prison in occupied France, during World War II, where 32 Frenchmen have been taken hostage. Local resistance activity causes the Germans to decide that one of every ten men - three men--must therefore meet their deaths by firing squad, but they don't care which three men. The hostages draw lots. Jean Louis Chevel, a lawyer and a rich man, gets one of the marked ballots; he offers his entire fortune, and all his holdings, to the heirs of any man who will take his place, and a sickly young man Michel Mangeot, known as "Janvier," agrees. As the Germans are driven out of France in 1944--Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944, and the war ends for the French, the hostages are released, and Chevel, not knowing what else to do, finds his way to his hereditary estate in the country. There, under an assumed name, he finds Janvier's mother and sister installed, and becomes their unpaid handyman. He falls a little in love with the sister, but realizes that mother and sister hate "Chevel" for taking Janvier's life. Then, suddenly, another man shows up, claiming to be Chevel. It is a bleak tale, as noted above, much briefer and less detailed than the author's usual work, although, in this latest crisis in his life, Chevel may be considered at least to have rediscovered his humanity and his courage.
The author, it turns out, amazingly enough, wrote the novella in 1944, well before VE Day, Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945. He wrote it as a film treatment for the Hollywood film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he was under contract, along with a couple of other treatments, one of which is very clearly the germ of his remarkable novel Our Man in Havana
. At any rate, both Greene and the studio forgot about the existence of these treatments and they lay in the MGM archives until 1983, when someone found them and decided to publish at least THE TENTH MAN. Greene could barely remember writing the treatment, and thought it was only a few pages: he was mightily surprised to discover it was more than 150; and, as it was determined it was to be published, he worked on cleaning it up a bit. It was published in 1985. Then, as happened with many, if not most of his works, it was filmed, under the same title,The Tenth Man [DVD] [1988
] as a 1988 television episode for the American show, "Hallmark Hall of Fame." And it got the all-star treatment: Anthony Hopkins Silence Of The Lambs [DVD] [1991
]played Chavel; Kristin Scott Thomas Four Weddings And A Funeral [DVD] [1994
] played Therese Mangeot, Janvier's sister. Derek Jacobi I Claudius - Complete BBC Series (5 Disc Box Set)  [DVD
]played the imposter Chevel; Cyril Cusack My Left Foot / The Field [DVD] [1989
] played the priest. I caught this movie once on late-night TV, and, as noted above, wondered about it for years.
Greene (1904-1991), who was one of the more illustrious British writers of the 20th century, enjoyed a very long life, and a very long, distinguished, prolific writing career. Some of his writing highlights are The Power and the Glory
, The End of the Affair
, and The Third Man
. Many of his books were bestsellers; many were made into movies. He was one of the better-known Catholic converts of his time; many of his thrillers, as this one, deal with Catholic themes of guilt and redemption. He created morally complex characters, while he explored moral and theological dilemmas through psychologically astute character studies, presented in exciting dramas on the international stage.