Saturday, 12 July 2008

In Search of The Third Man

by Charles Drazin

Published by Methuen

I've long been a fan of the Carol Reed film The Third Man and was given this book as a birthday present. It's full of interesting facts and figures about the making of the noir classic, including the actors' salaries, last-minutes script changes and, fascinatingly, the original cast choices. Cary Grant as Holly Martins and Noel Coward as Harry Lime... I like both these actors but I think they might have ruined this film!
The book also charts the rise of the unknown Anton Karas, who achieved overnight fame and fortune thanks to his zither music, now thought of as a character in its own right in the film. Karas' unexpected good fortune and the unassuming manner in which he accepted it is quite movingly described.

The author's enthusiasm for his subject and the thorough detailing of the production process during Hollywood's golden age help make this book a genuinely interesting read. I also like the way the book is structured, taking the reader through the movie-making process, the filming, then onto the premiere and general distribution. The final section of the book concerns Greene himself and offers an fascinating insight into his childhood and early life working for the government. Drazin makes a compelling case that Holly Martins is based on Greene himself: 'I'm just a hack who drinks too much and falls in love with girls.'

The book also describes the Harry Lime-like chase which Orson Welles put the production crew through, just to get him to turn up for filming. And thank goodness they caught him. The Third Man is in many ways Welles' movie. The author points out how Orson Welles is often cited as having written a considerable chunk of the script and given Reed many of the ideas for the iconic shots - not true. And this is what I think the book does best: it gives proper credit to the true creators of the film - the production units, the set directors, the Austrian and European cast of extras, Schneeberger's filming of that famous last scene in the graveyard, the 'matchless' Graham Greene and the ever humble Carol Reed, largely forgotten but a truly great director.

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