Hello everybody. This is Mister Joe Morella and Mister Frank Segers here again..
Once again we welcome back our regular and increasingly prolific guest contributor, Larry Michie.
Larry, entranced by how some books are turned into some of the best classic movies, discusses a beauty today. So, here’s Larry…..
Graham Greene (1904-1991) was a phenomenally gifted and prolific writer, ranging from the chilling tale of a juvenile psychopath (Brighton Rock) to the to the warmly hilarious (Travels with my Aunt). In addition to novels and short stories, Greene cranked out screenplays, including two in collaboration with British director Carol Reed that rank among the screen’s finest accomplishments.
By Greene’s own account, he couldn’t write a screen play without first writing a story, so when Sir Alexander Korda asked him to write a film for Carol Reed about post-WWII Vienna, which was divided into four sections by the occupying powers – American, British, Russian and French – Greene dusted off a note he had scribbled to himself much earlier, a story idea about saying goodbye to Harry. Thus was born 1949’s The Third Man.
From that note he fleshed out a story about a fellow named Rollo Martins, an Englishman who made a living by writing the cheapest of so-called westerns, tawdry copies of the yarns cranked out by U.S. writers. Rollo went to Vienna largely to see his best friend from school days, one Harry Lime. The intensely loyal Rollo could not come to grips with the death of Lime, and he tried to dig out the truth about what happened. But he was not prepared to believe the stories that Harry Lime had been trafficking in stolen pharmaceuticals, a valuable prize in destitute Vienna.
Well, movies have their own peculiar dynamics, and a couple of emotional anchors drifted a bit off-shore when it was decided to cast an American, Joseph Cotton, as the writer of cheap paperback westerns. Cotton refused to be named Rollo, so Greene dubbed him Holly, a tiny bit of a dig that satisfied Cotton. (According to Greene, “The name had to be an absurd one, and the name Holly occurred to me when I remembered that figure of fun, the American poet Thomas Holley Chivers.” Not a joke that many people would get, but what the heck, let Greene enjoy himself.
The casting of Cotton/Holly took a powerful element away from the story, as the search for Harry Lime would have had much more emotional weight if the former school chum trying to track him down had that extra faith in his friend, instead of the more skeptical sleuthing done by the American. It surely didn’t ruin the film, though. In the end, Holly pulled the trigger in the sewers of Vienna. Rollo never would have done that.
The Third Man still stands up as an engrossing film – excellent acting, powerful direction, and all different shades of mystery and human misery in the backwash of a devastating global war.
Orson Welles, of course, was the jaunty Harry Lime, with excellent support by Cotton, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, Wilfrid Hyde-White, and the extremely attractive Alida Valli as Anna, Harry’s squeeze and a tormented victim of the war.
Another thing about those British writers: They often display a wicked wit, often without cracking a smile. The original Greene story depicted Rollo being invited to a book-signing party where he was quizzed extensively by Viennese intellectuals. A hack writer of oaters was not in his element, to say the least. The same scene with Joseph Cotton in the movie sort of works, but it isn’t quite as telling.
Oh, and who could forget the score, perfectly selected by Carol Reed – zither music that seems to foretell every dark deed dreamed of in the haunted streets of Vienna.