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The Third Man
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
When Graham Green wrote this in 1949, he had a screenplay in mind. However, even though this short novella is only 157 pages long, it certainly can stand on its own. The setting is post-war Vienna, a once-beautiful city that was now nothing but war rubble. It's administered by the four victorious nations, Russia, France, Great Britain and the United States, and they all communicate with each other in the language of their former enemy. There's a somber mood, a feeling of decay and destruction throughout. And, of course there's a mystery, and lots of suspense, as the reader is swept into a story of intrigue, betrayal and constantly changing alliances.
The form is interesting too as it's narrated by a British policeman. He has some interesting philosophical discussions with the lead character, a fellow Brit named Rollo Martins who has been summoned to Vienna by a long-time friend, Harry Limes, only to find a funeral in progress for Limes when he arrives. The mystery deepens as he sets upon doing his own form of detective work. The writing is stark, with excellent dialog and the cast of characters is somewhat confusing at first. As we learn more and more, the book picks up speed and we're hurtled into the conclusion that, while it is satisfactory, never really answers all of the questions raised. With just a few words though, it made me look at some deeper issues than the plot, such as the moral conscience of the characters as well as the particular time period in which they lived. And if there are no easy answers? Well, that's the way life is.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Greene's novella of The Third Man reminds me a lot of Whit Masterton's Badge of Evil (adapted by Orson Welles for Touch of Evil). It is a pacy story, exciting, with enough to keep a reader's interest, but when contrasted with the film that followed it does not bear comparison.
This is simply a film treatment. It was a novella written by Greene to provide a plot, and characters for an original screenplay director Carol Reed wished him to write (following an earlier successful collaboration). It was never intended to be a stand alone novel. And in a fascinating introduction Greene advises the reader of the changes forced on the original screenplay in the collaboration.
In the novel the story is narrated by Major Calloway, and is reliant on other's recollections of events (notably the writer Rollo Martins). The central character (Joseph Cotten in the film) is Rollo, not Holly Martins. Rollo being an English writer of Westerns under the pen name Buck Dexter. This leads to a "comic" misunderstanding where Martins is mistaken for a great English Man of Letters, B Dexter. Never convincing the change to an American lead ejects this from the film, and allows the comedy of the literary meeting to arise from Martins championing by Calloway's sergeant in the film.
The change to an American lead in the film, and therefore the change in nationality of Harry Lime (originally to have been played by Noel Coward, but thankfully played by Orson Welles in the film) meant that an anicllary character (Cooler) became Romanian in the final film - in order to avoid upsetting American filmgoers.
Aside from the changes to character, there are one or two alterations to plot (particularly in relation to Anna).
The novella as a stand alone text is a passable entertainment, and demonstrates Greene's ability at creating quirky interesting characters, and giving a novel a sense of place and atmosphere. Vienna is wonderfully evoked (although whether this stems simply from the writing, or is recollections of a wonderful film, I cannot be certain). It does not rank alongside the great Greene entertainments, such as Our Man in Havana; and certainly cannot rate with great novels like The Power and the Glory, The Human Factor, or The Heart of the Matter.
This is little more than an interesting curiosity, an opportunity for a reader to view the rough draft of a screenplay for one of the greatest films ever made. From it we learn that Greene could not write a book that was not entertaining, but we also see just how much of a role Carol Reed, actors, and music, had in creating the final film. Film is very much a collaborative process, and this film treatment was written with that very much in mind.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
In post-WWII Vienna nothing is what it seems. Western pulp fiction writer Buck Dexter is actually British hack writer Rollo Martins. He's come to visit his schoolboy chum Harry Lime, but arrives just in time for Harry's funeral. The gentleman who catches a ride back from the services with Martins, is really a British policeman; turns out, old pal Harry was a black marketeer, selling doctored penicillin that is responsible for numerous deaths. Harry's grieving girlfriend is a Russian refuge staying in Vienna on forged documents. The local Cultural organization that keeps pestering Martins to speak to them mistakenly believes that he is the critically acclaimed writer, Benjamin Dexter. But the thing that is most misleading turns out to be the "death" of Harry Lime, as Martins discovers when he starts trying to find the rumored third man who witnessed Harry's death.
When Graham Greene was asked to come up with a script for Carol Reed to film, he saw an opportunity to flesh out the bare bones of an idea--suppose someone saw an old friend, supposedly dead, on the street one day. Of course, Greene & Reed & Orson Welles turned this idea into the great movie The Third Man (1949). For the novel, Greene returned to the scenario and rendered the whole story as he originally envisioned it. Most of the changes are fairly minor--freed of the presence of Joseph Cotten, Martins is English not American--but sadly missing is the famous line from the movie, which Welles apparently wrote himself, about Italy under the amoral Borgias producing magnificent culture while Switzerland's hundreds of years of democracy has produced only chocolates and the cuckoo clock. It does retain the great concluding chase through the sewers of the city, which seem to physically embody the moral cesspool that Cold War Europe was becoming. This is a work that presages LeCarre and much of the ambivalent spy fiction of the 60's & 70's. It is perhaps not quite up to the standards of the movie or of some of Greene's other books, but those are high standards indeed.
GRADE: A-
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Written originally as the outline for the screenplay of the famous 1949 film of the same name, Greene sets the story in Vienna just after World War II, employing the sectors established by the conquering British, Americans, French, and Russians to provide tension, mystery, and an almost palpable aura of menace as residents and visitors alike must deal with four different governments, four sets of officials, and four collections of laws as they move throughout the city. With massive bomb damage, the city is still emerging from devastation. Black markets, selling everything from food to penicillin, abound.

Rollo Martins, the author of cowboy novels written under the name of Buck Dexter, arrives in Vienna to visit an old school friend, Harry Lime, only to find that he has arrived on the day of Lime's funeral. Investigating Lime's death, Martins learns that a neighbor saw the traffic accident that killed Lime and observed three men carrying Lime's body from the scene. Only two of those men have been identified--the third man has vanished.

As Martins investigates, he must deal with the city's several different governments, each of which has carved out a sector. The initial co-operation among sectors has vanished, and co-operation with the Russian sector is almost non-existent. Wanted men use the city's sewers to escape from one sector to another, where they cannot be followed. The investigation of Lime's death becomes more complex when an inebriated Martins is sure that he has seen Harry Lime on the street.

By turns exciting and darkly humorous, the novel is a curiosity among Greene's entertainments, since this story was never written to be a novel at all. Intensely visual in its descriptions and action, it lacks the characterization and thematic focus which one associates with most of Greene's work. The novel's dialogue, rather than narrative, conveys the story, as it does in the film, and the setting in a war-torn city adds to the sense of danger and drama. Certainly not one of Greene's "finished" novels, it is still fun to read, especially when one is familiar with the even better film of it, directed by Carol Reed and starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, and Trevor Howard. Of particular interest to those studying writing and film-making, Greene's novella is full of wit and dark theatrics, and includes everything from a chase through the sewers to a love story. Mary Whipple
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Perhaps I was spoiled by seeing the movie before I read the book. (This is one of those rare cases where the movie is better than the book). The story is entertaining enough, and well written. An interesting touch, not possible in the movie, is that the book is told from the viewpoint of Calloway - so there are things he doesn't know, things recounted third-hand, things he gets wrong. There are also a few different scenes in here - notably a kidnapping scene with Anna that was left out of the movie. Nationalities of characters changed in the movie, partly to accomodate the actors (I'm glad Joseph Cotton didn't try to do a British accent for the movie) and also to avoid "upsetting" American audiences (an unsympathetic character becomes Romanian rather than American in the movie).
There are two things missing in the book that I thought were breathtaking scenes in the movie: the bit with the cat (the discovery that Lime is not dead) and the "Borgias and the Renaissance; Swiss and cuckoo clocks" line that Welles inserted in the movie.
Perhaps I'd have liked the book better if I hadn't seen the movie first. Still, the book version is interesting, as one of the other reviewers commented, as a way of looking at a "rough draft" of a movie script.
I'd be much more of a movie watcher if all screenwriters put in as much initial effort as Greene did on this one.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
"The Third Man" is an excellent novella of a classic Film Noir. Greene's story was the basis for the script of the Carol Reed film starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten. While there are some differences between the two, the heart of the plot remains the same.
I truly enjoyed this book, however it was a little short. But, what it lacked in mass it made up for in an engaging plot that captures the reader until they are completely finished. Greene's characters are complex and likeable, even the villain has a certain amount of charisma. Fortunately for those who this book captures, it can be read in one rainy day. And really, it should be read on a dark gray day, or else it kinda defeats the noir mood of the plot. And I'm purposely leaving out the plot because it would ruin the twist at the end.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2000
Format: Audio Cassette
Graham Greene is the master. The movie was good enough, but the story is even better. Thrillers of this depth and complexity are virtually non-existant anymore. It was great to revisit this classic. The narration by Martin Jarvis is professionally rendered with Mr. Jarvis never once sounding as if he's reading a script or trying to perform a one-act play. Instead, he sounds every bit the weary, cynical, but very proper British policeman recounting a strange but true tale in post-war Vienna. Few narrators are this good. He really enhanced an already-crackling story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
In connection with my son's recent high school report on Graham Greene, we watched the 1949 movie "The Third Man", directed by Carol Reed and starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, and Trevor Howard. That prompted me to re-read the novella.

The movie tracks the book more closely than most movies based on books. I assumed that that was simply because Greene had written the film play as well. But reading the Preface, I learned that Greene had committed to writing a film play for Carol Reed beforehand; he then wrote the novella (or a draft of it) as preparation for writing the film play. Greene explained: "Even a film depends on more than plot, on a certain measure of characterization, on mood and atmosphere; and these seem to be almost impossible to capture for the first time in the dull shorthand of a script. One can reproduce an effect caught in another medium, but one cannot make the first act of creation in script form. * * * `The Third Man', therefore, though never intended for publication, had to start as a story before it began those interminable transformations from one treatment to another."

For those not familiar with the story, it takes place shortly after the end of WWII in "the smashed dreary city of [occupied] Vienna." Black market trade in all sorts of goods and commodities proliferates. Including penicillin, which leads to trade in adulterated penicillin, which can lead to tragic deaths and insanity when given to those who need the real thing. When Rollo Martins ("Holly" Martins, in the movie) goes to Vienna to meet his boyhood friend and idol Harry Lime, he arrives to find Harry being buried. He begins to investigate the circumstances of Harry's death, interviews the two men who admitted to having been with him when he was struck by a car, but then learns that a mysterious "third man" had also been present. Eventually, he also learns about the black market and illegal trade in penicillin. A participant in that trade blithely dismisses the toll on human lives: "In these days, old man, nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don't, so why should we?"

THE THIRD MAN, the novella, is one of Greene's "entertainments" (as distinguished from what he regarded as his "novels" or serious literary works, such as "The Quiet American" or "The End of the Affair"). Nonetheless, it is quite good. Four-and-a-half stars, in my book. The movie, however, gets the full five stars. It is a classic (in 1999, the British Film Institute named it the best British film of the 20th Century). If you have not read the book or seen the movie, or done so in a long time, give yourself a treat and do so soon. Better yet, do both.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
As Graham Greene admits in the preface of the novella "The Third Man", this story 'was never written to be read but only to be seen'. When invite by director Carol Reed to write a screenplay, the British novelist decided to write a short story first and then develop the script. As he confess, it is too hard to write a movie without having worked on the story previously, because the movie depends also on characterization, mood and atmosphere, and these are hard to be captured in the first time in a screenplay.

That is a mark of a genius. He wrote "The Third Man" only as a blueprint for the script and, nevertheless, both story and movie are great. It is a novella with a little more than 100 pages, and yet largely entertaining, as the writer wanted it to be. Not many writers are capable of doing such a amazing story without pretension -- because it is not easy to acquire simplicity.

The plot is not complicated as well. A British writer arrives in the pos-War divided Vienna to meet an old friend, who turns out to be dead. But there are some suspicious events surrounding his death -- and he also has a gorgeous girlfriend, who is very sad. Rollo, the main character, ends up investigating the death and there comes many twists in the plot of the story.

"The Third Man" is a very short narrative, nevertheless, Greene succeeded in all he wanted. More than anything, the story has atmosphere. Vienna is destroyed, picking up the pieces -- so are the characters who are caught in a plot bigger than themselves. However much Rollo doesn't want to be involved with his friend's death -- he can't avoid due to the train of events that catch him.

The writing is Greene at his best. The plot is convincing and well built with tension and fun coming from every page. Although the novel is slightly different from the movie, fans of Carol Reed's genial "The Third Man" can't be disappointed with the short story that was the genesis of this that is considered the best British movie ever.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book spent two decades on my shelf without my so much as touching it. Now I've read it, and I wish I had read it a long time and several Harry Limes ago in my life.

You don't need enemies with friends like Harry Lime. For starters, he effectively strands his old school friend Rollo Martins in postwar Vienna. Lime is occupied with other matters at that moment, like his own funeral, but it still leaves a sour taste, especially after a number of questions are raised in Rollo's mind. Did Harry really kill children by selling tainted penicillin? What secrets about Harry does his former lover Anna hold so close? And who was that third man seen helping move Harry's body after he was hit by that car?

Though it was written before the more celebrated movie of the same name Graham Greene worked on with director Carol Reed, "The Third Man" came out a year after the film in 1950, well in advance of le Carre and Fleming and the spy thriller. Short and to the point, Greene seems to employ an almost Hemingwayesque terseness to his narrative, describing a shattered Austrian city so: "A thaw set in that night, and all over Vienna the snow melted, and the ugly ruins came to life again: steel rods hanging like stalacitites, and rusty girders thrusting like bones through the grey slush."

There's not much of Greene's layered depth to be found here; Rollo drinks a little and is bad with women, but otherwise he's pretty much exists for the sake of drawing out Harry Lime. Because Martins "believed in friendship," as explained on the first page, he is set to suffer at the hands of Lime, dead or alive, as Rollo discovers a cold heart he never knew. For Rollo, it makes a difference what kind of man Harry was; to his surprise others are more indifferent about it.

The movie presents a few key differences, such as the oft-quoted line about the Swiss contribution to mankind and the resolution of Martins' relationship with Anna, one of cinema's most arresting images which feels empty here. Rollo goes by the name "Holly" in the movie and is played as an American, not a Brit, by actor Joseph Cotton. He still writes cheap westerns but doesn't suffer exactly the same indignities for it Rollo does in the book. Greene notes in a preface that he himself thinks the movie works better, and he's right, but like other reviewers here say, you get an interesting line here on the thought processes of the central players, not to mention another examination of sin and salvation from the author of "Brighton Rock" and "The Power And The Glory."

People can be like ants when seen from high above, but when someone looks down on them and asks: "Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving - forever?" it's not the humanity of those down below that's being obscured. Rollo finds himself with a difficult choice between concrete loyalty and abstract morality, and though "The Third Man" doesn't press this point so much as simply raise it, it makes for an examination of man's duality you would do well not to leave on the shelf as long as I did.
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