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The Third Man by Graham Greene

The Third Man (edition 1999)

by Graham Greene

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1,262316,267 (3.74)129
Very interesting to read the screenplay. The film with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton stands as my all time favourite.
  shanklinmike | Apr 27, 2012 |
English (20)  Spanish (5)  German (3)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (31)
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Written after the screenplay, this short novel definitely conveys the feel of the movie. A good book, a great movie. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 24, 2014 |
Post-war Vienna, intrigue, military policing by the Allies (Russia, France, UK, and USA), black markets, and skanky characters. Harry's called his friend to visit, but shows up dead just as said friend arrives in Vienna. But none of it makes sense, and said friend spends the rest of the story being amateur detective. Odd structure, the narrator is the professional detective interviewing/narrating the amateur (Rollo Martins). ( )
  grheault | Jan 30, 2014 |
How could I not love a book that ends with a manhunt in the Viennese sewer? Books commissioned with a screenplay in mind have a certain novelty too. ( )
  amelish | Sep 12, 2013 |
The Tooth Tattoo by Peter Lovesey opens with Peter Diamond on vacation doing the The Third Man tour in Vienna. He was very disappointed when he learned that most of it was filmed at the Pinewood Studios in England. This is the real thing. Colonel Calloway tells the story of Rollo Martins search for the killer of Harry Lime, his best friend. The scene on the Prater is just as chilling, if not more so with the imagination having free rein. Graham Greene may not be on this earth anymore, but his work lives on. He is a genius. ( )
  mstruck | Jul 15, 2013 |
Rollo Martin arrives in post-war Austria to meet his friend Harry Lime who has a job for him - the only problem: Lime has been fatally struck by a car and is being buried when Martin arrives. The police accuses Lime of being a black market operator - which Rollo refuse to believe. As Rollo investigate the "accident" strange and conflicting facts about the death appears. And Rollo needs to examine his own idealized picture of Lime - and Lime's girlfriend.

I like the feeling of suspense and mystery in a war-damaged city - it's not at all a typical Greene-novel - the characters are not fully fleshed out. It's told from the perspective of the police inspector, who narrates the story which is confusing at times, when the main character is Rollo. ( )
3 vote ctpress | May 8, 2013 |
I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this book. I am not usually into spy stories, but the plot of this screenplay was both intriguing and enjoyable. I especially like that the author points out the differences between the original screenplay and that used for the film. This is one spy movie I would very much like to see. ( )
  seldombites | Mar 22, 2013 |
The Third Man, written originally as the outline for the screenplay of Carol Reed's famous 1949 film of the same name, is set in occupied Vienna just after World War II. The sectors established by the conquering British, Americans, French, and Russians contribute to an atmosphere of tension and 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.
Rollo Martins, an author of cowboy novels, 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 Lime's death, the novel is by turns exciting and darkly humorous, intensely visual in its descriptions and action, but lacking the characterization and thematic focus which one associates with most of Greene's work. The novella is full of wit and dark theatrics, and includes everything from a chase through the sewers to a love story.

The Fallen Idol, sometimes known as "The Basement Room," is, by contrast, a psychological, rather than plot-based story. Nine-year-old Philip, who idolizes the family's butler Baines, since his parents pay little attention to him, is left with Baines and his wife while the parents go on vacation. Baines is having an affair, and Philip innocently discloses this to his wife.

The resulting confrontation results in an accident in which the wife ends up dead, and Philip, panicked, runs out, only to be picked up by a policeman, to whom another naive remark conveys the idea that Baines has murdered her. Irony and a delightfully drawn child's point of view (unusual for Greene) make The Fallen Idol one of Greene's more interesting and twisted stories.

Both The Third Man and The Fallen Idol led to film collaborations between Greene and director Carol Reed--The Fallen Idol in 1948, and Reed's more famous film of The Third Man in 1949. Dark humor, elaborate ironies, and surprising twists characterize both stories and show Greene to be a master manipulator of perceptions. ( )
  Jawin | Jul 15, 2012 |
Very interesting to read the screenplay. The film with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton stands as my all time favourite.
  shanklinmike | Apr 27, 2012 |
The book was good enough, but I was spoiled by having seen the movie first, the movie may be the best I have ever seen. ( )
  markfinl | Oct 16, 2011 |
The Third Man takes place in Vienna during the dark days immediately after World War II when the city was divided into four occupation zones by the Allied powers. Rollo Martins, an English writer of American westerns, has arrived at the invitation of his friend Harry Lime, only to find that Lime has been killed in an auto accident. When the police tell Martins that Lime was also involved in some black market activity, Martins refuses to believe this and sets out to exonerate his friend. What he finds, however, is a dark secret surrounded by multiple layers of deception.

The novel is narrated in first person by Colonel Calloway, the chief of British Military Police in Vienna. Calloway, who admits that he is wrong in some assumptions, relates conversations with Martins, whom he doesn't entirely believe, who, in turn, is interviewing Lime's friends and witnesses whose statements are contradictory. These shifting sands of uncertainty not only make for a suspenseful novel, but reflect as well the suspicious and treacherous atmosphere of the early Cold War.

For comic relief, Greene has Martins, who writes under the pen name Buck Dexter, confused with a highbrow English novelist named Benjamin Dexter. In an hilarious episode, Martins puts some literary snobs down a peg just as Graham Greene probably wanted to confound some of his critics.

The Third Man is not a tale of deep moral and religious conflict as were several of Greene's earlier novels. (It was actually written as a "film treatment," with no intent originally on the author's part that it be published at all.) But one doesn't have to look too hard to find some typical religious symbolism amidst the vivid imagery of this novel. This is a very enjoyable short novel that is a step above simple entertainment. ( )
4 vote StevenTX | Apr 28, 2011 |
I've never seen the film and knew nothing of the story so had the nice position of reading this famous story tabula rasa. My impression is of a nice genre story, sort of what you'd expect from a typical noir from the 30s or 40s. I'm sure the film is better since it shows bombed out Vienna, smartly dressed men and women, old nightclubs from a former age, etc.. the book only hints at. The plot itself is somewhat predictable after you realize there is only one way for the story to go, the beginning is the best when there is still mystery. This is my first Greene fiction, I'm glad to have read something finally, it's a short introduction. ( )
  Stbalbach | Sep 28, 2010 |
This is my all-time favourite screenplay treatment turned novella! (It could be an Austrian heritage thing, or it could just be that it’s brilliant!) I like ALL Greene's books ) but The Third Man is my fave story. Post WWII Vienna, the oh-so evil black-marketeer Harry lime, the trashy novelist turned hapless amateur sleuth, the femme fatale… The movie is also my ALL time fave movie. EVER. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, the Harry Lime theme played on a zither(!)…da da da da dum da dum, da da da da dum da dum! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6XcMqeA20k&feature=related ( )
  cathsbooks | Aug 27, 2010 |
One of the greatest movie quotes of all times comes from “The Third Man” – “…In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” In addition, the movie contains one of the greatest uses of a zither in a theme song. (Okay, that one is a pretty low bar.)

Unfortunately, neither of these is contained in this book. Oh well, we must all try to forge ahead somehow. And this book makes that forging ahead an easy thing to do. It is a fast, entertaining read which tells the story of Rollo Martins’ arrival in post-war Vienna to visit his friend Harry Lime who, when Rollo arrives, is dead. There follows the tale of Rollo striving to solve the murder local authorities have declared an accident.

If you have seen the movie, then you have seen part of the book. But only part of it. This is actually a book that was never meant to be a book. In fact, as Graham Greene describes it, the story is really just a treatment meant to be turned into a movie. So you will see differences. (For example, no cuckoo clock quote.) But that should not be a deterrent. I am not normally a reader of “thrillers” (or whatever genre this book might be considered), so I cannot expound on the relative merit of this book to others of its kind. But I can expound on the fact that this is a good story you will most likely enjoy. ( )
  figre | Dec 8, 2009 |
When asked to write a screenplay for a movie about the occupation of Vienna following World War II, Graham Greene considered it best to start by writing a story. In this way, he reasoned, the film would be more likely to capture the mood and atmosphere that he (as author) intended. Thus, as Greene notes in his introduction to the novelette, The Third Man "was never intended to be read but only to be seen," and was meant to be no more than raw material for the movie. Nonetheless, following the success of the 1949 film (which starred Orson Welles as the unforgettable Harry Lime), the text was published the following year as a novelette.

Despite its uncertain origins, The Third Man is an engaging story, one that visits themes familiar to readers of Greene's fiction, including the conflicts of friendship, self-interest, and social responsibility in the face of human evil. Its one incongruous element is that it is told in the first person by a secondary character (the police detective). In order to give the reader insight into the mind of Rollo Martins (the actual protagonist), the policeman recounts extended passages of dialogue in which Martins reveals his thoughts and feelings, and details of events that the narrator never witnessed.

The story line of the film follows the novelette fairly closely, although Martins' character is changed from British to American, and the ending (as well as a few episodes) differ markedly. The dialogue in many scenes is very similar to what emerged in the film, including the unforgettable scene between Martins and Harry Lyme at the top of the ferris wheel.

The film deservedly is a classic, and widely available. Both it and the novelette are worth seeking out, for a step into a past world of political intrigue and danger. ( )
8 vote danielx | Jun 10, 2009 |
Classic Greene, this should qualify as one of the best books written after the movie script. Oh, and the movie introduced me to the zither! ( )
  RicDay | Jan 29, 2009 |
This work is really an elaborate film treatment rather than a novel, so you miss the deep background, psychological probing and rich description typical of Greene in his novels. But, having said that, this treatment captures the jangly, conversational discord of the film, which gives rise to a nerve-tingling sense of disorientation and as well as one of its funniest scenes (the book discussion group). The character of Rollo Martins is fleshed out and he turns out to have more flaws than the film can convey. The film is brilliant, no doubt. This quick read is well worth it for fans.

The scene of the book discussion group is treated amusingly by Pierre Bayard in his How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, which I also recommend. ( )
  Queenofcups | Dec 6, 2007 |
El tercer hombre, Graham Greene, (2002)
  apayabooks | Aug 14, 2006 |
This was pretty good.
One thing that is interesting about this book and others of its genre (like Chandler’s Marlowe series) is the total lack of swearing. There is sex in this book and crime and violence, but they all seem to be somehow more deliberate and more serious because of how they are portrayed. It’s not violence for its sake or sex for its own sake. They’re included because they’re vital to the plot. The witness, who is killed because he told Martins that he saw a third man, is killed because he could damage the plot. Its more interesting that way and the whole story seems more serious because of it. ( )
1 vote Bookmarque | Jul 26, 2006 |
Not a book really, but a story built around a screenplay. I understand the entire idea was sketched in one sentence upon a cocktail napkin. One of my favorite movies. ( )
  Surfwench | Jul 21, 2006 |
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