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The Third Man

Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, black-market opportunist Harry Lime — and thus begins a tale of love, deception, and murder. Elevated by Anton Karas’s evocative zither score; Graham Greene’s razor-sharp dialogue; and Robert Krasker’s dramatic use of light and shadow, The Third Man is one of the masterpieces of post-war cinema.

Previously chosen as part of our My Noir season, by playwright Simon Stephens:

“I am not a cinema historian. My vocabulary for describing the impact of films, and the techniques that underpin them, is limited, as is my understanding of the specificities of film genres.  These limitations mean it would be foolish for me to talk with any confidence about the angular shadows of Robert Krasker’s cinematography, or the melancholy jaunt of Anton Karas’s celebrated score. What startled me as a teenager and inspires me now, as much as these things, is Graham Greene’s screenplay.

It’s rare for novelists to make great drama. Novelists often default to exposition or description, rather than cutting to the quick of human behaviour, but in The Third Man Greene avoids that.  His script moves with stunning speed, the narrative as driven and focused as a Euripides play. His concern is not what people say to one another, although he allows them to speak with depth and razor sharpness, but with what they do to one another.

Every time I return to the film it excites me. Every time I return to it, it makes me want to be a better writer.”