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Third Man, The

The Third Man, The End of the Affair, The Quiet American

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a novel by Graham Greene, published in 1950. Much of Greene's fiction has been filmed, but none so successfully as The Third Man, directed in 1949 by Carol Reed, with haunting zither music by Anton Karas, and Orson Welles as the cynical racketeer Harry Lime. The film is able to exploit more fully than Greene's text the darkly atmospheric background of the city of Vienna, ruined by the Second World War and divided between Russian and Western control. Reed uses this context particularly powerfully to communicate Rollo Martins's disillusion with Lime, a friend and boyhood hero. Martins fully realizes the truth about Lime's blackmarketeering and faked death when he appears accidentally illumined in a street doorway. He plunges in pursuit into the subterranean, rushing world of the Vienna sewers—a movement emblematic of his sudden immersion into a universe darker and more complex than any anticipated by someone who had ‘never really grown up’.

Greene considered the film ‘the finished state of the story’, and his text no more than ‘raw material’. Nevertheless, it marks a stage in his development as a novelist—his earliest sustained use of first-person narrative, later developed more successfully in The End of the Affair (1951) and The Quiet American (1955). The narrator, Major Calloway, the policeman pursuing Lime, sometimes enters implausibly far into other characters' private thoughts and feelings, but his initially limited understanding makes him a good vehicle for a story of unfolding discovery. Like Martins, though less naïvely, he underestimates the depths of Lime's malign ingenuity: their discovery of truths even darker than they had supposed makes The Third Man a kind of paradigm for the feelings of an age whose faiths and sanctities had so recently been ruined by the Second World War and the opening hostilities of the Cold War which followed. It is also typical of repeated movements in Greene's fiction towards underworlds of disillusion and destroyed innocence.

Third Policeman, The - tour de force [next]

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