Andrez Bergen is a Tokyo-based musician and journalist. His debut novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, a dystopian love-letter to film noir, is out now with Another Sky Press, as a paperback or on kindle.
Andrez’s Criminal Classic is The Third Man by Graham Greene…
The Third Man wasn’t meant to be a book – Graham Greene tells us in his preface, “The Third Man was never written to be read but only to be seen.” In the late 1940s Greene, already responsible for the thriller Brighton Rock, received a commission from British studio titan Alexander Korda to write a film for director Carol Reed. Greene and Reed had just polished off a critically lauded adaptation of The Fallen Idol, and for their next effort Greene composed a novella before embarking on the screenplay, in order to set “a certain measure of characterization, on mood and atmosphere.”
Greene claims that The Third Man was born out of a short note written on the back of an envelope and it’s definitely a novella rather than a novel – my Penguin edition clocks in at 112 pages, including the brief preface by Greene, and is paired with The Fallen Idol. The book is significantly different from the eventual movie, yet principle elements remain, poking out of the woodwork, either in undeveloped form or as the polished gems Reed and Greene preserved in the screenplay. There’s a mysterious, gorgeous girl, a world-weary hero and a ruthless villain, but undercutting these standard riffs are the twists – a murder where the victim wasn’t really a victim per se, and then it emerges the murder itself was a ruse – before comeuppance at the end. But there is one thing that stands the book and the film apart – in Greene’s early written version there’s an implied happy ending. The movie defies that and is, ironically, more of a literary exercise for the change.
In ‘The Third Man’ Greene deftly mixed the procedural (military police tracking a killing) with a mystery (man’s friend is murdered; man tries to find out whodunnit) and helped to pioneer much of what we take for granted now in a crime thriller.
- Andrez Bergen
The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.