Preserved Stories Blog

In Search of the Third Man (2000) provides a back story for The Third Man (1949)

For several weeks I’ve been reading In Search of The Third Man (2000) by Charles Drazin.

I’ve also viewed the DVD entitled The Third Man (1949) – The Criterion Collection. The latter Third Man DVD is available at the Toronto Public Library.

First I viewed the DVD, then read The Third Man (1950)by Graham Greene, and subsequently read In Search of The Third Man (2000).

The latter book seeks to separate fact from fiction – that is, it discusses accounts by the novelist Graham Greene, the director Carol Reed, and others – regarding how The Third Man (1949) was made.

Uncritical repetition of false information

Before I read the book, I had the sense that local histories often feature incorrect information that a writer has included in some published work, and that other writers have subsequently repeated uncritically.

I was delighted, therefore, to learn that such repetition of false information is not confined to the writing of local histories. Charles Drazin provides evidence, in his study entitled In Search of The Third Man (2000), that indicates that accounts by actors, producers, and other individuals can similarly involve the spreading of incorrect information.

Drazin describes (pp. 80-81) a case where Orson Welles provided an “embellished version,” featuring “appropriate embroidery,” of the influence that Welles had on the direction of The Third Man film, in which he appeared as an actor; Drazin notes (p. 80):

“One would let such false accounts pass were it not for the tendency of other writers uncritically to repeat them, until soon they receive widespread acceptance as the truth. And now they’re being perpetuated in the electronic age. It was irritating, although not surprising, recently to look up the film on the Internet Movie Database and read, under the heading of ‘trivia’, the following comments: ‘Orson Welles wrote all of his own lines in the picture and practically directed the scenes in which he appeared.’

“Carol Reed was Welles’ equal as a director, albeit of a very different kind. To say so may be to fly in the face of received opinion, but then it is opinion as often as not received from such distorted accounts as [Charles] Higham’s. Reed did whatever was necessary to achieve the effect he wanted, occasionally – this much is true – indulging Welles’ sense of self-importance: ‘There was one take,’ recalled Bob Dunbar, ‘when Orson kept on saying, “Well, I could do it better,” and we went to take 37, and Carol just let him go on. Carol knew he was going to use take 3, which he did, and it got worse and worse.’ [20]

[End of excerpt]

Creativity and innovation

The storyline in The Third Man (1949) hinges on a situation where a person who was believed to have been killed, and whose body was allegedly buried, turns up alive and well at a critical juncture in the narrative. In the film, as many critics have noted, many elements work together well – including the zither music featuring The Third Man Theme.

Military history

Among the back stories that the film and novel touch upon is military history.

Click here for previous posts about military history >

The work of the historian Richard J. Evans is of particular interest in understanding the events that led to the postwar circumstances that The Third Man (1949) references. A post highlighting the latter historian’s trilogy of studies related to Nazi Germany is entitled:

Narrative helps us understand Germany in the 1930s (Richard J. Evans, 2003)

The topic of espionage is also discussed in In Search of The Third Man (2000); a relevant post in this regard is:

The True Intrepid: Sir William Stephenson and the Unknown Agents (2001) 

Local history

A recent local history that I’ve put together – History of Long Branch (Toronto) – DRAFT 4 – outlines a typical instances where incorrect dates have been circulated, and continue to circulate, when one writer repeats uncritically some assertion that some other writer of local history has made.


By way of relating the present to the past, a June 20, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “German nationalism can only be contained by a united Europe.”

An Aug. 15, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary: ‘No one believes me now, but I knew nothing’: Brunhilde Pomsel worked at the heart of the Nazis’ propaganda machine. As a film about her life is released, she discusses her lack of remorse and the private side of her monstrous boss.”

The Spies Issue of Lapham’s Quarterly (date unknown) features an article entitled: “Agents of Betrayal: A reconsideration of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana.”


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One Response to In Search of the Third Man (2000) provides a back story for The Third Man (1949)

  1. Jaan Pill Jaan Pill says:

    Also of interest: Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany (2016).

    A blurb reads:

    ‘The most brilliant and fascinating book I have read in my entire life’ Dan Snow

    ‘A huge contribution… remarkable’ Antony Beevor, BBC RADIO 4

    ‘Extremely interesting … a serious piece of scholarship, very well researched’ Ian Kershaw

    The sensational German bestseller on the overwhelming role of drug-taking in the Third Reich, from Hitler to housewives.

    The Nazis presented themselves as warriors against moral degeneracy. Yet, as Norman Ohler’s gripping bestseller reveals, the entire Third Reich was permeated with drugs: cocaine, heroin, morphine and, most of all, methamphetamines, or crystal meth, used by everyone from factory workers to housewives, and crucial to troops’ resilience – even partly explaining German victory in 1940.

    The promiscuous use of drugs at the very highest levels also impaired and confused decision-making, with Hitler and his entourage taking refuge in potentially lethal cocktails of stimulants administered by the physician Dr Morell as the war turned against Germany. While drugs cannot on their own explain the events of the Second World War or its outcome, Ohler shows, they change our understanding of it. Blitzed forms a crucial missing piece of the story.

    [End of text]

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