In Search of the Third Man (2000), a study by Charles Drazin, examines the making of The Third Man (1949), based on Graham Greene’s novel

In Search of The Third Man (2000) by Charles Drazin is concerned with the making of the film The Third Man (1949), which is available as a DVD at the Toronto Public Library.

By way of a spoiler alert, in the event you are not a fan of the film already, please note that this post outlines (further in the text below) the story’s key plot-twist.

I have an interest in this film. Given my interest, I first viewed the DVD, then read The Third Man (1950) by Graham Greene, and subsequently I read In Search of The Third Man (2000).

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


Before I read the book, I was aware that local histories sometimes feature inaccurate information that a writer has included in a published work, and that other writers have repeated without taking the time, or having the interest or capability, to check whether the information can be verified and corroborated.

I was interested, therefore, to learn that such repetition of unfounded information is not confined to local histories. Charles Drazin notes, in his study entitled In Search of The Third Man (2000), that accounts by film actors, producers, and other individuals can readily spread misinformation.

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]

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

The film touches upon military history:

Click here for previous posts about military history >

The historian Richard J. Evans aptly outlines events that led to circumstances that The Third Man (1949) references. A previous post highlighting Evans’ 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 is entitled:

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

Local history

A local history that I’ve put together – History of Long Branch (Toronto) – outlines 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.

A Nov. 28, 2020 Guardian article is entitled: “Russian Roulette: The Life and Times of Graham Greene review – addicted to danger.”

An excerpt reads:

For all his claims to be drawing on new material, Richard Greene can’t help but go over old ground, from the Shirley Temple libel case to the tiff with Anthony Burgess. It was an immensely busy life and the telling of it here, in 78 short chapters and 500 brisk pages, feels rushed. The emphasis on Greene as foreign correspondent and emissary is certainly fresh. But the cost is an excess of information on the internal politics of the countries he visited, not always pertinent to the fiction.

A Dec. 14, 2020 Guardian article is entitled: “The don of disillusionment: John le Carré on film: The paranoia and cynicism of Carol Reed’s The Third Man fired Le Carré’s imagination, while Tomas Alfredson updated Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for the Iraq war era.”

An excerpt reads:

Le Carré’s fiction had a twine of celluloid in its DNA: particularly the movie-making of Graham Greene and Carol Reed in The Third Man. The dark shadows of that movie loomed over his imagination, from a city (Vienna) divided up by the second world war’s victorious and now mutually resentful allies. The paranoia, the sense of postwar peace perennially threatened and undermined by some new terrible incursion, the theme of personal betrayal, and the vivid nightmare of “going over to the other side” in a theological or geopolitical sense: it all informed his writing. Orson Welles’s breezy Harry Lime talking about the happy Swiss inventing nothing more interesting than the cuckoo clock was the tone of complaisant, emollient cynicism that Le Carré was to encounter in the real-life British establishment, and which he satirised and anatomised in his own work. (And at one further remove, Le Carré’s darkness and sense of sin maybe had something of the German expressionists, Peter Lorre’s child-murderer in Fritz Lang’s M, on the run from his accusers.)

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