Nov 08


Orson Welles Remembers The Third Man:

“Every sentence in the whole script is about Harry Lime — nobody talks about anything else for ten reels. And then there’s that shot in the doorway — what a star entrance that was! In theatre, you know, the old star actors never liked to come on until the end of the first act … What matters in that kind of role is not how many lines you have, but how few. What counts is how much the other characters talk about you. Such a star vehicle really is a vehicle. All you have to do is ride. To borrow Cotten and Alida Valli from Selznick, Korda had to make a deal giving David American distribution.

So in America the picture arrived as “David O. Selznick presents/ A David O. Selznick Production / Produced by David O. Selznick,” and so on. All David had done was to loan Alex a couple of actors. Alex dreamed up the whole project, in every sense of the word produced it, but David took the bows. I was sitting with them about two years after the picture had opened — when all Europe was still reverberating with the strains of the “Third Man Theme,” and Alex said, “You know, David, I hope I don’t die before you do.” “Oh!” said David. “Why?” And Alex said, “I hate the thought of you sneaking out to the graveyard at night and scratching my name off the tombstone.”This Is Orson Welles (New York: Harper Collins, 1992)


There’s some truth in an old saying: ‘Movies aren’t Written – They’re Re-Written, and Re-Written and Rewritten.’ Graham Greeene, when discussing his screenplay entitled The Third Man that he wrote for producer Alexander Korda and director Carol Reed, has said something very near to this. Moreover, close examination of his original – of the published screenplay and of footnotes to it that indicate subsequent alterations and the changes between the text and the film itself – provides one of the very best accounts that is available of the complex and sometimes mysterious process of the evolutionary stages of the work done by a writer and director.

From Book to Screen: The Third Man

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