Fiction Spotlight: The Third Man

Let’s get this out of the way – happy 111th birthday, Graham Greene. Still big news after all these years. Orson Welles too is making headlines, as per the sale of his ‘personal manuscripts’ for Citizen Kane this week, and if we’re trying for a trio of connections this year is the 100th anniversary of Welles’ birth. Tenuous? Indeed. But all are vital aspects of the scene to unfold!

The Third Man is probably best known as a 1949 film noir – it’s one of the rare books to be overshadowed (for shadows make up so much of the film’s cast) by its motion picture version. Or is it truer to say that the film is undershadowed by the book, what with the film being written as ‘raw material for a picture,’ and by Graham Greene’s own judgement that, ‘the film in fact, is better than the story because it is in this case the finished state of the story’? The film is a frequent attendee on superlative ‘all-time’ lists: ‘greatest film’, ‘best thriller’, ‘jangliest soundtrack’, and made the ever-visible Welles even more so.

The book is no small achievement either – we find Greene not so much in a mode of literary Catholic angst but in his other well-known form, the mostly-secular-but-moral and well-written thriller. It begins with a line I’d argue is worthy of one of Greene’s thematic cousins, the writer and composer Paul Bowles: ‘One never knows when the blow may fall.’ So, as you have wondered many times aloud, what to do when a film and a book are so bound up in each other’s existence? We might have a solution.

Our new enhanced edition of The Third Man unites book and film, accompanying the full text of the book with complementary cinematic notes. These include images from the film itself and a gallery of photos from the picture’s production, as well as video clips from the film, and no less than the complete The Third Man script, searchable by page or readable as an electronic scroll: a pap-e-rus, why not. Students or fans of The Third Man with a comparative interest in the noir can investigate the source materials in – dare I say it – a hitherto unattainable level of detail (rather like whoever’s bought those Kane manuscripts). You could call it a Wellespring of features, Or-sonthing else, up to you. To see eBook in motion, there’s more in the video below:

Should you prefer a more conventional rendition, or if you’re reading on an older device, The Third Man is available untouched, as an eBook, and comes with an additional novella, The Fallen Idol. As a bynote, I should add The Fallen Idol was not the text that inspired the film of the same name, that was The Basement Room, published in 1953 and collected in Graham Greene’s Twenty-One Stories. No, The Fallen Idol is a completely separate story, much like Greene’s own and again, unconnected, The Tenth Man. You can see how one, like Holly Martins, ends up in a bit of a tangle.

Whether you prefer The Third Man enhanced or just as a good old-fashioned eBook, both editions are available now.

The Third Man Enhanced Edition
The Third Man Enhanced Edition

A video showing features in the new, enhanced edition of Graham Greene's classic novel The Third Man. The video shows video, audio and script features on an iPad.

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