Films: Drama/Romance



MARY STEWART – The Moon-Spinners. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1962. M. S. Mill Co. & Morrow, US, hardcover, 1963. Crest #R717, US, paperback; 1st printing, May 1964.

THE MOON-SPINNERS. Buena Vista (Walt Disney), 1964. Starring Hayley Mills, Eli Wallach, Joan Greenwood, Peter McEnery, Irene Pappas, Pola Negri, John LeMessurier, Andre Morell. Screenplay: Michael Dyne, based on the book by Mary Stewart. Directed by James Nielson.

   “Even in Crete nobody’s going to murder a visitor.”

   So speaks young Englishwoman Nicola Ferris as she chides the couple that has given her a ride to the remote seaside village of Agios Georgios, St. George, in the shadow of the White Mountains. Nicola works for the British embassy, and for her holidays she is meeting her older cousin Frances Scorby, a naturalist who has written several books on flowers and who hopes to study local wild flowers.

   Frances, who she calls Aunt Frances, raised her.

   It seems a perfect holiday, beautiful setting, fine food, the sea, and a family reunion for the orphan Nicola.

   The best laid plans and all that.

   This being Mary Stewart, the best of the writers of romantic suspense (and as good as any man in the adventure/suspense/adventure genre), you know things won’t be quite that simple, especially when Nicola runs into a strange man while exploring the island, a fugitive being hunted, and finds herself up to her neck in a mystery involving the attractive mysterious Englishman named Mark Langley hiding out on the mountain with a bullet wound and concerned for his younger brother Colin who has been missing since he was wounded.

   Then there is the attractive Tony Gamble who she meets at the hotel where he does the cooking, and the mysterious Stratos whose sister Sofia runs the inn and who only recently arrived from the West and despises the poverty and ignorance of his own people. And why does Sofia look so frightened of Gamble and her brother?

   And what is the mystery of the Bay of Dolphins where the fates, the ones who spin the silver moon from the title, spin a silver full moon so that you might one night see the lost treasure ship at the bottom of the bay? Because treasure is involved, if not the one the Moon-Spinners reveal.

   I strained across the moving whispering darkness. As before, it was full of sounds, far fuller than when, on the ridge, I stood insulated by the air from the subdued and roaring life of the sea.

   Stewart, like Daphne Du Maurier had a genuine talent for the romance of adventure and lonely places, the Stevensonian voice out of Buchan and Geoffrey Household that gives life to the landscape around her heroines.

   Soon enough Nicola finds Colin, held prisoner, and is drawn even deeper into the mystery that ends in a dangerous battle on Stratos caique.

   The Walt Disney film is shot on location, and while it does away with Colin and combines Mark Langely and Tony Gamble into a single character, stays fairly close to the book until midway through when it dissipates some of the suspense by adding some extraneous characters that seem to have wandered in from The 39 Steps, including Pola Negri as a mysterious woman on a yacht and John LeMessurier as a shady British consul with a wife who drinks and talks too much..

   Hayley Mills in an early grown up (sort of — Disney isn’t quite ready for her to be a Hitchcock blonde exactly) role is Nicola, traveling with her Aunt (Joan Greenwood) in Crete to record folk music (an excuse for some musical interludes) who arrives in Agios Georgios and discover the sinister zodiac obsessed Stratos (Eli Wallach) who wants no one at the hotel, especially the Englishman Mark Gamble (Peter McEnery) who is staying there.

   Some of the suspense is lost, and the ending is a bit too neat, but it is gorgeously shot, the music, including the title song “Moon-Spinners” is good, the actors are all far better than the material, and even with the changes something of the suspense and romantic mood is captured.

   Mills is good as the feisty Nicola, and not all that far from Stewart’s heroine if a bit younger, McEnery a decent leading man, and Wallach by turns sinister, threatening, ingratiating, and threatening.

   Irene Pappas hasn’t much to do but is gorgeous, Joan Greenwood gets to be Joan Greenwood, and Pola Negri — well, that part I can’t explain, but someone must of thought it was needed.

   As a Stewart fan, of course, I would much prefer they had filmed the book, and even with Mills in it, I can’t see what the need of all the business with Negri and LeMessurier was, saving someone involved had seen too many Hitchcock films.

   But how exactly anyone would quite capture the quality of Mary Stewart’s writing on film is hard to see.

   …when the big white bird flew up among the glossy leaves and the lemon flowers, and wheeled into the mountain, I followed it. What else is there to do, when such a thing happens on a brilliant April noonday at the foot of the white mountains of Crete; when the road is hot and dusty, but the gorge is green, and full of the sound of water, and the white wings, flying ahead flicker in and out of deep shadow, and the air is full of the scent of lemon blossoms?




THE PRIVATE LIFE OF DON JUAN. United Artists, 1934. Douglas Fairbanks, Merle Oberon, Bruce Winston, Benita Hume, Gina Malo, Binnie Barnes. Director: Alexander Korda.

   The Private Life of Don Juan lacks wit or pace of action, but it offers an elegant coda to the career of its star, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., here in his fifties and looking tired of the whole thing. When an imposter masquerading as Don Juan is killed by a jealous husband, the legendary lothario takes advantage of the situation and retires to the country, with tepid results. Doug doesn’t do any stunts, there’s no swordplay, little plot, and yet …

   … Halfway through the film, Don Juan attends his own funeral, and director Alexander Korda deals it out with his usual splendour, all billowing cloaks and wailing women, as America’s cavalier strolls through the palazzo contemplating his own mortality. Fairbanks never made another movie, lending an odd elegiac tone to a film that doesn’t really deserve it.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson 53, September 2007.




ROBERT CARSON “Aloha Means Goodbye.” Serialized in five parts in the Saturday Evening Post (*), June 28 to July 26, 1941. No book publication known. Filmed as: Across the Pacific (1942), with Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet. Screenplay and Directed by John Huston.

   The pier was melting into the fog. Swinging slowly in the oily water with the tug straining on her stern, the Genoa Maru came around. The siren sounded. The noise seemed to run in an endless circle through long halls of fog, constantly coming back.

   Richard (Ricky) Leland is sailing from Vancouver on the Japanese freighter the Genoa Maru, with fellow passengers Alberta Marlow (a very calm dame), whose eccentric Uncle Dan owns a plantation on his own island in Hawaii, and the mysterious Dr. Barca, a mysterious Filipino (…he looked genial and unimposing, except for his eyes which were cold and black). No one is quite what they seem including Ricky who appears to be a disgraced American Artillery Officer, but we soon learn is in reality an American agent.

   Even the Genoa Maru isn’t quite what it seems.

   If you have seen the John Huston film Across the Pacific, his first after The Maltese Falcon, and his last before going off to the war, you know the basic story. Barca and the Japanese are part of a dastardly plot to invade and lead a sneak attack on the States involving Alberta Marlow’s Uncle Dan and his plantation, and Ricky Leland is not who or what he seems to be.

   In the film Barca becomes the German, Sidney Greenstreet, and the plot, thanks to Pearl Harbor, turns to Panama instead of Hawaii (coming once the title had been released and making no sense in the film since they never cross the Pacific), but just how close the movie is to the serial (I’m not sure the serial ever appeared in book form) is surprising (right down to the shootout in the Japanese movie theater — that makes more sense in Hawaii than Panama), because the real joy of the film is the by play and double entendre between Bogart and Mary Astor and the war of wits with Greenstreet, and much of that is lifted directly from the dialogue in the serial.

   “I wish I could make up my mind about you.” Alberta said. “Men like you upset girls.”

   “I feel very happy and secure,” Ricky said. “You’ll go over and make friends with eccentric Uncle Dan and we’ll get married and live happily ever after on Uncle Dan’s dough. And if you don’t give me any spending money I’ll stay home all the time.”

   “I don’t want his money.”

   Ricky opened his eyes wide and looked at her. “If you keep talking that way,” Ricky said severely, “our association must end.”

   Carson was a successful author who frequently contributed stories to the Post, and this serial that ran there between late June and early August of 1941 is a lively tale, accompanied by handsome full color illustrations by Ben Stahl.

   Just as Huston virtually transcribed Hammett’s novel the same seems to be true of this serial, though obviously Carson is no Hammett, as Pacific is no Falcon.

   There are minor differences, of course, but Huston was always the most literary of directors and famously honed close to his source material.

   “Aloha” is a product of the slicks as magazines like the Post, American, Liberty, and Collier’s were then known, and much has been written belittling the slick style in comparison to the pulps, but some of the best writers of the time, from Fitzgerald and Faulkner to Philip Wylie and John P. Marquand worked there, and pulp favorites like Erle Stanley Gardner, Fred Nebel, Robert Carse, Edison Marshall, Sax Rohmer, and Rex Stout crossed over into the slicks, and were often paid more. They might get up to $5,000 for a serial at a time a novel might bring as little as $500.

   The Post was always well associated with the mystery genre as the home of Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, Perry Mason, Albert Campion, Roderick Alleyn, and Hercule Poirot.

   “Aloha Means Good-bye” is a fast moving tale in the best sense, with something of the same pace and style of the tongue in cheek movie. I’m not sure if you can really call a book prescient for predicting a Japanese attack on the US in the summer of 1941 (Van Wyck Mason predicted one in 1932 in The Branded Spy Murders; it was something that had been inevitable for much of the century), but it was great timing, however you look at it, and even now an entertaining tale thanks to its lighthearted style.


(*) For anyone interested you can go to Internet Archive and find over 6,000 issues of the Saturday Evening Post from the twenties to the mid-sixties with full serials by Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout, Earl Derr Biggers, P. G. Wodehouse, Dornford Yates, Hammond Innes, Alistair MacLean, Alan LeMay, Eugene Manlove Rhodes, John P, Marquand, Luke Short, Jack Finney, C. S. Forester, Paul Gallico, James Warner Bellah, and many more, as well as short fiction by Philip Wylie, Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Fred Nebel, Lester Dent, and others, illustrated by the likes of Matt Clark, Harold Von Schmidt, and Mitchell Hooks.


A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT. RKO, 1932. John Barrymore, Billie Burke, David Manners, Katharine Hepburn. Director: George Cukor.

   Been wanting to see this one for years. It’s a bit stagey — more in the construction than in the filming — but quite nice. Hepburn is competent in her film debut, and maybe shows a glimmer of the overwhelming talent that made her career, but basically, there’s not much to separate her in this performance from say, Elissa Landi, Margaret Sullavan, or any other near- greats. David Manners, fresh from Dracula and The Mummy, manages to look not too far out of his depth, and Billie Burke is her usual fun self.

   But the picture really belongs to John Barrymore, in a showy part as a recoverir1g Mental Patient who thinks he can pick up tl1e pieces of his long-dead marriage. Though he overacts a bit now and then, he’s quite moving at times. The curtain line is very effective and surprising as well.

   So is the on-screen affection shown between Hepburn and Barrymore, considering that this film was the basis of yet another Hollywood anecdote: During production, Barrymore allegedly Put The Make on Ms. Hepburn in decidedly unsubtle fashion.

   Class act that she was, she pointedly spurned him and did not mention the incident again, till the end of filming when she is alleged to have said, “I shall never do another scene with you,” To which John replied, “I wasn’t aware you ever had.”

— Reprinted from Shropshire Sleuth #71, May 1995.




BEYOND ALL LIMITS. Cinematografica Latino Americana, Mexico, 1959. Original title: Flor de mayo. Maria Felix, Jack Palance, Pedro Armendariz, Juan Muzquiz, Carlos Montalban, and Paul Stewart. Screenplay by Libertad Blasco Ibanez, from the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibanez. Directed by Roberto Gavaldon.

   Just a Soap Opera, but like all good soaps it hovers at the edge of violence like a fly at a Venus Flytrap.

   Jack Palance (fittingly playing a character named Gatsby) returns to a Mexican fishing village where, six years earlier, he had an affair with the wife of a friend (Armendariz) doing a stretch in jail. To make a long flashback short: they got serious, he bailed, she had Jack’s kid and passed it off as Pedro’s.

   There’s a subplot about an illegal fishing venture that moves things along, but the story proper begins when Pedro stars counting the months and wonders if his boy is really his. We’re not supposed to wonder why it never occurred to him before, so I won’t. In fact, I didn’t want to, because Beyond All Limits accomplished that most essential function of fiction: the willing suspension of disbelief.

   Ibanez’ screenplay skillfully pivots between Palance, and Felix, filled with regret and longing; Armendariz, confused and compelled to reject the boy he loves as a son; and the boy (Muzquiz) convincing, not cloying, as he tries to figure out why the parents he loves seem so suddenly far away.

   Gavaldon’s direction lends an operatic air to the whole thing, backed by lush music (“And That Reminds Me”) that would have seemed silly in hands less deft. Here it swells under the simple passions of real-seeming people, and it works. There’s one small moment in particular when a minor character pleads with Armendariz to stand by his son. “I have no child. I never had a wife. My only family is yours and you are throwing it away.” Lines so simply and wrenchingly delivered that one feels a sense of what is really at the crux of this eternal triangle.


by Dan Stumpf


   The highlight of my recent reading has been Way of the Lancer (Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1932) by Richard Boleslavsky and Helen Woodward, an autobiographical novel of Boleslavsky’s experiences (and, I suspect, those of man others that he incorporated and told as his own) for — and against — Russia in the first World War.

   It’s an intriguing account, Boleslavsky was not a Russian but a Pole; his nation had been dominated by Russia since about 1750, and when the Great War got serious, Russia promised Freedom to Poland if her sons would fight for Russia. Austria promised roughly the same thing, so regiments of Poles fought for both sides, against enemies who were often their brothers.

   Boleslavsky describes an interesting vignette off weary, “victorious” Poles escorting even wearier defeated Austrians to POW camps and finding relatives in their midst, tiredly catching up on the news as they slog through the mud to no place in particular.

   Boleslavsky, incidentally, was a Polish soldier, but not a Lancer. He passed the war as a film-make, attached to the Lancers, doing semi-documentary propaganda films. After the War, he gravitated to Hollywood, where he directed some truly remarkable movies, like The Garden of Allah, with Dietrich and Boyer, and the cynical, moving 1936 version of Three Godfathers, and others.

   His Hollywood debut was Rasputin and the Empress (a portrait of the breakdown of Imperial Russia that must have seemed very real to him), the only film to star all three Barrymores. It’s an interesting show, but not a great one. John seems ticked off that he didn’t get to play Rasputin, and sulks through the whole movie with marked disinterest until the scene where he gets to kill Lionel, which is really quite memorable.

   Boleslavsky also directed one of the two Three Stooges movies you should make an effort to see: Fugitive Lovers (MGM, 1933), a dandy little thing about Robert Montgomery as an Escaped Con being pursued with cold precision by C. Henry Gordon, catching a bus with aspiring chorus girl Madge Evans, who is herself being pursued by dumb, possessive, aspiring gangster Nat Pendleton. Also onn board are Ted Healy and his stooges,whose time onscreen is mercifully brief.

   Boleslavsky fills the film with sudden cuts and jarring camera angles that seem avant-garde even today, and make Citizen Kane look antiquated before its time. And he maintains the pace and drama quite nicely throughout, right up to a howling blizzard that had my teeth chattering despite the fact that it was done entirely inside a studio. You should look for this one.

— Reprinted in shortened form from Shropshire Sleuth #71, May 1995.



BLACK LEGION. Warner Brothers, 1937. Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, Dick Foran, Erin O’Brien-Moore, Joe Sawyer and Henry Brandon. Screenplay by Abem Finkel and William Wister Haines, from a story by Robert Lord. Directed by Archie Mayo and Michael Curtiz.

   I hate it when a film like this becomes relevant again.

   In its day, Black Legion was merely topical, based on the true story of a splinter group spun off of the KKK. Topical yes, but sometimes News becomes History, and you know what they say about those who don’t remember the past—they fail History Exams.

   Humphrey Bogart was still an also-ran in 1937, with The Petrified Forest behind him, and Dead End coming up, but also plenty of things like Swing Your Lady and The Return of Dr X in his future. He seems to have realized early on that this was an important part and he gives it the most self-effacing performance of his career.

   When Bogie plays Frank Taylor, the gullible working stiff, there’s no glimmer of intelligence behind his eyes, no imagination beyond the American Dream of a nice house with a white picket fence and a wife and child waiting there. And when an émigré (Henry Brandon) gets the promotion Frank was expecting and the dream is snatched from him, his expression of hurt and bewilderment is more than convincing: It’s scary.

   Even more so when Taylor starts listening to radio commentators warning of the tide of foreigners flooding into our country, here to take our jobs and pollute our heritage. So when a co-worker (Joe Sawyer, masterfully cast here) tells him of a “group of guys” that aren’t going to stand for this anymore, we pretty much know where he’s headed—though I suspect few viewers will foresee the outcome.

   This is because the writers do a fine job of keeping the Black Legion at the edge of silliness, with their preposterously grim oath (Bogie nearly chokes on it.) passwords and fake piety. But when the silliness turns grim and deadly, the laughter dies quickly.

   It would be easy at this point to start drawing parallels. Damn night irresistible in fact. But I ain’t gonna do it. Nossir, not me. Over the years, Black Legion has drawn some criticism for not being explicit about the KKK and racism, but I find that lack of specificity brings us to universality.

   Thus Black Legion is about bigotry, xenophobia and mob mentality, but it’s also about the ignorance in which they grow and the venality that feeds on them. And to me the parallels are just too plain to point out.


I’LL BE SEEING YOU. Selznick/Unired Artists, 1944. Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple, Spring Byington and Tom Tully. Adapted by Marion Parsonnet from a radio play by Charles Martin. Directed by William Diertele and George Cukor.

   Among the oddest of Christmas films, I’ll Be Seeing You offers a deceptively simple tale and makes it resonate with surprising counter-rhythms and a touch of noir.

   The plot in brief: It’s the Holidays, and Ginger Rogers is visiting relatives in a small town, but after New Year’s Day she has to go back to Prison, where she’s serving a six-year stretch for Manslaughter.

   On the train, she meets Zach Morgan (Joseph Cotten) a soldier who impulsively decides to get off at her stop and get to know her. But after the Holidays, he too must return — to a VA hospital where he’s being treated for what we now call PTSD.

   The romance that follows is built like a fragile house of cards as we see them start to build trust in each other, confidence in themselves and tentative plans for a future that just ain’t gonna happen; he’s got to go back to the Hospital (she doesn’t know it) and she must return to Prison (he doesn’t know it) and even as love grows in the holiday climate, tension builds as we wonder what will happen when they find out….

   Director Diertele heightens the drama by stressing the small town atmosphere and the loving cohesion of Ginger’s family (Tom Tully, Spring Byington and Shirly Temple at that awkward adolescent age.) Her furlough has been hard fought-for, and the depth of feeling when she reunites with her family is.. well it’s one of those moments we watch Movies for. Joseph Cotten is welcomed by her family…

   ….And then it hit me: This is the reverse side of Shadow of a Doubt (Universal, 1944 – just a year earlier!). We have Joseph Cotten once again as a man with a secret coming to a small town and ingratiating himself with an All-American Family. Only this time, Ginger is the killer, and the flashback to her crime has a haunting Woolrichesque quality to it that matches anything in Shadow.

   As I watched both films I saw how Cotten incorporated elements of one character into the other and differentiated them at the same time. Both men are charming, but Zach ‘s charm is a clumsy, off-hand thing, while Uncle Charlie’s is a practiced act. Both men wear masks, but Cotten lets Uncle Charlie’s mask slip to chilling effect, while Zach’s mask crumbles heart-wrenchingly. Watching both films back to back I gained a new appreciation of Joseph Cotten’s talent, all too rarely used and too often wasted.

   But all this is a sidebar at best. I’ll Be Seeing You is a moving if modest triumph of off-beat movie-making. A film of genuine charm and feeling. And perfect for the Christmas Season.


LE CORBEAU (THE RAVEN). Continental Films, France, 1943. Pierre Fresnay, Ginette Leclerc, Micheline Francey, and Pierre Larquey. Written & directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot.

THE 13th LETTER. Fox, 1951. Linda Darnell, Charles Boyer, Michael Rennie, and Constance Smith. Screenplay adapted by Howard Koch. Directed by Otto Preminger.

   There’s always some interest in watching a foreign film and its American remake, and when the films in question are the work of two able cineastes like Clouzot and Preminger, the exercise is enjoyable as well.

   Clouzot made Le Corbeau under German occupation (he was later banned for two years from the French film industry for working with the Nazis) and it’s based on a true incident: a series of anonymous letters that tore apart a rural French village and led to riots and a suicide. The 13th Letter, on the other hand, is based on Le Corbeau .

   Thus Corbeau focuses broadly on the Community, while 13th concentrates on stars Michael Rennie and Linda Darnell. Preminger incorporates scenes from the earlier film, of course, but doesn’t slavishly copy them. He and Clouzot both give a few memorable moments to the bit players, allowing them to suggest some complexity, and both directors stand back and give Pierre Larquey/Charles Boyer lots of elbow room as a garrulous old doctor, with pleasing results.

   But perhaps the difference between the films is not so much focus as viewpoint. Preminger’s film is more subjective, urging us to identify with the romantic Hollywood leads, while Corbeau remains taciturn and objective, observing everything at a distance I find typical of Clouzot.

   The wonderful thing is that Preminger’s glossy superficial approach works as well as Clouzot’s hard-edged realism. Both films are easy to watch, and quite engrossing at times. I may have identified more easily with Michael Rennie and Linda Darnell because they spoke English, but both movies hooked me as only a strong story and a capable director can.


GRAHAM GREENE – The Third Man. Novella. Viking Press, US, hardcover, 1950. First published in the UK; included in The Third Man and The Fallen Idol (Heinemann 1950). Novelization of the screenplay.

THE THIRD MAN. British Lion Films, 1949. Joseph Cotten, Valli, Orson Welles, (Harry Lime), Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee. Director: Director: Carol Reed.

   Carol Reed’s film of THE THIRD MAN surfaced on my to-be-watched-again pile, so I decided to do a thorough job of it, and re-read Graham Greene’s novel (written at the same time as his screenplay) and Charles Drazin’s study of the film, IN SEARCH OF THE THIRD MAN (Limelight, 2000).

   Drazin’s book recounts the events in 1948-9 surrounding the making and marketing of THE THIRD MAN, and it reads like a novel, with director Carol Reed as the hero, writer Graham Greene as his weak-willed sidekick, producers David O. Selznick and Alexander Korda as comic relief, and Orson Welles as the villain of the piece.

   Reading this, one is surprised at how much of the film was simply a mater of convenience: Selznick, the prestigious producer of GONE WITH THE WIND, had money tied up in England that had to be spent there, so — with appropriate flourishes and ballyhoo — he formed a partnership with England’s Alexander Korda, a filmmaker of approximately equal splendour, who had money tied up in central Europe and needed a hit.

   Korda had known some success with Carol Reed and Graham Greene (FALLEN IDOL, 1948) and prevailed upon Reed to write a screenplay set in contemporary Vienna so he could spend his money there. For his part, Graham Greene had a story idea sitting around — something about a man probing the murder of a friend and getting some nasty surprises — and he saw a trip to Vienna as an excellent opportunity to cheat on his wife, so he was only too happy to accept the assignment.

   While Greene was in Vienna learning about sewers and Ferris wheels, Korda and Selznick spoke often and loudly to the press about their forthcoming masterpiece, hinting at a cast that might include Cary Grant as Harry Lime, Jimmy Stewart as his duped friend, and Ingrid Bergman as the woman they loved. Or Jennifer Jones. Or Ralph Richardson. What Selznick ended up putting out was two contract players he was paying anyway, Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli, while Korda financed the logistics by selling rights to release his old pictures in post-war Europe, found Orson Welles in need of money for OTHELLO, and signed him up — whereupon Welles proceeded to behave as obstreperously as possible (according to Drazin) showing up weeks late in Vienna, then refusing to act in the sewers, or much of anyplace else, really, requiring extensive use of a double on almost all the location shooting.

   So what you had here was a much-heralded mega-film made on hand-shakes, promises and pretense, and the wonder is that it turned out so damgood. Greene’s script is sharp, suspenseful and cleverly turned, the performances are real and moving — particularly Trevor Howard and Bernard Lee as a couple of weary MPs — and there’s a fascinating visual tension between Carol Reed’s carefully-composed images and the riotous look of a city that has been “bombed about a bit.”

   Characters go about dressed in elegant scraps of ill-fitting apparel, walking past palaces and rubble, and the dichotomy extends even to the memorable scene on the Ferris wheel, where Orson Welles speaks of death, taxes and heartburn while Joseph Cotten prepares himself to sell out or get sold.

   As for the book itself, it was planned by Korda and Selznick to be marketed in conjunction with the film for added publicity, and they thought that a rather neat trick in those early days before merchandising and product placement. And again, the wonder is that a book written as a matter of convenience should turn out so readable. Greene’s prose is crisp, witty, and not a bit rushed, and though the crux of the story is in no way original, he handles it well enough to make it seem fresh.

   I should note there’s an important difference between the ending of the book and the movie. Without giving it away, I may say Korda and Selznick thought the heroine’s action unrealistic for a woman who had been through what she had. They were wrong. As I read THE THIRD MAN I was impressed by the recurring theme of characters who have survived a war trying to put their lives back together, and Greene’s ending seemed to me a rather touching tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. And heart.

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