4 astonishing facts about “The Third Man”

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

Have you seen the classic 1949 British thriller The Third Man (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site)?  If not, watch it immediately!  Either way, consider the following nuggets I recently unearthed about possibly the best film of all time.

My review at the link above sets out 8 reasons The Third Man is movie magic.  But did you know:

(i) The Third Man was nearly never made.  In early discussions, producer David O Selznick said a film called “The Third Man” could never be a hit.  You can find out more in Frederick Baker’s 2004 documentary Shadowing the Third Man;

(ii) the classic ending to the movie, which I shall not reveal here, was nearly changed.  Graham Greene, who wrote the screenplay, initially planned for an upbeat final scene with Anna and Holly Martins forming a relationship.  How this could have squared with the rest of the story, which leads inexorably to the magnificent ending as it was eventually released, I have no idea;

(iii) this ambiguity about the nature of the film is reflected in the original U.S. trailer for The Third Man (above) which makes it look like a romantic comedy (quotes: “The Third Man… the man on every woman’s lips…” or “he’ll have you in a dither with his zither“).  Trivia; the U.S. trailer also features a bit of Joseph Cotten narrating the opening words of the film (“Constantinople was more my style”, etc).   In the British version, these words were narrated by the director, Carol Reid;

(iv) the muddle about the mood of the film is reflected in a treasure of which I have just become the proud owner (thank you, Gerhard and Karin) – an original 1950 score to “The Zither Melody: Song Version of the Harry Lime Theme (The Third Man)”

Astonishingly, someone decided that an appropriate set of words to set to the famous “Third Man” theme should have nothing to do with the story of the movie, but should be as follows: It’s the Zither Melody – Everywhere you go they play – Very very soon this fascinating tune, Steals your heart away – Once you’ve heard this sweet refrain – It will run around your brain – For you can’t resist The Zither Melody…

For me, the tragic, existential nature of the movie is breathtaking.  How could anyone have envisaged a happy ending, or such a trite rhyme?

My moral is a warning to all creative types: even your most brilliant piece of art can be misfiled, mis-sold and forgotten.  Thank God that didn’t happen – in the end – to The Third Man.

If you want to know more about The Third Man take a look at The Third Man Museum – A Vienna gem.  You might also enjoy my photo-post Third Man: location photos.

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