Wednesday, 6 June 2007

It's All About Research

Vince Keenan recently linked to an article in the Independent on how Graham Greene used The Third Man to settle some score or other.

This reminded me of one of my favourite, though unverified, stories about The Third Man. It seems Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten were discussing the script and at one point Cotten asks "Well what's it all about?" to which Welles replied "About? It's about buggery. It's all about buggery". Cotten, somewhat shocked, went off to demand, and get, a number of changes made to the script including changing the name of the character from "Rollo" to "Holly" —though how that removed the suspicion of buggery I was never able to figure out.

It's a fun story and I do tell it occasionally. I half remembered the details from some BBC program, I think. Anyway, steeling myself to google for '"third man" buggery', I tried to check if there were any truth to my anecdote. Actually, Google didn't bring up anything shocking, but it did bring up the real version of events —I can see how I got my mangled version (something to do with the Rule of the Lesser Attribution). So, here is what actually happened:

In The Third Man, Holly Martins, an American writer of cheap westerns, indefatigably pursues the truth about his friend, Harry Lime, a black marketeer in postwar Vienna, because they had been close "back at school." To an American, this sounds a bit weird; such old-boy loyalty would make sense only to a graduate of an English public school. The film's Hollywood producer, David O. Selznick, also thought Holly's pursuit of Lime inexplicable, and went into a sort of anglohomophobic panic over it. "It's sheer buggery," Selznick ranted, according to Greene's memoirs. "It's what you learn in your English schools."

ScreenOnline has an article called Homosexuality and The Third Man which has an unfilmed bit of the script that has Martins and a character called Captain Carter share a bed for the sake of convenience. The article surmises about this scene:
As the finished film shows, this scene was entirely unnecessary. So why was it written? It's almost certain Greene wrote this draft and he might have done so in the knowledge that Selznick detected evidence of a sexual relationship between Holly and Harry in the very premise of his story. Perhaps, then, Greene wrote this scene just to wind up Selznick: certainly Selznick read it and complained. Greene was a mischief-maker, so this wouldn't be out of character. Without decisive evidence, though, this can only be a theory.

Grahame Greene, then, partial to a bit of a wind-up.

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