Magazine article The Spectator

The Discreet Charm of Sewers

Magazine article The Spectator

The Discreet Charm of Sewers

Article excerpt

THE THIRD MAN'S VIENNA : CELEBRATING A FILM CLASSIC by Brigitte Timmermann Shippen Rock Publishing, Euros 49, pp. 416, ISBN 3950205004

Public visits to the sewers of Vienna are rare: the clammy atmosphere can cause breathing problems. Nevertheless in 1994 I visited them with a local Graham Greene enthusiast, Brigitte Timmermann. Greene's darkest entertainment, The Third Man, ends with a shoot-out in the Vienna sewers and the death of the penicillin racketeer Harry Lime. With his alley-rat amorality, Lime is a familiar Greene character; I wanted to catch a glimpse of his life down a manhole. The sewer entrance by the Stadtpark U-bahn was apparently much as it had been in Greene's day. (I half expected to see the Austrian police in pursuit of Lime. ) As we descended into the darkness I could make out a graffito on the wall: 'Lime is my favourite fruit.' I did not see Timmermann again for 12 years.

Last October, by a coincidence, I bumped into her at Berkhamsted Collegiate School, where Greene had been a pupil. A buffet supper was being held in the Old Hall to mark Greene's birthday. Koo Stark (who said she had known Greene) was seated at our table next to Miranda France, author of Bad Times in Buenos Aires. I was chatting to Miss France about Austrian zither music when a voice at my elbow said, 'Don't I know you from the sewers?' Brigitte Timmermann had not changed much since we met in the Austrian capital. In the boot of her car, she said with a smile, were boxfuls of her latest book, The Third Man's Vienna: Celebrating a Film Classic.

Would I like a copy?

Sumptuously illustrated, Timmermann's book charts the birth of one the greatest films of the 20th century. Years of reseach have gone into it; cinema fans will enjoy the author's diligent sleuthing in the footsteps of Greene, as well as the book's many production stills and location maps. In its first incarnation, The Third Man was not intended to be read as a novella, but as an early draft for a screenplay (commissioned in 1947 by the London-based film producer Alexander Korda). Greene wanted to write the Lime story first as a book in order to explore characterisation and detail. The film, of course, starred Orson Welles as the shabby Lime.

Vienna was the perfect setting for Greene's tale of double-dealing and opportunist loyalties. …

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