The Sticking Place

From Book to Screen: The Third Man

Mackendrick devised extensive notes for students based on his extensive viewing of Carol Reed and Graham Greene’s 1949 film The Third Man, as well as his readings of relevant texts (including books about Reed and David Selznick, the film’s producer). The document presented here is a useful example of how a detailed breakdown of an existing film can greatly assist screenwriters in their understanding of dramatic construction. “The ‘vivisection’ of a plot like that of The Third Man may be more interesting as an academic exercise than as a guide to the process of invention, but it can still be of some help,” wrote Mackendrick.

One of the things that particularly interested Mackendrick about the film was the fact that the script was written by renowned British novelist Greene, who also wrote the novella on which he based his own screenplay. In fact, as Mackendrick reminds us, when asked to work on the film by the producers, Greene wrote the short novel first and then adapted it for the screen. As such, the longest section in this document (throughout which one finds many of Mackendrick’s key ideas as applied to a single, specific film) is a comparison of the published screenplay with the completed film. Here for the handout.