Letter From Vienna
In the Footsteps of The Third Man
We opted not to take The Third Man walking tour. The weather closed in on Friday and was bone chilling. The sewers of Vienna did not hold much appeal, nor did being rained on at the cemetery where Harry Lime was supposedly buried. But we did make our way to the giant ferris wheel—the Great Wheel—in the tacky Prater amusement park where Joseph Cotten confronted Orson Welles about his hideous crime spree.
Graham Greene, author of the novella and the screenplay, describes Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles) thusly:
Don’t picture Harry Lime as a smooth scoundrel. He wasn’t that. The picture I have of him on my files is an excellent one: he is caught by a street photographer with his stocky legs apart, big shoulders a little hunched, a belly that has known too much good food for too long, on his face a look of cheerful rascality, a geniality, a recognition that his happiness will make the world’s day.
When Joseph Cotten arrived in Vienna, he was not greeted by Harry Lime, but found himself at Lime’s burial. Only it wasn’t Harry in the coffin. Harry was loose in Vienna selling watered-down penicillin to hospitals with the result that hundreds of people—most of them children—were dying horrible deaths.
On a misty winter day, just like it was in The Third Man, we went up in the cast iron Great Wheel with its giant boxy red wooden cars nearly the size of an old railroad caboose.
When we reached the top, spread out 360 degrees before us was gritty, gray Vienna. At street level far below, the people were like tiny ants, and the chilling exchange between Harry Lime and Holley Martins echoed in my head. I later bought the novella so as to not misquote Graham Greene: