If you haven’t seen this movie, you just should. It’s so wonderful. The book is about Rollo Martins, a cheap novelist, coming to Vienna during the split occupation looking for a business opportunity with his old school friend Harry Lime. When he gets there, Harry Lime has been killed and Martins works to solve the case. The novella is told through the perspective of a British military police officer looking more so to maintain order than to solve the crime, so having this hack novelist showing up and disrupting things is more worrisome than the death of a black market profiteer like Harry Lime. We know that Martins is likely to find out things he doesn’t want to know about his friend, but also he just showed up in a dangerous town penniless hoping for the best. There’s some really funny moments, and like other good Graham Greene novels, the undercutting of official British institutions is always fun to read about. He’s so in the know about both the institutions and their seriousness and also their fallibility.
So this is one of those books where the movie is better. That’s not to say this book is bad at all, and in fact, I like it a lot. It’s just that the additional writing into the script, the performances of especially Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton, the beautifully shot film, the tightness of the film, and of course the amazing music absolutely elevates it. The biggest factor of course is that this was written as a kind of spec novella for the film.