from writings of
Graham Greene

Graham Greene

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The Third Man

The Fallen Idol



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The Third Man

Copyright © 1950 by Graham Green
Copyright © Graham Green, 1963, 1977

Written in consultation with director Carol Reed as a treatment for the film.

2 It would give him a holiday, and he badly needed a holiday after the incident in Dublin and the other incident in Amsterdam; he always tried to dismiss women as ‘incidents’, things that simply happened to him without any will of his own, acts of God in the eyes of insurance agents.


Men and Women

We never get accustomed to being less important to other people than they are to us – Martins felt the little jab of dispensability, standing by the bus door, watching the snow come sifting down, so thinly and softly that the great drifts among the ruined buildings had an air of permanence, as though they were not the result of this meagre fall, but lay, for ever, above the line of perpetual snow.
As we drove away I noticed Martins never looked behind – it’s nearly always the fake mourners and the fake lovers who take that last look, who wait waving on platforms, instead of clearing quickly out, not looking back. Is it perhaps that they love themselves so much and want to keep themselves in the sight of others, even of the dead?
4 There must be something phoney about a man who won’t accept baldness gracefully.




There are some people, he explained to me carefully, whom one recognizes instantaneously as friends. You can be at ease with them because you know that never, never will you be in danger.




After two drinks Rollo Martins’ mind would always turn towards women — in a vague, sentimental, romantic way, as a sex, in general. After three drinks, like a pilot who dives to find direction, he would begin to focus on one available girl. If he had not been offered a third drink by Cooler, he would probably not have gone quite so soon to Anna Schmidt’s house, and if – but there are too many ‘ifs’ in my style of writing, for it is my profession to balance possibilities, human possibilities, and the drive of destiny can never find a place in my files.



9 ‘It wasn’t a beautiful face – that was the trouble. It was a face to live with, day in, day out. A face for wear. I felt as though I’d come into a new country where I couldn’t speak the language. I had always thought it was beauty one loved in a woman.’




Then the racket began to get organized: the big men say big money in it, and while the original thief got less for his spoils, he received instead a certain security. If anything happened to him he would be looked after. Human nature too has curious twisted reasons that the heart certainly knows nothing of. It eased the conscience of many small men to feel that they were working for an employer: they were almost as respectable soon in their own eyes as wage-earners; they were one of a group, and if there was guilt, the leaders bore the guilt. A racket works very like a totalitarian party.

This I have sometimes called stage two. Stage three was when the organizers decided that the profits were not large enough. Penicillin would not always be impossible to obtain legitimately; they wanted more money and quicker money while the going was good. The began to dilute the penicillin [...] He said, ‘I suppose that makes the stuff useless.’

I said, ‘We wouldn’t worry so much if that was all, but just consider. You can be immunized from the effects of penicillin. At the best you can say that the use of this stuff makes a penicillin treatment from the particular patient ineffective in the future.’



11 ‘There are always so many things one doesn’t know about a person, even a person one loves – good things, bad things. We have to leave plenty of room for them.’

Compare to:

T. S. Eliot


His young enthusiastic voice – if only one could still feel that enthusiasm for a routine job; how many opportunities, flashes of insight one misses simply because a job has become just a job – tingled up the wire.



14 For the first time Rollo Martins looked back through the years without admiration, as he thought: He’s never grown up. Marlowe’s devils wore squibs attached to their tails: evil was like Peter Pan – it carried with it the horrifying and horrible gift of eternal youth.



‘Look down there,’ he went on, pointing through the window at the people moving like black flies at the base of the Wheel. ‘Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving – for ever? If I said you can have twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stops, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money – without hesitation? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?’



‘In these days, old man, nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t, so why should we? They talk of the people and the proletariat, and I talk of the mugs. It’s the same thing. They have their five-year plans and so have I.’

‘You used to be a Catholic.’

‘Oh, I still believe, old man. In God and mercy and all that. I’m not hurting anybody’s soul by what I do. The dead are happier dead.’

text checked (see note) Feb 2009

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The Fallen Idol

Copyright © 1935, 1950 by Graham Greene
Copyright © Graham Greene, 1963, 1977

First published as The Basement Room; retitled to match the film adaptation.

3 It wasn’t right for a man of Baines’s age to be so merry. It made a grown person human in the same way that you were human. For if a grown-up could behave so childishly, you were liable too to find yourself in their world. It was enough that it came at you in dreams: the witch at the corner, the man with a knife. [...] He was divided by the fear and the attraction of life.



[...] he presented in his stillness and attention an example of the importance grown-up people attached to the written word: you had to write your thanks, not wait and speak them, as if letters couldn’t lie. But Philip knew better than that, sprawling his thanks across a page to Aunt Alice who had given him a doll he was too old for. Letters could lie all right, but they made the lie permanent: they lay as evidence against you; they made you meaner than the spoken word.



text checked (see note) Feb 2009

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