In Search of The Third Man? Is that the new book? I'd like to hear your 0.02 on it."
Yes, In Search Of The Third Man is the new book. Here's my 0.02, which mainly focuses on the Welles-centred elements of the book:
My first impression of the book immediately after I'd finished reading it were that I wasn't sure whether to keep it near to hand or throw it away. In Search Of The Third Man is a curate's egg. It has some interesting information, but there's also a lot of bitterness underlying much of the book. On the one hand, certain sections of the book, most notably chapter 13 ("The Heart Of The Matter") contains a lot of information that I had never heard before about the possible inspiration for The Third Man, although of course I'm no expert on the film, the information may be old news to others. On the other hand, some of the book is diabolical, particularly chapter 5 ("Stealing the Limelight"), which relies to quite an extent on the testimony of someone called Bob Dunbar, a rather bitter man who appears to have been a gopher on the set of The Third Man, and also appears to be under the impression that his opinion of Welles' acting and personality is of interest to somebody (apologies if I sound snobbish to anyone who may be interested in the views of Dunbar). There's a lot of anti-Welles stuff of course, to counterbalance the years of Welles being regarded as The Third Man's de facto director, but it goes further than redressing the balance, into utter naivety, for example, we find in chapter 5 comments such as "He ["He" is Welles] must have been rather envious of Reed, who was regarded as one of the world's great directors but also enjoyed the kind of commerical sucess that Welles never had." Now, perhaps he concievably could have been, I have no insight into Welles' mind, but I just don't see it, somehow. There's also a surreally bizarre third-hand quote of Joseph Cotten apparently saying, after someone noticed Welles sweating, after having fluffed a line several times, "Well, it was the first time that Orson had to act with me and he knew that I didn't think much of the way he did things and he was nervous."
All I can say is: What mentality cooked that one up? One that thinks Welles didn't act when appearing with Cotten in a film of his own? One that thinks Cotten would say such a thing about a long-term friend to a crewmember he'd only just met? Of course, yet again, I have no proof that he didn't, perhaps I'm naive and Cotten hated Welles' guts, but I just can't see it. As for the "Welles didn't have to act when he appeared in his own films" theory, it's a matter of critical opinion, and personally my opinion of the theory is that it's a crock. There are one or two other anecdotes in the book of a similar nature, mostly from the last, marginal surviviors of the shooting of The Third Man , which may or may not be accurate, caveat emptor.
Drazin points out that Welles' dialogue, apart from the cuckoo clock speech and the indigestion tablet line, was "otherwise in essence, if not always word for word [my emphasis], as scripted." He challenges Welles' passing comment to Peter Bogdanovich about having had "notions for the dialogue", and attempts to make out that Welles was exaggerating. The fact that rewording dialogue, and contributing one or two extra lines and one mini-monologue could quite legitimately be described as "notions for the dialogue" doesn't seem to occur to Drazin. The additional fact that Welles side-stepped Bogdanovich's "Every word of it?" question regarding the dialogue is also overlooked (by the way, the relevant page of TIOW is 220, according to Drazin).
There are more severe comments later by Drazin, attempting to make out that Reed's craftsmanlike attitude somehow made him the superior of Welles and Hitchcock.
Drazin's apparent desire to combine Reed-revisionism with attempting to bring down the auteur theory single-handed, appears during the Welles-related chapter and returns in longer and more tedious form towards the end of chapter 15. Drazin quotes Guy Hamilton quoting Reed on the "function" of a director, mentions Reed's admiration for John Ford while noting Ford's down-to-earth attitude (which he takes somehow as against auteurism), quotes Howard Hawks as saying "A very good man, asked to name the three best directors, said John Ford, John Ford, John Ford. And most of us who have studied that kind of thing, we agree on that." whilst seemingly unaware of who Hawks was paraphrasing, and takes a paragraph out to attack Hitchcock for his comfort with the auteur theory. Drazin then proceeds to praise Oliver! , saying "And for those cinephiles who calculate the worth of a director in the number of recuring motifs and themes, these really weren't hard to find": he then footnotes this comment with a list of "recurring motifs" (apparently sent him by a reader of his previous book) in Reed films which show how little he understands the theory he's attacking (for example, he tries to make out that some dustbins rattling in Odd Man Out and a silver tray rattling in Oliver! equals a recurring theme in Reed's work (I'm not joking, it's there in black and white). There's a lot of other stuff, but I don't want to analyse the whole book, most of the faults aren't of the magnitude of these, just small and frustrating (for instance, Drazin's claim that the last films of John Ford and Howard Hawks represent as great a decline in their work as Reed's do in his). Oh well.
Looking back over what I've written, I realise that I've not been very brief, and I've concentrated more on the faults of the book than on it's strengths (though that is because the faults come more immediately to mind). So here's my capsule review: Overall the book is a mixture of naivety and occaisional malice. Good information, bad author, worth reading for occaisional insights, and in his defence, Drazin does point out the various often-overlooked ambiguities in the production of The Third Man (Selznick apparently
wasn't as stupid as has been made out, for example), the problem is a tendency to bitterness, missing the point, and an occaisionally annoyingly nostalgic tone.