Occasionally I like to feature excerpts from screenplays from eras gone by. First I happen to love all movies, including old ones. Second it’s interesting to compare how screenplay style has changed over the years.
Today we take a look at a scene from the 1949 movie The Third Man, screen play by Graham Greene.
Logline: Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, black-market opportunist Harry Lime.
This is the end scene, one of the most memorable in cinema history.
MED. SHOT - PRIEST with graveyard attendant and his assistant beside him. PRIEST Herr gib ihnen die ewige ruh und das ewige licht leutche ihnen. Herr lass sie ruhen in frieden. Amen. In namen des vaters des sohnes und des heiligen geistes. Amen. He sprinkles spoonful of soil on the grave, then moves to exit CR. Music starts. MED. SHOT - MARTINS CL f.g. - Anna facing the new grave. She takes spoon of earth from graveyard attendant and sprinkles it on grave - moving to exit CR. CLOSEUP - MARTINS Calloway walks up to him from behind. LONG SHOT - THE GRAVEYARD with Harry's new grave in f.g. Martins CL - Calloway's back to camera. They move downstage - Martins replacing his hat. LONG SHOT - ROAD CR of the graveyard, Anna walking upstage, back to camera. She exits CR. MED. LONG SHOT - JEEP in R f.g. Calloway enters it RL. Martins walks round the back of it, looking at watch - then off CL, after the departing Anna. CALLOWAY What time is it? MARTINS Two thirty. LONG SHOT - ANNA walking upstage, back to camera. CLOSE SHOT - CALLOWAY seated in R profile in jeep - Martins gets in LR, beside him. The jeep drives out CR. CALLOWAY I'll have to step on it, if you're going to catch that plane. CLOSE TWO SHOT - MARTINS CL and Calloway CR - riding in the open jeep LR. CAMERA TRACKS IN to single CU of Martins looking off R for Calloway. He looks back over his shoulder. MARTINS Calloway, can't you do something about Anna? CALLOWAY (O.S.) I'll do what I can, if she'll let me. LONG SHOT - ANNA walking along the street - CAMERA DOLLYING BACK as from Martins' eye line in jeep. She gets further and further away. CLOSE TWO SHOT - MARTINS AND CALLOWAY seated in jeep, driving RL. MARTINS Wait a minute - let me out. CALLOWAY Well, there's not much time. MARTINS One can't just leave - please. MED. SHOT - JEEP drives up to curb LR - Martins climbs out near side to camera and CAMERA PANS RL as he moves to back of jeep and takes out his grip and turns away to exit CL. We HOLD Calloway in back of jeep, looking after him. CALLOWAY Be sensible, Martins. MARTINS I haven't got a sensible name, Calloway. LONG SHOT along the avenue of trees, Anna in far b.g., walking downstage. Martins enters from CR f.g., moving upstage, back to camera. He puts down his grip on a cart in L f.g. and stands waiting. CLOSE SHOT - CALLOWAY in jeep looking back over his shoulder off L for Martins. He starts to drive away upstage. LONG SHOT - MARTINS in L f.g., Anna in the middle of the road, coming downstage toward camera. She passes Martins without a glance, and continues on, looking straight ahead of her and out of picture CR - Martins takes out a cigarette and lights it. FADE OUT THE END
Here is the movie version of the scene:
Love that last LONG SHOT: “She passes Martins without a glance.” Picture worth a thousand words.
Questions to ask to analyze the scene:
* What elements in the movie scene are the same as the script?
* What elements in the movie scene are different than the script?
* Regarding the differences, put yourself in the mindset of the filmmakers and speculate: Why did they make the changes they did?
* How did the changes improve the scene?
* Alternatively are there elements in the script, not present in the movie, that are better than the final version of the scene?
* Note each camera shot in the movie version. Which of them does the script suggest via sluglines or scene description?
* How does the script convey a sense of the scene’s tone, feel, and pace through scene description and dialogue?
* What ‘magic’ exists in the movie that is not indicated in the words of the script? How do you suppose that magic emerged?
I’ll see you in comments for a discussion of this terrific scene from The Third Man.
One of the single best things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting is to read the script while watching the movie. After all a screenplay is a blueprint to make a movie and it’s that magic of what happens between printed page and final print that can inform how you approach writing scenes. That is the purpose of Script to Screen, a weekly series on GITS where we analyze a memorable movie scene and the script pages that inspired it.
UPDATE: John Geraci has an excellent post here analyzing The Third Man.