SPY’s Book Specialist, Matt Arnold, reviews a classic spy film.
In the lobby of the International Spy Museum is a large black and white image of a man bathed in shadow. Enveloping him in this darkness is post-World War II Vienna, a city up to the task of casting a further level of intrigue into the frame. Vienna had been spared the worst of what many European cities had suffered during the war. Yet, the charm and pleasant music of pre-war Austria now came accompanied with ruins, a thriving black market, and refugees attempting to escape from Soviet occupation. Divided into four zones by the conquering British, French, Americans, and Russians, an international patrol of all four was responsible for controlling and rehabilitating the city. However, early cold war politics was turning it into a playground for international espionage.
The image is a still from the film The Third Man, written by spy novelist Graham Greene, directed by Carol Reed, and with strong contributions from Orson Welles. With this legendary pedigree, it may be unsurprising that it is widely considered one of the greatest films; included in the AFI top 100 films and ranked the Greatest British film of the 20th Century by the British Film Institute. Reed and Greene’s Vienna is a city facing the realities of a world blown apart by one war while witnessing the birth of another. The man in the shadows too is caught in between these worlds, being plunged once again back into darkness. What better environment to be first introduced to the world of the International Spy Museum?