A short while back, when my first book The Darkest Hour came out, The Wall Street Journal compared my writing to the movie directors Alfred Hitchcock and Carol Reed.
Now please, let me tell you this, I’ve been lucky enough to get some good reviews over the last few years, but being compared to those two guys was pretty much the best thing that has happened since I picked up a pen and decided to make a living with it.
Why? Well aside from it being high praise from a respected newspaper; I’d dreamed of being those guys for the last thirty five years.
You see, when I was a kid I loved those old movies. I didn’t just like watching them though, I went much further than that. I used to round up my friends, and then get them to play games in which we acted them out. I’d be the “director” as well as the lead of those games. I’d make my poor pals hunt me down like I was Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart, fleeing for my life along back alleyways and through yards that looked like cornfields and cliff-faces in my minds eye.
I’d always be one step in front with some snappy dialogue planned out in my head for when I’d let myself get caught. Invariably, after being pinned to a wall, I'd hit them with my smart line, break free, pull off a karate chop, and start running like crazy all over again.
I think it is fair to say that I was a pretty weird kid.
Now we all know Hitchcock, but how many of us remember the great Carol Reed?
A few I hope, especially because I believe he's the man who made the greatest film of all time:
The Third Man.
When I was a kid, British TV used to show old black and white movies of a Saturday afternoon. Now you have to remember that back then, in the UK we only had three channels of TV. So an old movie, be it a musical, war film, or western, it was often as good as it got. Especially if it was raining and I had run out of library books for the afternoon. I’ll be honest, even though I love old films, some of those afternoons I sat through some terrible movies.
Then one day I heard Anton Karas’ famous zither tune, jangling away behind the scratchy gray credits of Reed’s “The Third Man." I was captivated, and then it got better as one of the finest first lines in screen writing drifted across the airwaves:
“I never knew the old Vienna before the war, with its Strauss music, its glamor and its easy charm…”
I was hooked, and we were off across the foggy skyline, and then down onto the rain slick streets. We were slipping and sliding across the worn cobbles in trench coats, with our collars pulled up and our hats pulled down.
The whole film was sharp shadows, danger in the darkness, and people just managing to stay one step ahead of the bullet that was right behind them. It was magic, a window into another world, where the women were made of porcelain and steel, and the men made of granite and gunfire.
I loved it, and I still do. All these years later, whenever I sit down to write, I’m still that kid trying to capture the atmosphere and thrills of those old films and share them with my friends.
Want to play?