The Third Man

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #64: Car­ol Reed’s The Third Man.

3rdman.jpg With the likes of Car­ol Reed direct­ing, a Gra­ham Greene screen­play and Orson Welles, The Third Man, [1949] which I recent­ly watched, is a very good movie. And since it was a Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion DVD, the good­ies are just as good.

The Third Man is clas­sic film noir, a tri­umph of black and white cin­e­matog­ra­phy and a palimpsest of post-war schiz­o­phre­nia that grew into post­mod­ern antag­o­nism. This makes me think that post-war and post­mod­ern might be used inter­change­ably. In any case, this film’s pro­tag­o­nist is a hack-writer named Hol­ly Mar­tins [Joseph Cot­ten], a heavy drinker and a bel­liger­ent Amer­i­can; ambigu­ous at best, who has come to Vien­na to find his friend Har­ry Lime [Welles] who, every­one says, was hit by a car.

Vien­na at this time is split between four coun­tries, France, Rus­sia, Great Britain and the Unit­ed States. Rack­e­teer­ing abounds, and black mar­ket trade is about the only way to make a liv­ing. So Mar­tins, who has an infu­ri­at­ing man­ner of delib­er­ate­ly mis­pro­nounc­ing everyone’s name, struts through Vien­na as if, by right of his Amer­i­can­i­ty, the city should abase itself before him. He annoys the shit out of me. The female lead, Anna Schmidt [Ali­da Val­li], isn’t real­ly a femme fatale at all. The sto­ry twists and turns and I’ll say no more about it.

The cin­e­matog­ra­phy pulls no punch­es. Dutch angles abound, almost each scene has its own mon­ey shot, from deep-focus shots from the top of a bridge, cav­ernous and labyrinthine sew­ers that play light every which way dur­ing a chase scene, cast shad­ows, cast light, this is a movie where black and white are engaged in just as much inter­play and sub­tle­ty as the city of Vien­na itself. The act­ing, though at times a bit ham­my, is also impres­sive in the amount of untrans­lat­ed and pid­gin dia­logue that must exist in an Ger­man-speak­ing city occu­pied by French, Rus­sians, British and Amer­i­cans.

My only true prob­lem is with the edit­ing. There are sev­er­al dis­solve-mon­tages where a bunch of images are meant to con­vey advances in the plot. This made me at least have to review what I had just seen in order to make sense of where it fit in the film. What I’m say­ing is, the mon­tages did more to stop the plot than advance it. Also, eye­line match­es and match­es on action were often hic­coughy. This could very well not be the edi­tors fault, per­haps there was no footage appro­pri­ate enough to merge seam­less­ly.

In clos­ing, the open­ing cred­its are the best I’ve ever seen in a film. A close-up of zither strings being played in the back­ground as they roll. It was hyp­not­ic, mes­mer­iz­ing, and all that jazz.

P.S. The Cri­te­ri­on trans­fer gives you col­or bars so that you can adjust the bright­ness and con­trast for opti­mal view­ing.

Cri­te­ri­on Essay by Michael Wilm­ing­ton.

One Reply

  • The new 2 disc Cri­te­ri­on ver­sion of The Third Man is the best DVD I know of and own. The superb pack­ag­ing, the match­ing book of essays, one of the best films ever, and bonus disc of the 2005 award win­ning doc­u­men­tary, the full one hour riv­et­ing inter­view with a trav­el­ing Gra­ham Greene from 1968, the rebroad­cast of the Orson Welles radio show, “A Tick­et To Tang­iers”, footage of post war Vien­na and the sew­er police in action, a delight­ful trans­la­tion of all the for­eign dia­logue from the film, and the Aus­tri­an half hour show from 2000 that catch­es up with the actors, sto­ry, and who was the third man. Plus, back­ground pho­tos, rare footage, the unique music and sto­ry of how it all came about. I know about Cit­i­zen Kane and Casablan­ca being the best movies known but they are flick­ers of flame to the burn­ing torch behind the eter­nal search and fas­ci­na­tion with the Third Man.

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