|The Third Man
1949 - Not Rated - 104 Mins.
|Director: Carol Reed
|Producer: Carol Reed, Alexander Korda, David O. Selznick
|Written By: Graham Greene and Alexander Korda
|Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Erich Ponto
|Review by: John Ulmer
Carol Reed's "The Third Man" strikes all the right cords, establishing itself on so many different levels that it almost becomes untouchable. It has an underlying tone of darkness that not only thrills but chills. It grabs the viewer from the start and never lets go.
It opens with Anton Karas' startling zither music and quickly propels the viewer into a world of evil and lies. The tale is familiar to any film lovers: A pulp Western writer named Holly Martin (Joseph Cotten) is invited to post-war Vienna by an old friend of his, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). The city has been divided into American, British, French and Russian zones. The city exists as a shattered remnant of the past - haunting and horrifying, dark and mysterious.
Upon his arrival, Holly discovers to his horror that his old college pal is dead - hit by a car in the middle of a street. But for Holly, the circumstances don't add up - everyone involved in the accident was related in some way or another to Harry. So Holly searches for clues, much to the chagrin of the British officer Calloway (Trevor Howard), whose name is misused as Callohan by Holly many times throughout the film. ("It's 'Calloway,' Mr. Martin, I'm not Irish.")
Holly Martin does begin to stumble upon some vital clues as to the real story behind Lime's death - and finds out more than he bargained for. Lime's old girlfriend is a stage actress. ("Always comedy.") She accompanies Holly throughout the film, and we expect an underlying romance to blossom, but yet in the end it does not - one of the many surprises of the film.
I suppose it would be a sin for me to give away how Harry Lime reappears, or even give away the fact that he does, for that matter (though by now I am sure you realize Orson Welles is in this movie and therefore turns out to be alive). But for those who have seen the film, we all remember that terrific scene where the cat meows, and suddenly he appears, an evil smirk on his face like a child who has gotten away with the cookie from the jar. And then the ferris wheel scene, and the chase through the sewers that no doubt helped win the film an Oscar for cinematography. These are all some of the most memorable of film scenes.
The director of "The Third Man," Carol Reed, stumbled upon the film's musician, Anton Karas, one night in a trashy bar in Vienna. It is no wonder that out of all his candidates he chose Karas - the film's tune is literally the most perfect example of matching harmony between a film and its music I have ever seen (although "JAWS" is up there with it). To go into the music is pointless - it must simply be heard in synchronism with the film for you to understand where I am coming from.
When I think of film noir, "D.O.A." (1949) and "The Third Man" (1949) are the first two films that come to mind. Both accomplish what they set out to do, but "The Third Man" exceeds even farther than the former - it is haunting and almost poetically vibrant in the way it displays its story and the outcome of its characters. It is a film that will be around for years and years. "Citizen Kane" is often thought of as the greatest American motion picture of all time. But if I had to choose between the two, I would most likely choose "The Third Man." It's just my opinion, of course, and many may not agree, but as far as I see, "The Third Man" beats "Citizen Kane" - for me - on more levels than one.
Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) was an artistic film that rarely used close-ups. It would almost stand back from the scenes and let the viewer focus on what he or she wanted to focus on. "The Third Man" has many close-ups. I do not take this as a director trying to give the audience what he wants them to see, but rather a director in touch with his feelings and ideas. Director Carol Reed knows just how to evoke characters' feelings from scenes and close-up shots. The camera tilts at awkward angles more often than not. The more and more paranoid and afraid our hero becomes the more and more intense the close-ups and angles. There is some haunting material in "The Third Man," some material the most novice of filmgoers might not expect. And the music and direction only makes it all the more terrifying and haunting. This is a film that you must witness to believe.