The Third Man

What an interesting little movie! Tonight I watched The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed in 1949. Orson Welles is in it for a few minutes, but I so enjoyed him, it felt like it was much longer. The movie is about Holly Martins, an American author who writes pulp novels. He is invited to Vienna to see his friend Harry Lime, but when he arrives, Lime has just been killed. Holly becomes suspicious after talking with Lime's friends, and he feels like something might be afoot. He tries to find answers, with the vague help of Lime's lover, Anna.


The film is set in post-war Vienna, where everything is divided and destroyed. I've been to Vienna, and often when I watch things about it (movies or travel shows), I try to look for where I was and point it out like a yokel. The cinematography in this movie was so strange and slanted that it didn't look like Vienna. All of the shots were slanted and twisted, the camera was never straight. Ebert notices that as well, pointing out how it shows "...a world out of joint" (The Great Movies, 458). I often heard that film noir is based out of German Expressionism, with all of the darkness and weird lighting. This movie felt very influenced - the angles reminded me of things like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, where everything is shot strangely to show the disturbed mind of the main character. The city is shot oddly to show how confusing it is for the main character, how foreign it is to it's own inhabitants after the war. I really loved how distinct that Vienna was as a place - it felt like a character in the film.

Ebert's essay was really interesting. He wrote a lot about what this movie sort of represented in terms of the post-war world. I guess I can just plop a quote in here, I don't know if anyone goes off to read his essay after my dull blogs. Ebert writes, ""The Third Man" reflects the optimism of Americans and the bone-weariness of Europe after the war. It's a story about grownups and children: Adults like Calloway, who has seen at first hand the results of Lime's crimes, and children like the trusting Holly, who believes in the simplified good and evil of his Western novels" (The Great Movies, 460). 

 He also brings up a really neat film comparison, writing, ""The Third Man" is like the exhausted aftermath of "Casablanca." Both have heroes who are American exiles, awash in a world of treachery and black market intrigue. Both heroes love a woman battered by the war. But "Casablanca" is bathed in the hope of victory, while "The Third Man" already reflects the Cold War years of paranoia, betrayal and the Bomb. The hero doesn't get the girl in either movie--but in "Casablanca," Ilsa stays with the resistance leader to help in his fight, while in "The Third Man" Anna remains loyal to a rat. Yet Harry Lime saved Anna, a displaced person who faced certain death. Holly will never understand what Anna did to survive the war, and Anna has absolutely no desire to tell him" (The Great Movies, 460). I know this was a lot of Ebert, but I thought it was really interesting. I really never would have thought to compare the two movies, although it seems obvious. He says it so concise and well, though. They really do show such different sides of life and the world.

I really liked this movie, it felt like such a classic black and white noir. That sounds so stupid to say, but when you think of curling up with an old movie, you think of kind of intrigue and mystery, angles and fog. It might not be the classic American old Hollywood, but there is something about these sort of movies that make me feel comfortable. I love the stories they tell, the characters, and the locations. They combine great cinematography with great writing, and these were not considered to be high quality pictures. We can't even go to a theater and pay $18 for a movie in the summer and be assured that we can have an interesting story. Plot is something for snobs, apparently, for people who "expect too much" from their movies. But film noir proves that even lower budget B movies used to just have great story, since that what movies were. Ah, this is a rant for another time. Back on topic, I really loved this movie, and I highly recommend it. It's streaming on Netflix and Amazon, so check it out and let me know what you think!

Have any of you seen The Third Man? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Links:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Third Man
Trailer


""You know what the fellow said: In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love--they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
   - Orson Welles in The Third Man (Ebert mentions he may have written this speech, I love it!)

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