The Third Man review by Tom Blain

Style

Film Noir is a dish best served black and white. The only proof you need to test that theory is a viewing of The Third Man. There is no better way to represent the shadows on the walls, the dampness on the streets, and the look of a city in despair than through the sharp contrasts black and white provides.

The city is war torn Vienna. Not only are the buildings and streets still broken from bomb shells, but the city has been divided into zones, controlled by America, England, France, and Russia. American hack writer Holly Martins, played by Joseph Cotton, comes to Vienna to take his friend up on a job offer. When he arrives, he finds out that his friend, Harry Lime, has been mysteriously killed. Apparently Lime may have been involved with the blackmarket and his death may not have been a mistake.

Martins writes dimestore Westerns and judging by his job status in the film, he does a poor job of it. The only man that has heard of him, and enjoys his books, is an English police thug. In fact, he is pretty bad at most things and over extends his abilities as a writer into detective work (thinking he can become his own detective character). He bumbles around and attempts to draw information out of some of Vienna's most dangerous criminals. Just when he thinks he has it figured out, everything is turned upside-down:Harry Lime is alive. Martins struggles with helping the police capture him or aiding his old friend.

Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles) is without a doubt the most interesting character in the film, and yet he has only one speaking scene. His character is the focus of everyone in the film("When was the last time you have seen Lime.", "Tell me more abouy Harry."). His face isn't even seen until his ghostly, spotlight entrance almost an hour into the film. When he does speak, as a spectator you are on his every word. He has been built up by the other characters to such a degree that its nearly impossible to not want to hear from the man himself.

Director Carol Reed's amazing composition from shot to shot is a feast for the eyes. Its quite possible that he learned a few tricks from Harry Lime actor Orson Welles, whose directing credits previous to the Third Man included The Magnificent Ambersons, Lady From Shanghai, and Citizen Kane. The depth of field used in many of Reed's shots seems to be a derivative from shots coined by Welles. His focus is not only on the actors but on setting around them; afterall Vienna plays out like a character in this movie as well. Many of the shots give a normal veritical point of reference (often with the characters), while the horizontal lines in setting behind are often skewed and diagonal. The movie never seems to be 'on the level' adding to its chaotic/out of control feel.

And what movie could call it self 'noir' if it didnt have shadows? Reed's shadows play with our perception of reality, somewhat reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The best example is when Martins first finds Lime. Lime escapes through the twisting Vienna streets and the last we of him is a 20 ft shadow of his projected on a nearby wall looking as if it is running in place.

The dialogue is a superb as well. The mixture of languages is perfect, because it is imperfect. How could four languages possibly mix well in one city? As an audience there is a lot that is being said that we dont understand; therefore forcing us to align with the American, Holly Martins (the only character who doesnt seem to speak more than one language). Many times things are being said and the only way to understand what is being said is by drawing the feeling out of other people's faces. Some other characters attempt to speak English and do so poorly. In one scene Harry Lime's butler is explaining his death and stated "He might be in Hell (points up) or... mmm... Heaven (points down)".

All of this reflects the chaos of Vienna and of The Third Man. Driving it from start to finish is Anton Karas's hypnotic zither soundtrack (one tagline claims "You'll go dither for his zither"; I dont know what that is supposed to mean). I can't think of another soundtrack so unique. Then again, I can't think of a film so unique. Thats why it is one of my favorite films from a short list. Everything falls into place. The story weaves in different paths, the characters are well written and well acted, the camera work, and shot composition is some of the best ever and it film only gets better with each view. Unless your name is John Shields, you should watch this film.

By the way, the DVD is loading with pretty cool stuff. Don't watch the trailer though. It absolutely does NOT describe the film at all. It is probably some David "F-ing" O. Selznick job trying to sell the movie to the Gone With the Wind audience. Its comical and yet aggrivating.




10 out of 10 Jackasses
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