A Quick Tip by MNeulander
Carol Reed’s 1949 film-noir “The Third Man” is Reed’s greatest work, and probably Orson Welle’s second greatest acting role of his career! This is not an idle boast considering this movie is considered the greatest British made film of all time by the British Film institute, (#57 on AFI’s top 100). By the way, Welle’s has the unique distinction of also acting in the #1 movie on the American Film Institute list, “Citizen Kane”!!!
“The Third Man” is certainly on my all time fave top ten list for several reasons. The story was superbly written as a novella by Graham Greene who also wrote the screenplay for the film. The cinematography is absolutely stunning!!! It is considered to have two of the greatest cinematic shots in film. One is when Orson Welles character is first seen on film, which interestingly does not happen until half way through the film. The second is the ending scene. In addition the movie was actually shot in war torn Vienna soon after the war which gives this movie a very “edgy” look. Another interesting fact is that when Reed was scouting for interesting locations in Vienna to shoot scenes he did it at night so there was not so much traffic on the streets to obstruct his view. He noticed that trucks would periodically drive over the roads and hose them down to clean them of debris. He loved how the night light reflected off the wet sheen of the asphalt roads, a look that he duplicated in the masterful black and white film to great effect!!! It won the Oscar Award for cinematography.
Another great “back story” to this film is how Reed settled on the film score for the movie. It has one of the most unusual, enticing and whimsical sound scores of any movie. Originally Reed was going to use a typical symphonic sound score. However, while on location, Reed went to a Viennese wine bar to relax and heard the lyrical zither sounds of Anton Karas who was a mere entertainer in the bar. Reed was captivated by the sound and selected Karas as the musical director of the movie. He was invited to London and lived with Reed. Reed treated him very well, but Karas was in a slump - then suddenly Reed rushed into Karas' room, and lay at full length on the floor. "Now I'm dead! Only your zither can bring me back to life! Karas, play such a song as to raise me from the dead." Instantly Karas realized his intention, and tried to play a song that would satisfy him. But Reed wasn't easily satisfied, Karas exerted himself for hours - the moment he almost gave it up, he played that familiar melody. The success of "The Third Man" changed Karas' life totally. He played all over the world, and won applause from the British Royal family and the Pope. He earned a lot of money from this soundtracksince its title cut topped the international music charts in 1950.
An out of work pulp fiction novelist, Holly Martins,(Joseph Cotton a life long friend of Orson’s from his Mercury theatre days, “Citizen Kane”, and “The Magnificent Ambersons”),arrives in a post war Vienna divided into sectors by the victorious allies, and where a shortage of supplies has lead to a flourishing black market. He arrives at the invitation of an ex-school friend, Harry Lime, (Orson Welles) who has offered him a job, only to discover that Lime has recently died in a peculiar traffic accident. From talking to Lime's friends and associates Martins soon notices that some of the stories are inconsistent, and determines to discover what really happened to Harry Lime. The ensuing mystery entangles him in his friend's involvement in the black market, with the multinational police, and with his Czech girlfriend.
Soon after he is introduced in the movie with one of the all time greatest cinematic scenes cleverly using a “chiaroscuro” effect reminiscent of Caravaggio’s Renaissance era paintings, Wells delivers one of his greatest film soliloquies that he wrote for his character to deliver in the film. Looking down on the people below from his vantage point of being on a Ferris wheel, Harry Lime (Welles) compares them to dots. Back on the ground, he notes:
"You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty 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 five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
As I mentioned earlier in this review Welles doesn’t even appear until half way through the movie; however, his screen presence is captivating, he steals the show!!!