The Third Man (1949) "Tense, Beautiful and Iconic – A Glorious Masterpiece"

Starring:- Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Ernst Deutsch, Bernard Lee, Erich Ponto, Siegfried Breuer, Wilfrid Hyde-White.

Directed By:- Carol Reed
Film Noir is a genre which intrigued me a lot during the renaissance days. Even though Film Noir developed at Hollywood, one of the very best came all the way from England, in the form of Carol Reed’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel of the same name. The Third Man is my first Film Noir and I must say I enjoyed it to the core.
Pulp novelist Holly Martins (Cotten) arrives at war-torn Vienna to visit his friend Harry Lime, who promised him a job, only to¬†witness his funeral. Major Calloway (Howard) inquires Martin about his friendship with Lime, recommending him to go back to America. Martins disagrees and stays at a hotel, where he is invited by a government official to speak about literature. Martins meets Anna (Valli), Lime’s girlfriend, who reveals Lime’s Vienna life to Martins. Martins comes across many of Lime’s friends who were near him when he died of a car crash. Martins, disillusioned, thinks of returning when his housekeeper, an eye-witness of Lime’s accident is killed. Everything starts squaring in on Martins and Anna, keeping them on the run. Lime’s dark past and occupation is revealed to Martins by Calloway, which makes him doubt his bonds with Lime. Just then, Lime (Welles) ‘flashes’ himself to Martins and escapes. Martins now has to decide between friendship and humanity, only to ponder upon the depths they will take him to.
The first half of the movie deals with the mystery behind the death and investigation of the case. It shows the transition of Martins from an hopeful friend to a sterile detective, all the while hitting on his dead friend’s girlfriend. The real sense of mystery gets clouded by the anxiety generated by Martins attempting to discover the truth. As the movie leads us down to its murky depths, we realize that the mystery is much more important to us than the bonds of friendship showcased by Martins and Lime. We can see Martins trying to disprove the accusations made by Calloway to preserve Lime as his nice old friend, not as a famous criminal. This all changes when he looks at Lime’s victims, transforming him into a morally inclined man. This is shown perfectly in the scene where Lime takes off his glove to shake hands with Martins, the latter not offering his hand.
The script by Graham Greene boasts of amazing dialogues, reeking of pure, classy crime fiction. The ‘Cuckoo Clock’ analogy by Lime, which was added by Welles at the moment, wraps up the moral conscience of humanity as a whole by keeping history as a point of perspective. It proves to be a verbal predecessor to psychopaths like The Joker, who didn’t want chaos to have an absolute meaning. The famous dialogue, is as follows:-

“Don’t be so gloomy. After all, it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, 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.”

The above dialogue explains the importance of chaos, its role in shaping human history, in the form of a benefactor. Its shocking accuracy to the present conditions makes us wonder that, is it really important to play host to chaos in order to polish our existence?
Cinematography and direction by Robert Krasker and Carol Reed respectively is phenomenal. The visual style of the movie is textbook material on filmmaking. The Dutch Tilt can piss off those people who aren’t much informed about the environment of Film Noirs, but I believe that the angle is not only an artistic representation of the movie’s style, but it can also be seen as a technical manifestation of the characters’ distorted personalities. The sequence set in the sewers are excellent and iconic in equal measures.

The performances in the movie are no less iconic. Although Cotten is the protagonist, Orson Welles steals the limelight from him. His introduction is engraved on the brains of cinephiles all around the world : light falling on his face as he’s standing at a dark doorway, a sly smile conquering his face. Fanboy moments, as to speak.

Some dialogues, as I said before, was written by Welles, and was beautifully delivered too. His performance is so magnanimous that we are forced to hate him because of his actions, whereas at the same time we adore his mannerisms. His longtime collaborator in movies like Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, Joseph Cotton portrays the disillusioned and arrogant Holly Martins in a realistic manner. Trevor Howard and Valli were amazing in portraying Major Calloway and Anna Schmidt. Special mention to Ernst Deutsch who played the role of Dr. Vinkle, the best performance in the movie, in my opinion. Do I even have to speak about Anton Karas’ extraordinary score?

In conclusion, The Third Man is a valuable piece of cinema, which has the ability to preserve the true essence of cinema under its clandestine sheath of filmmaking. A must-watch to all budding cinephiles out there.

Pro:- Everything.
Con:- None at all.

Ratings:- 4/5.

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