|THE THIRD MAN (1949)|
|"I guess nobody really knew Harry like he did... like I did. He was the best friend I ever had."|
|Time: 93 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Mystery/Film Noir
Won Academy Award for Best Cinematography (B+W). Nominations for Best Director and Best Film Editing.
There's nothing like curling up with a great film noir and THE THIRD MAN is first class all the way. It's a brilliantly filmed black and white morality tale where nothing is as it seems and everyone has something to hide. Shot on location in the bombed out streets of post-war Vienna, the city and the soundtrack become supporting characters in this tale of bitterness and woe. From the moment the film begins, with scenes of an occupied, war-torn city filled with scoundrels and black marketeers, it's clear that this will not be a happy journey. It's a story filled with darkness and evil, that leaves no one unscathed especially its' lead character, an optimistic American Western pulp writer looking for a chance to start a new life. In the end, he gets exactly that, but the experience was far from what he was hoping for.
All Holly Martins (Cotton) wants when he arrives in Vienna is to hook up with his old childhood friend Harry Lime (Welles), who lures him to town with a big job offer. Tired of writing the same old crap, Holly is hoping to start working at Harry's medical charity as a P.R. writer. Unfortunately for Holly, his new career ends before it can begin. Apparently, Harry was killed a few days before his arrival in a freak car accident. Harry was struck down in the street outside his apartment building as he was about to meet a friend. Holly can't believe it, but after attending Harry's funeral he's somewhat more convinced.
There are many strange people at the cemetery, as well as one beautiful young woman Holly discovers was Harry's mistress. One of the other attendees, Major Calloway (Howard), initially befriends Holly, urging him to leave Vienna before he gets himself into trouble. Harry wasn't the upstanding businessman he led Holly to believe, but a criminal who deserved to die. Holly should take the next plane home and forget he ever knew Harry. Holly can't believe what he's hearing. The major obviously didn't know Harry very well. He would never have done any of the terrible things Calloway's accusing him of. Determined to clear his friend's name, Holly finagles an invitation to stay in Vienna and sets off to uncover the true circumstances of his friend's death.
What he finds is highly contradictory and extremely suspicious. The porter in Harry's building swears that there was a "third man" that helped carry Harry's body across the street, but all of Harry's "friends" claim that there were only two, Baron Kurtz and Popescu. The fact that Harry's doctor just happened to be walking by right after the accident and that it was Harry's own driver that hit him doesn't sit right with Holly. Something else is going on and he's not going to stop until he discovers the truth. Everyone tries to get him to stop his amateur investigation Major Callaway, the Baron, even Anna, Harry's girlfriend. His death not only broke her heart, but has landed her into enough trouble with the authorities. Holly is just making the situation worse. To get him to quit, Callaway shows Holly all the evidence collected against Harry. It's pretty solid and extremely horrifying. Disillusioned, Holly agrees to leave Vienna.
After clumsily saying goodbye to Anna, he encounters a strange, shadowy figure hiding in a doorway who reveals himself to be Harry. Alive and quite well, thank you. Harry disappears before he can catch him, sending Holly into a downward spiral he can't break out of. The rest of the film deals with Holly's conscience will he turn in his best friend a thief and murderer or be true to his friendship and accept what Harry has become, even potentially join him in his underworld? When confronted with his friend, Holly has no choice but to do what's right, much to the disappointment of Anna and Harry, who counted on his loyalty to win out. The fact is, in the end, nobody really wins. Holly loses his innocence and the only person who loved him, Anna loses the only man she could ever love and Harry, well, he ends up right back where he started.
There's a reason this film one an Oscar for Best Cinematography. The way light and shadow play across the screen is truly brilliant. The juxtaposition of the city both beautiful and bombed out is not lost on the viewer. The city becomes another character, lovely in the light of day, but with a dark side that runs deep. The final chase sequence through the sewers is wonderfully shot, exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Many of the scenes and lighting effects may seem familiar and that's because filmmakers have been stealing them from this film for years. It's a shame more filmmakers don't use black and white film anymore. THE THIRD MAN is a classic example of the perfect use of that medium to showcase and evoke mood and emotion with a mere shadow.
Joseph Cotton gives a wonderful performance as the morally challenged Holly Martins. Welles is incredibly charming as the morally bankrupt Harry Lime. How Holly refuses to go along with him is beyond me. I don't think I would have been able to resist him. Welles doesn't appear in the film until over an hour in and his screen time is minimal, maybe 20 minutes, but he makes every moment count. You won't soon forget Harry Lime. Trevor Howard and Alida Valli play their parts perfectly as well, but it really doesn't matter. This is Cotton and Welles' show and they take full advantage of it. Another thing you won't soon forget is the soundtrack. Performed by Anton Karas with just one instrument, the zither, it's haunting and sorrowful. A perfect compliment to the story. I know that whenever I hear that theme I will know exactly what movie it belongs to. THE THIRD MAN may not be one of the more popular classics, but it should be. It's a definite must-see, especially on DVD.