Sunday, February 22, 2009


It's almost a moot point to try and write something new or interesting about Carol Reed's bonafide classic The Third Man (64). It is a film that has been written about by every famed film critic ever. A film that features Orson Welles, and features some of the most well-remembered bits of camera work ever pressed to celluloid. I read an interesting review of the film that said something along the lines of, even if you haven't seen the film you remember the angles, the darkened corners, the silhouette of Orsen Welles Harry Lime emblazoned against the misty light of the sewer tunnels. This is a movie that has been shown hundreds of thousands of times on video, in festivals, in retrospectives of the great films of the last hundred years. It is truly a classic film.

And I absolutely love it.

Aside from High and Low (24) I can't imagine a film I've seen in the Collection so far that I enjoy more. That I want to watch compulsively. That I enjoy enough to recommend to those who aren't even the slightest bit interested in the beauties of classic film. This is a film that took the structures of film noir and turned them on their head. Carol Reed is an amazing director and his work with this twisting tale by the famed Graham Greene is reason enough for him to be lauded as such. There's a strange sense of lack of direction in this film highlighted by the post-war Vienna that is its setting. There's a twisting criss-cross of language and nationalities that highlights the confusion and directionless wanderings of penny-novel writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) as he searches for his dear friend and confidant Harry Lime. It's a story about the search for what we think we know, and what it means to find out that none of this is true.

Orson Welles (if you don't know who Orson Welles is, you and I, we need to have a talk) plays Harry Lime in the film and is really only on screen for a small bit, but the presence he brings to these small moments (the ferris wheel ride and the speech about "small black dots" some of my favorite on film) showcase why this troubled man is considered to be one of the greats of cinema. He literally stands out against the rest of this talented cast, almost seeming more real, more alive than those who surround him. It's impressive and almost breath-taking to watch a true master work.

Let us not forget the works of genial drunk Joseph Cotton, as his sort of bumbling every man gives the audience foothold in this constantly shifting cast of international criminals. Holly Martins is a simple man, an almost stereotypical portrayal of the more negative aspects of the travelling American thrust in to a situation he has no clue, and no interest in. His interactions with the law, the common folk, well, pretty much everyone in the search for Harry Lime are as interesting as any part of this gripping thriller's plot. It's his off-the-cuff hard-boiled dialogue that draws me back every single time. His delivery so spot-on, you can almost feel the grit on his collar, smell the smoke lingering at the tip of his cigarette.

Toss in camera work you just don't see anymore, and a Spanish guitar score by Antan Koras and you have a film that deserves every accolade it's every received. And that's saying a ton.

If I could recommend one film that'll draw you in to classic film, I'd give you The Third Man (64) (possibly with a chaser of Charade (57) just for shits and giggles) and let you go. I can't imagine anyone wouldn't be excited to start scratching a few more layers off.

Don't put this recommendation on the shelf. Do yourself a favor.

Tomorrow: Rushmore (65)

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