THE THIRD MAN (1949) d: Carol Reed
To say Carol Reed's 'The Third Man' is not one of the best films ever made means you have never seen it or have no clue what defines cinema. Yes, I am being that strict with it. I'm not saying you'll like the film but to have an understanding of what cinema means then you must include this as one of the top films of all time. Which might be an interesting list to compile. Something for me to ponder for a future post.
Released in 1949 'The Third Man' is not just a great film noir but a film which redefined so much in movies. In some ways it also marked the end of the bleaker films as we moved into the 1950's which was filled with Technicolor, cinemascope, and musicals. I do not say that with animosity as so many incredible films came out then. It was time to move on from the bleakness of the 1940's and what a way to go.
A dime novel writer Holly Martins (played perfectly by the always amazing Joseph Cotton) goes to post World War II Vienna for a job opportunity with an old friend Harry Lime (portrayed by Orson Welles). Though he doesn't know what the job is exactly he is excited for the chance. As he arrives he discovers that his childhood friend was killed by a car while crossing the street. Or so it seemed. However, a witness to the accident claims that there were three men that helped carry the body to the side of the road. Two friends of Lime's and a mysterious third man. Different reports abound which makes the whole incident sound suspicious. The police won't help since Lime is accused of being a racketeer of the worst kind so he embarks on his own to discover what happened including tracking down Lime's part time girlfriend Anna (played by the stunning Alida Valli) who he starts to fall for. Martins soon discovers that things are not as they seem and maybe his old friend wasn't who he thought he was.
The film is shot in such stark black and white and its use of shadows and cocked angles redefined many aspects of filmmaking. It's hard to look at it now and realize how fresh and new it was at the time since it has been used so much since. Plus shooting in post war Vienna with actual destroyed buildings gives it an authenticity. While aspects were shot on sound stages there is much that is shot on location which was not done too much at the time. And the bizarre yet amazing score by Anton Karas using his zither has become almost legendary. As the story goes Haras was hired to perform at a production party and when Reed heard the music he wanted it in the film. Originally as just a bit here and there but then decided he wanted Karas to do the entire score. And as anyone who knows me (at least when I get a phone call) the theme song is my ringtone on my iPhone.
Here is a clip of Anton Karas playing his mighty zither.
'The Third Man' is an amazing film and one that can really make you appreciate the art of cinema. I still remember the first time I watched it. I have seen the film numerous times over the years and luckily got to see it on the big screen as well. It was so great seeing a crowd show up for a film that is 50 years old. People of all ages were there. The magic of movies. Even all these years later people came out to see a classic on the big screen that most of them probably have on video at home.That's what great cinema can do.
A few pictures from the screening. Don't let the small image confuse you the screen at The Music Box is huge.
The organist played the theme before the film started. Beyond awesome.