Keswick Film Club - Reviews - The Third Man

Reviews - The Third Man

The Third Man

Reviewed By John Porter

The Third Man
The Third Man
Tuesday's Alhambra was treated to a pristine new restoration of Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949) in the first of a series of classic movie screenings to complement the usual Sunday programme. Vienna is a city of past glories, far from the "Strauss music, glamour, and easy charm", that a British accent (that of Reed himself) reels out as our introduction.

As the plot unfolds in a lattice of shadows, the alleyways and piazzas are twisted into a strange, almost deserted landscape of complex friendships and strained moralites. From the off-kilter cinematography and bizarre zither score through the conflicting tales of death and survival, Reed weaves a labyrinth of half-truths and confusions, both stylistically and within his narrative. Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) is an American hack writer arriving in town to discover that his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) has died in what appears to be a well choreographed accident.

However the mystery is never merely a simple mystery of plot, deepening into one of character, namely that of Lime. Hearing of the man’s deeds through the accounts of others, whether it be his girlfriend, schoolmate, business partner, or nemesis, crafts Lime's figure as one closer to the position of myth than reality. 'Creating' Harry Lime in this way is then followed through to a beautifully realised climax as he is revealed to be still alive: A single shaft of light thrown through shadow from a high window across the face of Orson Welles. And what is Noir if not painting with light and dark? The simplicity and subtle restraint of Reed's technique in this moment, coupled with the sly, boyish grin of Welles sums up the essence of the movie.
The Third Man falls as a prime example of the classic Noir, yet always slightly adrift from the American bulk of the genre. It is urban, yet not familiarly; its deeds are often brutal, yet the atmosphere and characters hold an aching romanticism and pathos. Below the physical beauty of the film, real emotional conflicts drive the story to its conclusion: Fingers moving like grass through a sewer grate, and a woman walking through falling leaves past a man who has killed both her lover and his best friend.

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