Thursday, September 29, 2011

Movie – The Third Man (1949)

The Third Man is one of the three must see Orson Welles movies.  The other two are Citizen Kane (1941) and Touch of Evil (1958).  Unlike those two, Welles did not direct himself in The Third Man.  The movie was directed instead by Carol Reed and it stars Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane, Shadow of a Doubt, Gaslight.)  Also appearing are Alida Valli (Senso), Trevor Howard (Brief Encounter), and Bernard Lee (M from the first twelve James Bond movies.)

Cotten plays Holly Martins, a writer of pulp novels.  Martins has come to post-war Vienna in 1949 to meet his old friend Harry Lime.  Lime is not there to meet him at the train, though, so he heads into town.  When he arrives at Lime’s address, he finds out that his friend is dead and that the funeral is about to be held.  At the funeral there are only two men and a lovely woman (Valli) in attendance.  He doesn’t know any of them.

He is met by an Englishman named Calloway (Howard) who is a police officer in the British sector of Vienna.  Like Berlin, Vienna was separated into four zones controlled by the Americans, the Soviets, the British, and the French.  This has allowed for a thriving black market trade and for a criminal underground to flourish in the city since each sector might as well be its own world.  Calloway tells Martins that his friend Lime was no angel and in fact was involved in murder and racketeering.  Martins takes exception to this and another soldier named Paine (Lee) has to subdue him.  Martins swears that he is going to clear his old friend’s name.

He finds out who the people were at the funeral.  He discovers that the two men were there when Lime was killed.  He was struck by a truck, but before he died he told them about his friend Martins and also asked them to look after his girlfriend Anna, who was the woman at the funeral.  Martins asks more questions and he finds out that the truck was actually driven by Lime’s own driver.

When he talks with the doctor, though, he is told that Lime died instantly.  This contradicts what the other two men told him.  He also finds out that a porter actually witnessed the accident, but did not come forward because he didn’t want to get involved.  He tells Martins that there was “a third man” who helped with Lime’s body and that Lime was killed right away.  Martins quizzes the two men again and both deny that there was any third man.  They are startled to find out that there was a witness since the porter had not come forward before.  They also insist that Lime lived for a brief time before dying.  The more he finds out, the more Martins comes to believe that his friend was murdered, not the victim of an accident.

While this is going on, Martins has also tracked down Anna, Lime’s girlfriend.  She admits that Lime had helped her forge her papers so that she could stay in Austria.  If she is found out, she will get deported.  From her perspective, the fewer questions asked around her the better.  Martins finds himself falling for her, but she does not return the feelings.  She loved Lime and can’t imagine being with another man.

Martins continues to run into the British policemen and he tells them what he is finding out.  They continue to offer more information on what Lime was mixed up in.  Let’s just say it’s pretty bad.  Martins begins to wonder if he should continue to poke into his friend’s death.  He wonders if whether Lime’s murder might not have been justified and if it would just be best for everyone if he gave up and went home.  (Hint – that doesn’t happen.)

You’ll notice that I have not mentioned Orson Welles’ name since the opening paragraph.  To discuss him too much would be spoilers for the film.  If you are thinking he might have something to do with “the third man”, then you would be getting warm.

Welles was not always cooperative during filming.  Some of it was a hassle for the production, but it did produce something memorable – one of the great quotes of movie history.  Welles’ has sometimes claimed he wrote all his character’s dialogue, but that was not the case.  He adlibbed one scene and he wrote the following as his character’s way of justifying his actions:

“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 movie has some great suspense in it, as well as being a good murder mystery.  One warning – most reviews and articles on this movie reveal some big spoilers in regards to Welles’ character.  Just be cautious about reading up on it too much before seeing it. 

Curiously, both the British Film Institute (BFI) and the American Film Institute (AFI) list this movie as one of the top 100 films ever produced by their country.

One other note – the score for the movie received a lot of notice.  Why?  Because it was primarily performed on a zither.  Musician Anton Karas actually became famous after this movie came out.

I can’t really think of a reason to avoid this film, unless you have to have an “and they all lived happily ever after” ending on all your movies.  Other than that, this movie is highly recommended.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

[Note – you can see all the Movies by Numbers, as well as get some hints on what’s to come, at this link.]

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