Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Third Man (1949)


Note: Due to the nature of the film this review may contain spoilers

When broke American cowboy novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives in post World War 2 Austria to work for his childhood friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) he finds Lime has died in an accident just a few days earlier. Not trusting cops Martins launches his own investigation, and when he finds out some things just don't add up he begins to wonder was it an accident at all.

Lots of times when I go back to watch thrillers everyone tells me are essential I find them dull, dragging, and boring. The Third Man is one of those films that's none of the above, and delivers a very captivating story that's likely to really hit you in the gut. Filled with hard headed characters and moral ambiguity The Third Man possesses no real central focus, and collective of anti-heroes of which grow on you but are never really likable. Even Martins' self righteous, anti-cop nature forces us to follow him in curiosity but never really care for him. His backstory is left a bit cold, and I have to say that's probably because in the realm of the story Martins isn't that important.

While played brilliantly by Cotten the film's real character is that of Lime. Ironic considering Lime takes up all of maybe 15 minutes of the film in terms of actual screen time, but his actions and life are the product of hundreds of conversations. By the time we actually first see Lime and the events of his death unfold we know more about him than any character we've spent the last hour with. As such Orson Welles is ironically asked to deliver the powerful blows that really tie everything together. Lime's long time girlfriend Anna (Alida Valli) also provides a unique balance to the character, and helps to show us the true nature of Lime, whether he was a good or evil man. In this respect each character introduced provides a new look at the life of Lime, how he treats those around him, and who he really cares about.

The film's infamous Ferris Wheel scene surely lives up to the hype with a brilliant conversational moment that really grabs at your moral center. "Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?" Such a dark and insightful moment, it's definitely going down as one of the all time great speech moments. In my opinion up with the contender scene from On the Waterfront as it is delivered so fantastically. It seems apparent to me as well that Reed knew this was a highlight scene, spending much of the time building up to it.

Once the scene occurs, everything comes into light and The Third Man enters its final act. A captivating chase scene threw the sewers of Viennes. Greene and Reed work together to make this work, even substituting some action in favor of character finale, with an ending that really just works on so many levels. It's not hard to see why this film is so well beloved by fans of cinema, it's by all accounts got everything. The murder, intrigue, moral decisions, all are allowed to resonate with the viewer, making it easily memorable and full of excitement and thrills.

A captivating, memorable, and morally powerful thriller, The Third Man has something for everyone, and that's always the staple of a classic.

1 better thoughts:

FilmFather said...

One of my all-time favorite films, from the first time I saw it.

And I'll say it to anyone who'll listen: The true glue of The Third Man is Trevor Howard’s Major Calloway. His dialogue is crisp, clever, and occasionally hilarious. Why Howard didn’t get an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actor is beyond me.

Related Posts with Thumbnails