Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Third Man (1949)


Upon arriving in post-WW2 Austria, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) learns quickly the friend he was coming to work for, Harry Lime (Orsen Welles) has been killed in an accident only just before his arrival. Hard pressed by the cops for information, Martins begins to suspect there is more going on than meets the eyes.

I don't give out 9's often. In fact for a first viewing, my rule of thumb is not too, unless an absolute masterpiece was witnessed. For the first viewing of The Third Man I hopped into the 8.5 train for my scoring. My main complaint of the time, as I remember it, was a lulling first half out-weighed by a brilliant finale. Upon my revisiting the film, now having given an appropriate intermediate downtime, I can easily say the movie has definitely improved in my eyes.

The opening, and slow developing, portion felt more like a whimsical mystery as our guide, Martins, took names, numbers, and just about everything else, to solve this crime. It's an old school noir flair, caught up in Cotton's natural charm. And, thanks in part to a great writeup from Dark of the Matinee, I began to notice certain technical approaches the film takes to create this vibe. It's dark, mysterious, perfect for black and white. While at the same time alluring, appealing, and frantic.

Much like our Mr. Lime, the movie is always a little bit tilted. The dark surroundings, countered by the heavy character lighting, present a unique, and sharply split world, for the viewer. Supported by speeches that exasperate the moral center, to this day I still haven't shaken the infamous power of the Ferris Wheel conversations (first on the ride then as they come off it). These two sequences of lingual amazement shape the very moral question, at the heart of the film. Thrust at the viewer, forcing them to ask "is this humanity?" Cotton, in this case, must now become the focal point for our morality. That's where the final act gets its gusto.

I love the final act of The Third Man. I could talk about it all day long. Though, despite this second viewing, I still feel the setup is lacking. Perhaps it's a bit too much male toughness, and not enough heart. Cotton's Martin develops well, but starts off one note, and cliche. The witty tough guy, riddled with courage. I enjoy the caricature, but not enough to become overly in love with it. Though I have an aching feeling that fact will change in time. As, invariably, my tastes change. Who knows when that will happen, but I really feel as time goes on this movie will slowly move itself towards my top 100 films list.

As for its inclusion in the 1001 films to see before you die collection, it's undoubtedly justified. In fact, one could go as far as to say you're begging to be hated if you don't include it. A staple of its genre, and a personification of technical, and colloquy (for those who love their remarks bound in intellect), achievement. The Third Man is the kind of film that attracts film students like a mosquito to a flashlight. It's got all the appeal you could ever dare want. And, when it comes down to it, that's a powerful thing to have.

On some level I'm definitely glad I warmed up more to The Third Man. Noticing some of its stronger technical achievements, really got me into the mood more for this moral thriller. And when a movie has the power to suck you into its world through style and substance... Well, that's just a rare gift, few films manage.

2 better thoughts:

The Mad Hatter said...

Well said! Very proud to hear how much this episode has gained in your opinion, though I dare say if any film deserved a ten out of you...this would be the one.

Who knows, maybe after you watch it a third or fourth time!

Great piece on a great flick sir.

Univarn said...

@Mad perhaps because it so often gets that 10, I'm a more strict judge. I mean, I have some weak films getting a 10 because I just enjoy them so much (Hunt For Red October = prime example, but I can't help myself).

Really, this may age better, but such a strong finale, I can't overlook the eh first portion I'm not yet sold on.

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