Mon Apr 21, 2014 8:35 pm
The Third Man remains one of the best and most revered British movies of all-time -- it's certainly a favourite of mine. Although it's difficult to imagine this film being anything less than an unqualified success, given the credentials it boasted on the way to cinema screens. Even with a typically uncooperative Orson Welles in the film's central role, as Harry Lime. A role he took for the cash, given his financial situation at the time. But $100,000 was great money for any actor in 1949. Still, every aspect of The Third Man works brilliantly -- from the unusual, but highly distinctive, zither score, to the alluring title sequence, the mystery established in the first act and the eventual appearance of Harry Lime, whose on-screen reveal under a doorway lamp is one of the most captivating and memorable introductions of any character in any film. Graham Greene's story is first-rate, of course, whilst Carol Reed directed with a real cinematic eye met with documentary style touches that truly establish a feeling of place and time. Filming on location in Vienna certainly helped matters in that regard, and although Joseph Cotten tightly holds the narrative together and helps establish a real sense of mystery in his hunt for the third man, it's Welles' enigmatic performance that stands out despite the relative brevity of his screen time. The ferris wheel monologue is unforgettable and the final act, in which the sewers become Lime's prison, alter his perspective from the larger than life, smirking, smart-mouthed cipher of his first scenes, to a wounded dog, shrinking in the dark and incarcerated behind the iron railings that stand substitute for a jail cell. It's brilliant cinema and engrossing movie-making no matter how often one sees this film. Yet here was Orson Welles, perhaps at the height of his powers, hugely revered, able to find work and court great roles, but in need of money. His good friend, Frank Sinatra, would have similar problems a few years later despite his success in Hollywood, yet Elvis (in respect to discussions on a few other threads just now) never had such problems. Even at the nadir of his career, Elvis was under contract and in anticipation of huge salaries.
Mon Apr 21, 2014 9:23 pm
Thanks for the post, greystoke. As always, a great summary.
greystoke wrote:(...) Carol Reed directed with a real cinematic eye met with documentary style touches that truly establish a feeling of place and time. Filming on location in Vienna certainly helped matters in that regard (...)
Yes, that's one of the things that are most attractive about this film.
And Joseph Cotten's work is unforgettable too, as it was in "Citizen Kane". What a fine actor.
No matter how many times I watch "The Third Man", I never get tired of it.
Tue Apr 22, 2014 2:25 pm
Cotten was such an unassuming but effective actor, who never seemed to chew the scenery, but always brought the right presence and understanding to his roles. He was clearly an intelligent actor who gave intelligent performances, and because of that it's usually easy to get inside the characters he played. Even unlikeable types, such as the lascivious and unstable George Loomis, in Niagara, or the blatantly evil Uncle Charlie, in Shadow of a Doubt. We don't like these characters, and aren't on their side, but his approach allows us to understand their complexities and follow them with intrigue and piqued interest. Working with Hitchcock surely didn't hurt matters, but Cotten was most versatile without letting on to how very able he was.