I follow many entertainment themed blogs here on WordPress. I recently discovered “Blog-a-thons”, which are a bunch of bloggers getting together and writing blogs based on a theme. While reading a blog by Moon in Gemini, I found out about the Blog-a-Thon that this blog is intended to be part of. I loved the whole idea for this event! I am sure that you have heard people tell you about how great a movie is. Maybe you have read review after review of what a masterpiece a certain movie is. How many of these “great” and “must see” movies have you just never seen??
I remember the American Film Institute’s TV special “100 Years – 100 Movies”, where they ranked the top 100 movies over the past 100 years. For this blog, I looked over the original list (AFI also did a 10 year anniversary list and some of the movies dropped from the list and new ones were added) and tried to decide which one to write about. The obvious choice was Citizen Kane. I know what you are thinking – “You have never seen the movie that AFI claims to be the #1 of all time?” Well, yes. Believe it or not, I have never seen this classic – however, I intended to watch it for this blog, but it was unavailable on Netflix.
I began to scroll down the list and check Netflix for one that was on my “to watch” list and kept coming up empty (which isn’t saying much for Netflix). Finally, I came across one that starred Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten called The Third Man. Without even knowing what the story was about, I was intrigued because of the stars. Joseph Cotten was in some great Suspense radio shows (The Pasteboard Box, The Day I Died, and The Thing in the Window) and in one of my favorite Hitchcock films “Shadow of a Doubt” and I love his acting. Orson Welles was – well, Orson Welles! How could this NOT be a great film!
The premise of this Blog-a-Thon was to find a film referred to as a classic, or great, or on a list of “the best” movies – watch it and then write about it. So, here now, is my blog on a truly great film – The Third Man.
The Third Man
The Third Man is a 1949 film that was written by British author Graham Greene and directed by Carol Reed. It is considered by many to be the greatest British film of all time, and in 1999, was voted the #1 British Film of the 20th Century by the British Film Institute. If you have not seen this movie yet – what follows may be spoilers. I encourage you to watch it and then return to this blog.
The film is set in post-World War II Vienna and centers on American Author Holly Martins (Cotton), who has come to take a job offered to him by his friend Harry Lime (Welles). Vienna, at the time, is divided into 4 zones (American, British, Russian, and French), but in the center of the city is international and policed by an international patrol. The various powers share the duty of law enforcement in the city.
When Holly arrives, he gets word that his friend was killed in an automobile accident and that his casket was taken only ten minutes ago to the cemetery. He attends the funeral and meets two British Army police officers – one who is a fan of his books and his superior who tells him that his friend, Lime, was a criminal and he should leave town. He also sees Anna, Harry’s girlfriend, at the funeral and begins to ask questions.
The movie progresses with Martins investigating the death of his friend. Right from the start, he senses something is not right. He begins to ask many questions and the answers only lead to more questions. From various people and witnesses, their answers to his questions often contradict the answers of others and this only leads Martins to want the truth about his friend.
The truth, as Holly finds out, is that his friend really is a terrible person. He is a criminal who has stolen penicillin from military hospitals and is selling it (diluted) on the black market. The penicillin is diluted so much that many patients, including children, have died (or are dying). Once he finds this out, he decides to leave Vienna.
Holly visits Anna, Harry’s girlfriend, to say goodbye (Holly has fallen for her). While there, he finds out that she has been aware of all that he was doing, but she still cares about him. When Martins leaves Anna’s place, he notices someone watching him from a dark doorway. He begins yelling to the figure and wakes up a neighbor. The light from the neighbor’s window briefly reveals that the figure is none other than Harry Lime – alive. After chasing him in the dark, he loses him and goes to the police. He brings them to where he lost Harry and the police notice an entry to the sewer system. Harry, obviously, escaped by going underground.
Holly goes to see Harry’s friend Baron Kurtz and demands to see Harry. They obviously know he is still alive and he wants to talk with him. They meet at the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris Wheel (which remains a huge tourist attraction today) and take a ride. While the ride is in progress, Holly confronts Harry about what he has done. We see just how evil Harry is here as he refers to the people on the ground as dots, saying “Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?” Harry also indirectly threatens Holly’s life, but he then learns that the police are well aware that his death and funeral were faked. He offers Holly the chance to work with him and tells him to get in touch with him if he is interested.
The police ask Holly to help lure Harry out so he can be arrested and tried for his crimes. Holly says he will if they will assure Anna’s safe travel out of Vienna (she is being deported). Holly is waiting for Harry in a café, when Anna arrives. She is still loyal to Harry and warns him before he can be captured. He escapes the café and heads to the sewers again hoping to elude police. This time, however, there are police from all four divisions covering the sewers. In some gunplay, Harry kills a policeman and is also badly injured after being shot. Holly grabs the policeman’s revolver and goes after Harry. When he reaches him, there is hesitation. Harry looks at him and nods. A shot is then heard. Harry is dead.
The movie comes full circle. It begins with Holly attending Harry’s funeral, and now ends with him attending it again. The closing scene is one of the most powerful I have seen. Holly is due to fly out of Vienna and the police are going to drive him to the airport. They pass Anna, who is walking, and Holly asks them to let him out of the car long after they pass her. Holly waits for Anna to speak with her. We see Anna walking toward him for what seems like forever….she walks past him and never speaks a word. She ignores him.
I was impressed by the movie visually. The film is filled with the sense of gloominess. The use of shadows and the contrast of light and dark only enhanced the scenes. The scenery – the shots of the bombed out streets and buildings, the indoor shots and shots of the sewer system were just perfect. The viewer is forced into this war-torn desolate environment.
I loved the twists and turns of the plot. Who is telling the truth? Who is lying? Just what is going on here? It was almost like watching a Perry Mason mystery – in that you just didn’t know who to believe. There was plenty of suspense and thrills along the way. The characters were believable I found it held up to the hype.
One thing that makes this movie so unique is the use of what is called “Dutch-angle” camera shots. These are where the camera shoots a scene on an angle, so the picture on screen is slanted. Some of them are almost shot from the ground looking up (a scene with Cotton and a spiral staircase behind him is one that really sticks out). This technique was used frequently in the 1966 Batman TV show as the producer always shot the villains of the show using this angle.
One thing that really sticks with me is that Orson Welles doesn’t even show up on screen until about an hour into it. Even though he isn’t onscreen, his presence is still felt throughout the picture – I’d go so far as to say he still dominates it even in his absence. Orson was obviously known for directing many movies, and while this films feels like he directed it, he didn’t. He is brilliant in the role of Harry and many consider this one of his finest performances. In true Welles fashion, he wrote the famous Cuckoo Clock speech that he delivers to Holly himself.
As I mentioned already, the ending is VERY powerful. What is seen on screen is NOT what was originally was intended. In the novella by Graham Green, Anna and Holly walk “side by side and begin a new life together”. In the film, however, Anna walks past Holly and ignores him. She doesn’t pause, doesn’t look at him, doesn’t say a word to him, or even gesture to him. He has betrayed her and killed her lover. She walks ahead staring ahead, walking out of his life and abandoning him forever. Greene wanted the happy ending, but director Carol Reed opted for the one you see on film. Greene wrote, “One of the very few major disputes between Carol Reed and myself concerned the ending, and he has been proven triumphantly right.”
I want to thank Moon in Gemini for the amazing idea for this Blog-a-thon. This event has reminded me of the list of movies that I have been meaning to watch or recommended to me by friends. This event has made me want to go back to the AFI list of “Top 100” movies and watch others that have been on my “to watch” list for way too long. I hope that this will be an annual event and I will look forward to participating again.
I am posting this blog a few days early. To read some of the other blogs that are participating in this event (11-16 through 11-18) – you can click on the link to Moon in Gemini’s original announcement here:
I would also like to encourage you to glance over the AFI list of Top 100 movies and check out for yourself some of these films. Today, we are flooded with movies that are remakes, based on a lame TV show, or just a rehashing of an old idea. Take a look at this list and enjoy some of the finest films ever made! Here is the link to the films:
Thanks for reading!