The Third Man - 1949
Carol Reed directed and Graham Greene wrote this British film noir classic. Stars Joseph Cotten (1941’s Citizen Kane, 1953’s Niagara) as Holly, an American writer moving to post-war Vienna after his childhood-friend, Harry Limes, offers him a job. Minutes after reaching Vienna, he learns that Harry died earlier that day. Holly decides to stay in Vienna and learn the truth behind his friend’s mysterious death.
The Third Man score is so much fun and helped keep the tone upbeat, despite having a crime theme. From the opening credit to the very last scene, the score comes and goes and it perfectly bookmarks the story arch of Holly in Vienna. I know I will have this score playing in my head as I do the dishes, getting dressed in the morning and walking the dog. If you don’t want that curse cast upon you, skip the video below, for the rest please enjoy below.
Before I move on to the story and the acting, I must gush over the editing. This movie didn’t waste a single transition. Utilizing quick-cuts, montages or creative segue into the next scene always keeping the audience on their toes and pushing the plot forward. While I enjoy a classic Star Wars swipe-left as much as the next guy, I love when a director puts an extra effort into his transitions. Below is the best example I could find to showcase this movie’s creative transitions.
The clip above leads me in perfectly into my next point (talk about a segue!), Orson Welles’ introduction. Throughout the entire movie, there is the mystery of a “third man” that was there when Harry died. The movie effectively sells you on his mystery and as an audience member when you see that man hiding in the dark, you immediately make the connection. Holly sees the man from a far and starts yelling at him to come out of the dark to no avail. As Holly continues to scream at him, the light from an upstairs apartment shines down on the man’s face, acting as a spotlight. Here we are the first seconds of Welles’s character and we already know what type of man he is. He stares at Holly and offers him a lone smirk, nothing else is needed. With the score faintly playing in the background and Holly’s realization of who the man in the shadows is, this is by far one of the best character introductions I have ever seen.
Welles confidence oozes from the screen and it grows with each line delivered. I was completely transfixed with his performance and his line delivery. Despite him not being on screen for the majority of the movie’s run time, he was my stand-out. I must admit that he benefits from the first half of the movie being a build-up from the rest of the characters talking about him, but Welles doesn’t fail to deliver.
Along with a great score and an amazing editing job, The Third Man benefits from an impeccable black and white cinematography. The use of shadows throughout this movie is flat-out impressive. The shadows used to hide a character or to highlight them, like they do during the final chase scene. Welles is running from the British police and the chase leads him into the sewers. Direct Reed placed the lights behind his actors to create a menacing presence within the sewers that where closing on Welles. There are multiple shots of the shadows growing as the police officers get closer to catching him. They are sold with the desperation on Welles face as he also sees them grow closer to him.
Before I give my closing remarks, I cannot write a review of The Third Man and not mention the ending. This ending doesn’t spoil the movie for does who haven’t watched it. We have been conditioned on getting a happy ending, especially if our hero has a love interest in the movie. The writer knew what his audience expected from this scene and flipped it on its head. He places the love interest far in the distance walking towards the camera and our hero waiting for her right in front of it. The moment builds up as she gets closer to him and without hesitation she doesn’t look his way and continues to walk. I can’t put it to words what this ending made me feel, it was beautifully sad and I don’t want to spoil why.
The Third Man is a great black and white noir, something that is sadly missing from Hollywood today. This movie has everything from a great story, interesting characters, unique musical score and fast paste writing. I couldn’t and wouldn’t look for thing to nitpick about this movie. The most important dialogue between two characters is a nod of agreement and that’s why I love movies.
The Third Man is currently streaming on Netflix, watch it.
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