Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Man Alive: The Third Man

Film noir at its absolute best. This is a poster movie for the genre and it is the perfect mystery flick, rivaling the likes of Orson Welles' great work Touch of Evil. Which is to say that Carol Reed is an outstanding director and can make a spectacular film. His film is a story of murder unlike most noir flicks, as it involves an American who is not a detective but actually an author of many westerns. This man is Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), and he comes to Vienna to see Harry Lime. When he arrives, he finds that Lime has been accidentally run over by a car. He hears this from a porter in Lime's building. He also meets a friend of Lime's, Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch), but he has a totally different story. When Martins hears this, he starts to become suspicious. He decides to dig deeper and meets Anna Schmidt (Valli), Lime's lover. At this point, most noirs tend to fall into romance, but this movie doesn't, as the relationship between Martins and Schmidt seems pretty business only. Anyways, the two interact and sort of flirt and go to see the porter again. How is this significant? Well, a little boy sees the porter and Martins arguing. When the porter ends up murdered the next day, he tells the police to go after Martins as he thinks he's the one. This ends up not really mattering, as the police are not really concerned with Martins. Meanwhile, Schmidt's passport is being checked and it is found that the passport is foraged and she must go back to Czechoslovakia. At this point, the movie is falling into the realm of a typical film noir, as it is just kind of only a whodunit. Enter Lime (Orson Welles), who steps out of the shadows and shakes things up. Significance? Lime has been giving out bad penicillin to hospital patients and deeply damaging their health conditions. So the police are after him. The only person Lime can trust is his good friend Holly, and this is the way that Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) wants to catch him. So Lime is chased into the sewers and is pursued in one of the best scenes in cinema history. Let me sum it up. The camerawork is masterful, the setting is priceless, and the possibilities are endless. Best of all, it actually makes Lime look human, as he is, in the end, defeated, as he is trying to crawl up through a sewer grate and is executed by his good friend Holly (in a nice Hitchcockian shot). Peter Bogdanovich said in a Criterion introduction for this film that color distracts the viewers from the beauty of a film. It especially applies to this scene. This long section in the sewers needs black and white to reveal its full potential. The rest of the film after this is a set of beautiful shots, especially a long shot of Schmidt walking briskly past Martins, rather than even say a word. It is totally priceless. Now to the technicalities: the acting is great. Cotton is not the most interesting of actors, but he does his job nicely. Anyways, he has Valli and Welles to help him. They both turn in great performances. The script is sharp, adapted by Graham Greene from his own novel. The cinematography is stellar, especially in the sewer sequence. And finally, the music ("The Third Man Theme", which plays throughout the movie, with Anton Karas on zither) is what it's all about. It is a genius composition and is perfect for this film. Bottom line: most film noir films fall into the same drowsy structure. But this great is alive, amplified, and one for the ages. A

No comments: