Saturday, November 14, 2020

Stubs - The Third Man

The Third Man (1949) Starring: Joseph Cotten, Valli (Alida Valli), Orson Welles, Trevor Howard Directed by Carol Reed. Screenplay by Graham Greene. Produced by Carol Reed. Run time: 105 minutes. UK/US Black and White Suspense, Film Noir

After World War II, Vienna, Austria, like Berlin, was sub-divided into zones controlled by the Allied Forces: the US, the UK, the USSR and France. It is in this divided city that the film The Third Man takes place. The city is described in the film’s opening narration, as read by Carol Reed, as “in the classic period of the black market. We'd run anything if people wanted it enough and had the money to pay. Of course, a situation like that does tempt amateurs but, well, you know, they can't stay the course like a professional.”

Originally conceived by Graham Greene, based on a story idea of seeing a man thought dead on the street, British filmmaker Alexander Korda wanted to make the film but have it set in Vienna because of its state after the War. British and American air raids, and artillery duels between the Red Army and the SS and Wehrmacht, crippled infrastructure, such as tram services and water and power distribution, and destroyed or damaged thousands of public and private buildings.

Korda partnered with American Producer David O. Selznick, who wanted a hand in the casting. Selznick originally wanted Cary Grant to play Holly Martins and Noel Coward to play Harry Lime. Korda apparently vetoed those choices. Korda wanted Orson Welles for the part of Lime, but Selznick countered with the suggestion of Robert Mitchum, whose fame had only risen in the wake of his arrest for marijuana possession in 1948. Selznick, in one of his famous memos, wrote that Welles “would not add a dollar to gross.” However, Mitchum’s jail sentence made him unavailable. Welles, who was broke and needed money for his own production of Othello, agreed to play the role.

After all four occupying forces agreed, filming began on the streets of Vienna in November 1948, ending on December 11, 1948. Some use was made of the Sievering Studios facilities in the city before production then moved to the Worton Hall Studios in Isleworth and Shepperton Studios near London. Filming was completed in March 1949 and the film released in London on September 1, 1949. The US release would come on February 2, 1950, after Selznick would trim about 11 minutes from the film and replace Reed’s narration with one by Cotten. The film watched for this review was the longer British version with Reed’s narration.

A writer of pulp Westerns, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives in post-war Vienna. Penniless, Martins has come to the city at the invitation of his old friend Harry Lime, who has offered him a job.

At Harry Lime's funeral, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) makes the passing
acquaintance of a British officer, Major Calloway (Trevor Howard).

When Holly arrives at Harry’s apartment, he is told by the porter (Paul Hoerbiger) that his friend had died only a few days before, killed in a car crash. Holly rushes to the cemetery, where he finds Harry’s funeral already in progress. There he makes the passing acquaintance of a British officer, Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), part of the International police running the city. He also notices a woman at the funeral, whom he would later learn was Anna Schmidt (Valli), an actress and Harry’s lover.

At the funeral, Holly also notices Anna Schmidt (Valli), Harry's lover.

After the funeral, Calloway offers Holly a ride into the city. They meet up with Sgt. Paine (Bernard Lee), Calloway’s right-hand man and, as it turns out, a fan of Holly’s work. That, however, doesn’t stop him from striking Holly when in a drunken state. He threatens Calloway after being told that Harry was a notorious racketeer. Holly is not arrested, but Calloway insists that he must leave the city the next morning. He sets him up at a military hotel. Paine introduces him to Crabbin (Wilfred Hyde-White), the head of the Cultural Reeducation Society, who takes him for a more prestigious novelist and offers to pay for his stay in Vienna if he will speak at one of their meetings.

In an effort to entice him, Crabbin tells him of other events they’ve hosted:

Crabbin: We do a little show each week. Last week we had "Hamlet." The week before we had... something.

Sgt. Paine: The striptease, sir.

Crabbin: Yes, the Hindu dancers. Thank you, sergeant.

Seeing that as an opportunity to stay longer in the city and to prove Major Calloway wrong about his assertions that Harry, Holly agrees to the talk.

Holly soon receives a call from "Baron" Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch), who identifies himself as a friend of Harry and arranges to meet him at a café. Kurtz describes Harry's accident and mentions that Harry's Romanian friend Popescu was also present when Harry died. Holly inquires about the beautiful woman he saw at the funeral and learns that she is an actress at the Josefstadt Theatre. He tells Holly that before he died, Harry had given him instructions about Holly and Anna.

Anna agrees to meet Holly after her show.

Back at the hotel, rather than taking the airplane ticket from Paine, Holly asks the concierge to get him tickets to the theatre. The production is in German and you can see that Holly is bored by the production. However, he does see Anna in the troupe and manages to speak with her backstage briefly during the performance, identifying himself as a friend of Harry’s. She agrees to meet him after the show.

Anna tells him that Harry's personal physician, Dr. Winkel, happened to show up at the scene of the accident, and that the man behind the wheel of the car was actually Harry's driver. She expresses her suspicion that Harry's death was not accidental and accompanies Holly to Harry's apartment to question the porter.

The porter didn’t actually see the accident, but only heard it and looked out the window afterward. Contrary to Kurtz's account, the porter says that Harry was killed at once, adding that an unidentified third man was present and helped carry the body. Rather than bring him into the house, they had carried him across the road.

The landlady (Hedwig Bleibtreu) warns Anna that the police are searching her apartment.

Holly escorts Anna back to her apartment, where they are warned by the landlady (Hedwig Bleibtreu) that the police are searching her room. When they get there, they find Calloway and members of the international police force going through her things. Calloway confiscates Anna's identification papers, which seem to be and are forged, along with love letters from Harry, and takes her to the police station.

 Sgt. Paine (Bernard Lee) finds love letters from Harry in Anna's things.

There, he questions her about Josef Harbin, an associate of Lime’s and an employee of a military hospital who recently disappeared. She is of no help and is eventually released.

Harry's "medical adviser" Dr. Winkel (Erich Ponto).

Meanwhile, Holly visits Lime's "medical adviser", Dr. Winkel (Erich Ponto), who says that he arrived at the accident after Lime was dead and insists only two men were there.

Sigfried Breuer is Popescu in The Third Man.

After Anna is released, she and Holly go to a nightclub, where Kurtz works as a violinist. There Kurtz introduces them to Popescu (Sigfried Breuer) whom he had earlier been told had left Vienna. Holly relates what the porter told him about the third man.

The next day, Holly returns to the scene of the crash and the porter sees him. He calls down that he has more to tell him. He asks Holly to return later that night after his wife has gone. However, as soon as he makes the appointment, the porter discovers that he is not alone.

The next evening, Holly and Anna arrive to talk to the porter again, but as they approach the building, they see it is a police scene. Anna wants to leave and not get involved, but Holly insists. The neighbors relate to them that the porter has been murdered. For some reason, the crowd believes Holly is involved in the murder and turn hostile. He and Anna manage to flee just ahead of the mob.

When Holly returns to his hotel, he thinks he is taking a cab to police headquarters, but instead is taken directly to Crabbin's cultural institute. The badly shaken Holly stumbles through his guest appearance at the literary salon. Popescu enters and asks about Holly's next book. He says that it will be called The Third Man, "a murder story" inspired by facts. Popescu tells Martins that he should stick to fiction. When Holly sees two thugs with Popescu approaching him, he flees.

Holly goes to see Calloway, who tells him about Vienna's Black Market for penicillin, explaining that racketeers often increase their profits by diluting the drug, which has disastrous medical effects. Calloway shows Holly evidence about Harry’s involvement and discusses that Harbin worked for Harry, stealing penicillin from laboratories, and shows Holly the evidence his men have collected implicating Harry and Kurtz.

Holly is appalled by his friend's actions and goes to Anna and tells her that he is planning to return to the United States. He also admits that he has strong feelings for her, which she doesn’t reciprocate.

Holly loses Harry in the deserted streets of Vienna.

After leaving Anna's apartment, Holly notices a man standing across the street in the shadows. He thinks it is someone from the police tailing him and dares the man to come out into the open. When a neighbor, irate about the noise, opens a window, the light falls across the face of Harry Lime (Orson Welles), who disappears before Holly can reach him. Holly takes chase, but loses Harry in the deserted streets.

Holly summons Calloway, who retraces Harry's escape route and discovers an abandoned news kiosk leading underground to the main sewer, which he surmises was Harry’s escape route. Calloway has Harry's coffin exhumed and the body inside turns out to be Harbin's.

Holly arranges a meeting with Harry at the amusement park.

Using Kurtz as an intermediary, Holly arranges a meeting with Harry at the amusement park Ferris wheel. Harry dismisses Holly's moral outrage about the penicillin racket. While he professes to still believe in God, Harry tells Holly, “I believe in God and Mercy and all that. But the dead are happier dead. They don't miss much here, poor devils.” He warns his old friend to stop talking to the police and even overtly threatens him by opening the door to the box they’re in and telling Holly that no one would look for a bullet hole after a fall like that. Even with that, Harry reiterates his job offer to Holly is still open if he wants it.

Harry (Orson Welles) threatens Holly while they are on the Ferris Wheel.

When Harry leaves, he delivers one of the most oft-quoted speeches from the film.

Harry Lime: Don't be so gloomy. After all, it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long, Holly.

Undeterred, Holly goes to the police and offers to help them capture Harry in exchange for Anna’s safe passage out of Vienna, who is about to be arrested by the Russians. Her forged passport has hidden her true identity as a Russian.

Holly watches from a distance as Sgt. Paine delivers her to the station and sets her up on the train. However, before the train pulls away, Anna spies Holly in the station’s café and gets off the train to confront him. Figuring out what is going on, Anna furiously rejects the deal.

Calloway takes Holly to a children's hospital to show him the result of Harry's criminality.

Holly wants to quit, but Calloway takes him to the children's hospital to show him children dying of meningitis that had been treated using Lime's diluted penicillin. Heartsick over what he sees, Holly agrees to act as a decoy to capture Harry.

Harry enters the café through the backdoor.

While waiting for hours for Harry at a café, Holly is joined by Anna, who berates him for working for the police, who, unbeknownst to her, have the place surrounded. Watching her enter the café, Calloway sends Paine over to investigate. Just then, Harry, who has been watching from afar, enters through the backdoor just as Paine arrives at the front. Anna warns him and he escapes.

Harry tries to escape through the sewers, but can't find
an unguarded manhole to escape through.

With the law gathering around him, Harry once again tries to escape through the sewers. However, at every manhole, more police join the hunt. As the police tighten their noose around him, Harry reveals himself and shoots and kills Sgt. Paine. Calloway manages to wound Harry before he can get away.

Holly follows Harry and eventually kills him.

While the police attend to Paine, Holly slips away. He finds Harry trying to crawl up the stairs to a sewer grate in the street. Calloway calls out to Holly to be careful and to shoot to kill. With a wounded Harry giving him permission, that’s what Holly does.

At the end of the film, Anna walks past Calloway without speaking to him.

After Harry's real funeral, Calloway is taking Holly to the airport. On the way, they pass Anna, who walks by herself. Holly can’t leave without speaking to her and, at the risk of missing his flight out of Vienna, he asks Calloway to let him out of the jeep. Calloway drives away while Holly waits for Anna, who silently walks away down a long, tree-lined avenue. She ignores Holly as she walks past.

The Austrian sewers shot by cinematographer Robert Krasker.

To begin a discussion about The Third Man, I feel compelled to talk about the cinematography of Robert Krasker, who, born in Egypt, was an Australian. He came to London and worked for Korda at his London Films. The first film he shot was as a director of photography on The Gentle Sex (1943), directed by Leslie Howard. He worked on Reed’s Odd Man Out (1947). His work on The Third Man shows the influence of Film noir and German Expressionism with the use of deep shadows. His work in the Austrian sewers must have been an achievement all on its own. He would win an Academy Award for his work on the film, the first Australian, and the only one until 1990, to do so.

That said, as good as the sewer chase looks, it is reminiscent of the final sequence of He Walked by Night (1948), which ends with a very similar escape attempt through the sewers of Los Angeles. The scene here is more elaborate but not necessarily ground-breaking.

As great as the cinematography is, the film’s use of Zither music played by Anton Karas almost undercuts the film’s drama and, in some cases, rather than complimenting the action, overwhelms it. Music should be used sparingly and if you ever need proof, look no further than this film.

The film is considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made in England. In 1999, the British Film Institute voted it as such. A more recent poll, in 2015 by Time Out magazine, found it had slipped to number two behind Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973).

Bosley Crowther, film critic at The New York Times, wasn’t as effusive, though he was very complimentary. “For the simple fact is that 'The Third Man,' for all the awesome hoopla it has received, is essentially a first-rate contrivance in the way of melodrama—and that's all. It isn't a penetrating study of any European problem of the day (except that it skirts around black-markets and the sinister anomalies of 'zones'). It doesn't present any 'message.' It hasn't a point of view. It is just a bang-up melodrama, designed to excite and entertain. In the light of the buzz about it, this is something we feel you should know. Once it is understood clearly, there is no need for further asides.”

Like Crowther, I agree that all the actors do a great job with their roles. Joseph Cotten and Trevor Howard do deserve special praise. Cotten seems to excel at playing offbeat Americans in over their heads in life. His Holly Martins blunders his way through this film, eventually finding truth but not finding love. Howard’s Calloway is a multi-dimensional character who doesn’t seem to hold a grudge as he, too, wants to find out the truth and do the right thing, even when everything seems to work against it.

I particularly liked the performance of Bernard Lee as Sgt. Paine. Even though he is a minor character you get a real sense of his being. He is a simple man with simple tastes, but not afraid to engage everyone he comes into contact with despite their social standings. I really liked the character and, like Holly, was mad when he was killed.

Orson Welles doesn’t appear in the film for the first hour-plus and while he always seems to dominate the scenes he’s in, it sometimes seems that his mere presence almost works to shadow his talent. At the same time, it is one of those roles that you can’t imagine another actor doing. Korda was right to ignore Selznick’s casting suggestions.

I had never seen Valli in a film before. An Italian actress, she would appear in over 100 films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case (1947). She would also work with Fred MacMurray and Frank Sinatra in The Miracle of the Bells (1948), as well as Cotten in Walk Softly, Stranger (1950). She worked in Hollywood for Selznick but couldn’t stand his strict rules. She got her contract's rescission, though with the payment of a high penalty from her part, and returned to Europe. One her last films was Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 (1976) with her final appearance in Semana Santa (2002).

Her Anna is a complicated character who loves a man despite his many shortcomings. She is always true to herself and the film ignores the standard Hollywood ending, with her character ignoring Holly as he waits for her.

The credit for that goes to the script by Grahame Green and the direction of Carol Reed. Green, perhaps better remembered for his novels than his scripts, writes a very good script here and one that is oftentimes quite quotable. It should be noted that while the Swiss get the blame in the screenplay for Cuckoo Clocks, they are actually a German invention.

As good as the script is, the film belongs to Carol Reed, one of the greatest and least talked about directors to ever work. His first film was It Happened in Paris (1935) but he hit his stride in the late 1940s with Odd Man Out (1947), The Fallen Idol (1948), and The Third Man. He would be nominated as Best Director for both The Fallen Idol and The Third Man before winning for the musical Oliver! (1968). As Crowther states, “top credit must go to Mr. Reed for molding all possible elements into a thriller of super consequence.”

I would strongly recommend The Third Man to anyone who is a fan of film noir, British cinema or just good films. The movie manages to hold your interest throughout and despite the over-reliance on Zither music, the drama still cuts through. This is a masterwork of filmmaking and deserves to be seen. If you have a chance to see it, take the opportunity. You should not be disappointed.

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