Blog Directory CineVerse: A man for all thirds

A man for all thirds

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Analyzing Carol Reed's magnificent "The Third Man" is a bit like peeling an onion: you're bound to uncover layer after layer of substance. And such was the case with our film discussion group upon evaluating this timeless picture. Highlights of our dissection are as follows:

WHAT IS NOTABLE ABOUT THIS FILM STYLISTICALLY AND ESTHETICALLY IN REGARDS TO VISUALS, MUSIC AND ATMOSPHERE?
·       It’s offers a very expressive lighting scheme evocative of film noir, featuring high contrast lighting and a exaggerated shadows in a gritty urban environment. It is this lighting style that makes possible arguably the most famous onscreen introduction of a character in motion picture history—the shot when Harry is revealed in the dark doorway.
·       The film puts us off-kilter with canted (tilted) camera angles utilized for many shots.
·       The filmmakers also use wide angle lens distortions and extreme facial close ups to further purport this world of strange, suspicious characters.
·       It’s shot on location in postwar Vienna, which is bombed out, in rubble, and suffering from real decay and corruption; while the actors are obvious, the nonactor native extras lend an air of authenticity to the proceedings.
·       The zither music soundtrack feels jaunty and playful, but also mockingly shrill at times, as if revealing an undercurrent of pessimism, action about to erupt and irony. There is no other orchestral music of any kind—only a zither score played consistently throughout most of the picture.

WHAT THEMATIC ELEMENTS ARE AT PLAY HERE? WHAT ARE THE MESSAGES ESPOUSED BY “THE THIRD MAN”?
·       Moral corruption and moral hypocrisy: Lime personifies the morally reprehensible black market forces that erupted in postwar Europe that unscrupulously profited from other people’s suffering; and yet Lime’s speech about ‘would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?’ resonates in that period, which followed the mass killing of millions of people via bombings from Axis and Allied forces. As Philip Kerr put it in his Criterion Collection essay, “What’s the difference between what (Lime has) done and what (the warring countries) did?”
·       Anti-American sentiment in Europe following the war: Holly is a symbol of the United States and how our country was perceived in postwar Europe. Consider how foolish, clumsy and na├»ve Holly is; he’s a personage of ridicule who is, as Village Voice critic Steve Hoberman states it, “blamed for a murder, followed in the street, hijacked by a cab driver, and repeatedly rebuffed by Anna (who can never remember his name). Such as the burdens of world leadership.” Hoberman added that the script created a political allegory: pro-British, anti-Soviet, and critical of the U.S.A. Roger Ebert contributed to this theory, saying, “The Third Man'' reflects the optimism of Americans and the bone-weariness of Europe after the war. It's a story about grownups and children: Adults like Calloway, who has seen at first hand the results of Lime's crimes, and children like the trusting Holly, who believes in the simplified good and evil of his Western novels.”
·       The classic love triangle: Holly loves Anna, Anna loves Harry, Harry at one time may have loved Anna but loves himself more. Only the irony is that, in this love triangle, despite Holly doing everything the classic romantic lead should do (fall in love with the woman and try to protect her), she rejects him and holds a torch for a rat—although this rat did save her at one time.
·       Pessimism and cynicism: There is no classic happy love story ending here; there’s only the feeling of postwar disillusionment and weariness, of a fractured existence (exemplified by a city divided into four sections), of hapless victims and seedy opportunists, and of fools like Holly who really have no place in this space.
·       Confused identities: Wrong names and mistaken identities abound in this film (Holly is called Harry, Calloway is called Callaghan, Harry is the third man, etc.).
·       Betrayal: Lime betrays the confidence and love that Holly had placed in his friend; and Holly betrays Harry by leading the police to him and ultimately shooting him dead.

THIS FILM HAS BEEN CONTRASTED WITH AN EARLIER OUTING FROM THE 1940S, “CASABLANCA”. HOW ARE THEY SIMILAR AND DIFFERENT?
·       Both feature a love triangle between a profiteer (Rick/Harry), a beautiful woman with an Eastern European heritage/accent (Ilsa/Anna), and a man who believes he’s doing the noble/right thing (Victor/Holly).
·       Both involve emotionally charged endings where the woman has to decide who to go with; in “The Third Man,” Anna walks past Holly.
·       According to film reviewer Glenn Erickson: “The Third Man shows how the sentiment and ideals of Casablanca have soured in the postwar situation. In Casablanca, the risks taken by Rick, Elsa and Renault are in harmony with the larger drama being played out between the Axis and the Allies. This "ideological security" helps all three of them make painful personal decisions based on faith in a moral cause. By contrast, Martins, Anna and the late Harry Lime of TM drift in a moral limbo where such absolutes no longer exist. The Allies have "won" but Vienna has become a political mire of injustice and conflicting ideologies. The gamblers, black marketeers and corrupt French of Casablanca are closet patriots that spend their leisure time helping refugees and secretly opposing the Nazis. In this postwar Vienna, Harry Lime's gang routinely commits obscene, indefensible crimes. Their profit motive shows no regard for their innocent victims, who are considered expendable "suckers.” The characters of the wartime Casablanca may be confused, but they are ennobled by patriotism and able to make wise decisions. Patriotism is dead in the Viennese ruins of The Third Man. Even the benign characters are too disillusioned to function effectively. Holly waffles and plays at romance like a schoolboy. Anna drifts between bitterness and suicidal despair.”

OTHER FILMS THAT REMIND YOU OF “THE THIRD MAN”
·       Casablanca
·       M
·       Morocco
·       The 39 Steps
·       Mr. Arkadin
·       The Stranger
·       Charade

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY CAROL REED
·       Odd Man Out
·       The Fallen Idol
·       Our Man in Havana
·       The Agony and the Ecstasy
·       Oliver!

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