It is impossible for me to talk about this movie without giving away some spoilers, so for those of you who have not seen this movie, I should just limit myself to saying that this is just one of those perfect movies.
Also, here is another one of my trademark exaggerated statements. I also believe it to be the ultimate cinematic equivalent of caffeine, a masterpiece of cinematography, an essential work in the history of British filmodraphy, iconic as hell, and featuring a show stealing performance by Orson Welles.
Yes, people tend to associate this film more with Orson Welles than with director Carol Reed. Supposedly, this is because Orson Welles is regarded, and rightly so, as one of the most talented filmmakers to ever grace the Earth of his presence. However, although one would be forgiven for thinking so seeing as the ‘outside the box’ cinematography is much too exciting to be anything made by many other directors at the time, it may as equally have been inspired by the work of an early Hitchcock or the 39 Steps, and of course, his nationality would have more in common with the nationality of Carol Reed, both coming from the same sort of school of British filmmaking. One would also be forgiven because of the wit of the dialogue, which is one thing that Welles was involved in, especially his own dialogue and especially that legendary speech about the ‘cuckoo clock’, and even because of the lead actor, indeed one of ‘his’ actors Joseph Cotten, who also ironically played the exact same kind of character in nature as the one he played in Citizen Kane, the sort of anti-friend, in other words, the friend who still wants to do what’s right regardless of the fact that that would mean getting him in a heep of trouble in a lot of trouble.
The film moves very fast, but not so fast that the audience should lose the track of the plot, rather it enhances it. There is something happening in every frame, and it really is one of those movies that just has you glued to the screen, and doesn’t even allow you to take a bathroom break if you watch it on a television channel without ads because you’re so afraid that you will miss a second of it. Never does the pace falter, and I believe that there are only a few minutes in the film where the interest lowers, otherwise the quality of the film is very high under every aspect of the storytelling. The storytelling itself, of course, it enhanced by the cinematography. As I said before, The Third Man is a masterpiece in cinematography, but for anyone that has seen this movie, that goes without saying. The thing is that it even seems to go beyond the Hollywood studio noir films where the cinematography is much more static, there is a lot more movement and the editing is also quite fast and unpredictable, sometimes jumping, as if skipping a few seconds to save time, to keep the rhythm fast and the feeling of excitement alive in every single sequence. It is hence ironic that Reed, with the final shot of Alida Valli walking right past Cotten towards the camers should be a long still shot lasting perhaps a minute, it seems to be a little joke placed by the director on purpose.
The tilted frames that portray strange perspectives and fully convey the chaotic situation in which the Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) finds himself. There is a strong presence of staircases, stairwells, steps, whether they are outdoors or indoors. They follow a psychological theme that is a trait of noirs and thrillers from the forties, of course, and just like the many shadows that can be seen in practically every shot, were deeply influenced by German expressionism, and I guess the fact that the movie is based in Vienna makes it close enough to the place that gave birth to that influential filmmaking period. The lighting is wonderful, whether it’s outdoors or indoors. Two instances come to mind right away, one of them is a simple sequence, the one where Holly talks to the porter and a kid overhears them having a fight, and he turns off a light in the background and the room falls in complete darkness and it looks tremendous, the next is of course the very iconic scene where the character of Harry played by Orson Welles is reveales, one of the best movie entrances that I have ever seen. The compositions of the frames are very important to, and I should not forget to mention the wonderful work done by the production design, although in a film so technical one would think that perhaps such an aspect would be overlooked; that is not the case at all.
The plot is one of the most satisfactory to date on every aspect; for starters, it fully conveys the themes that it sets out to illustrate, the themes of friendship, love, devotion and betrayal. There is also a love story, but it is one that does not fall into easy cliches; the love story is not between the two main characters played by Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli, but between Orson Welles and Alida Valli; Alida feels depressed without him and although she seems to know all the evil he has done she would die for him while Orson Welles too, while apparently cold and distant and uncaring, he too cannot restrain his emotions and feelings towards Anna, as we see in the seequence on the ferris wheel when he writes her name on the window. In the end, there may even be the doubt in one’s head of why Holly turned Harry in; was it because he had fallen in love with Anna and he knew that the only way she could ever possibly fall in love with him would have been to get rid of Harry? In fact, perhaps, the only tiny fault in the movie lies within that scene in the children hospital, which is where he is taken by the police force as they try to persuade him to help him catch Harry rather than just go home and wash his hands clean of the whole affair.
The acting is pretty good. The accents are the only awkwards thing, they are all too different, some American, others British, others German…it’s too much of a distracting pot pourri for anyone who has enough time to concentrate of that problem anyways, and if someone truly were to give out about them it would only mean that they have not been paying to close attention to the film and the plot and the many things that happen in each and every sequence. The height of acting quality is reached in that bit in the Ferris wheel between Cotten and Welles; the two have some seriously great chemistry between them, and heck do they know how to use it, and although we know they are good together from Citizen Kane, it’s great to hear them again.
Uh, and also, I must not forget to mention the wonderfully iconic Anton Karas score, which sounds quite unusual, Greek and high spirited, and just makes the overall work look even more original. It helps that it is an irresistable tune.
WATCH FOR THE MOMENT – Orson Welles’ entrance in the movie, perhaps the greatest entrance in a movie even made.