Saturday, March 20, 2021

TCM’s Film Noir of the Week Saturday Night-Sunday Morning at Midnight and 10 a.m. ET is Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949), the Tenth Greatest Sound Picture Ever Made, Starring Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard and Bernard Lee, with Graham Greene’s Brilliant, Original Screenplay, Robert Krasker’s Legendary Cinematography, and Anton Karas’ Unforgettable Zither Theme 

By David in TN
Friday, March 19, 2021 at 7:57:00 P.M. EDT

TCM’s Film Noir of the Week Saturday Night-Sunday Morning at Midnight and 10 a.m. ET is Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949), with Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard and Bernard Lee.

Film Noir Guide: “An American Western writer (Cotten) arrives in postwar Vienna, ‘happy as a lark and without a cent,’ expecting to get a job with his best friend (Welles). Unfortunately, he arrives just in time for Welles’ funeral.

“Cotton is told that Welles was struck by a car while crossing the street, but, because of conflicting stories and too many coincidences, Cotten suspects that his childhood friend may have been murdered.

Cotten meets Welles’ Czechoslovakian lover (Valli), in Vienna on a forged passport, and convinces her to help him investigate.

A British military police officer (Howard) and his subordinate (Lee), eager to send the nosy American packing, inform him that Welles had been a small-time gangster specializing in the black market sale of watered-down penicillin, which was being administered to sick civilians, including children.

Shocked and disgusted, Cotten agrees to give up his investigation and leave the country. But after Cotten sees Welles hiding in a darkened alley [sic] outside Valli’s apartment building, his loyalty and friendship are put to the ultimate test.

The exciting climax in the labyrinthine Vienna sewer system is reminiscent of the Los Angeles storm drain manhunt in the 1948 film noir HE WALKED BY NIGHT. The Third Man, which has been rated number 57 on the American Film Institute's List of America's 100 Greatest Movies, is one of the best suspense films ever made. Cotten, Welles, and Valli are just sensational; Reed was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director, while Robert Krasker won an Oscar for Best Cinematography (black and white). The Third Man Theme, with its perky zither music, almost seems inappropriate considering the film's dark content, but, strangely, it works like a charm. Don't miss this outstanding classic."

David in TN: Last week in his outro, Eddie Muller gushingly called The Third Man “the greatest British film of all time.”


The Ten Greatest Talkies

1. The Best Years of Our Lives
2. Citizen Kane
3. (tie) The Godfather
4. (tie) The Godfather, Part II
5. It’s a Wonderful Life
6. Shane
7. It Happened One Night
8. (tie) The Bridge on the River Kwai
9. (tie) Lawrence of Arabia
10. The Third Man

One of the main themes of The Third Man is the conflict between sophisticated evil vs. simple decency.

Harry Lime (Orson Welles) represents insouciant, sophisticated evil. At one point, while at the high point on Vienna’s world-famous Prater (ferris wheel), Harry gives one of most brilliant speeches in movie history, inspired by Nietzsche, about the insignificance of ordinary lives, while vaguely threatening to throw his “best friend” Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) to his death below, if Holly doesn't throw in with Harry.

That speech has reverberated through the generations. Circa 2000, it was revised and re-purposed by the producer-writers of Once and Again (Marshall Herskovits and Ed Zwick) in a virtuoso episode, in which Nietzschean shopping mall developers permit the show’s hero, a struggling, divorced architect (Billy Campbell) to audition for the job of developing their next project. The struggling architect comes to an impasse in his presentation, but then visibly overcomes it in the sort of gutty acting one would expect, on TV, only from an Ed Asner (Rich Man, Poor Man) or a Robert Duvall (Lonesome Dove).

On the side of simple decency are Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) and his adjutant, Sgt. Paine (Bernard Lee).

Paine is a simple, kind, big bear of a man, who is a fan of Martins’ childish Western novels. And yet, he’s the kind of simpleton that grows on a man. (Bernard Lee would become famous as Sean Connery’s bon vivant boss in the James Bond movies, and he was effective in those pictures, but they didn’t inspire the sort of pathos that this one does). Calloway is less simple and more manipulative, but every bit as decent. But unlike Sgt. Paine, Major Calloway is an avenging angel. He shows Holly movies about the horrible deaths children suffer, as a result of the watered-down penicillin Harry sold on the black market. We never see the movies, just Holly’s reaction to them. I believe that this passage inspired Stanley Kramer’s use of the movies shot by American servicemen on Ike’s orders, when they liberated concentration camps, and encountered mountains of corpses, in a court scene in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). The very real films were routinely shown in court by American prosecutor Col. Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark).

There are three things that I recall of Robert Krasker’s Oscar-winning work as lighting photographer, aka Director of Photography, on this picture. He would shoot the members of Harry’s gang from odd angles, when we first meet them, to alert us that something’s not right about these fellows. The second matter was a sequence, beginning with shooting a cat jumping through some flowers on the windowsill in Harry’s apartment in the heart of Vienna, as that cat makes it to the street below (though we don’t see that), and ultimately, on the street opposite, to his master. Finally, Krasker made great use of the nighttime streets and sewers and ruins of a divided city that has just come through a conflagration.

Holly must choose between decency and friendship, decency and sophistication.

The funny thing is, the picture is drenched in irony, including that most ironic of scores, Anton Karas’ zither music. (The trick with Karas is that to avoid amoral glibness, when Harry’s gang is about to do evil, he switches from a jaunty beat to a rapid tempo and high pitch, and ups the volume.)

Well, director Carol Reed and Graham Greene, who turned in one of the three greatest original screenplays ever written (with Herman J. Mankiewicz’ script for 1941’s Citizen Kane and Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and D.M. Marshman Jr.’s script for 1950’s Sunset Boulevard.), were both on masterpiece runs. Reed’s previous two pictures were Odd Man Out (1947) and The Fallen Idol (1948), the latter of which Greene had also written. At that point, Reed and Greene could make anything work.

The Third Man also has one of the great fade-outs in movie history.

Here’s a movie mystery for you: How did Joseph Cotten manage to not get nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for The Third Man? Or for Best Supporting Actor for Citizen Kane? Or for Best Actor for Shadow of a Doubt (1943)?


Friday, October 26, 2018

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

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Saturday, June 02, 2018

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Possible Noose/Hate Hoax in Riverside, California (Video)  

If you get a green screen after the commercial (which always has perfect reception), run the cursor along the bottom of the screen, to see the video.  

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