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  • Gareth Crook

The Third Man (1949)

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

I keep hearing and seeing The Third Man everywhere at the moment for some reason, but hey it’s as good a reason as any for a rewatch... it’s a classic after all. Is there much point in me offering any thoughts at all though? In all honesty, no not really, but I’ll give it a go anyway. It’s a bright and breezy opening. Bar the funeral of Mr Harry Lime, who our hero novelist Mr Holly Martins has travelled to post war Vienna to see. An unlucky start for both, perhaps signalled by Martins’ walking under a ladder to enter Lime’s apartments. He finds the city a complex place, filled with complex characters and politics that are anything but. Policemen Major Calloway thinks Lime was ‘mixed up in a racket’, which really is a lovely cover-all for crime in the 40s. Lime was his by a car, an accident, supposedly. Martins of course, looks to unpick the story. A classic aftermath film, the unseen event happening before the picture starts, we’re left to try and make sense of it all. Martins sets about trying to get to the bottom of events that he feels sure has much more to it. Was it an accident, why were so many people linked to Lime there, seemingly by happenstance. And who is the one person who’s not, The Third Man, only seen by one man, the porter. It looks beautiful of course, even in black and white it oozes European style. Playful camera angles, colourful characters, it’s all here. The cast though is the shining light. From Baron Kurtz, his small dog and devilish smile to Dr Winkle, sorry Vinkle, also with a small suspiciously similar dog. The crazy German landlady and even the small child that accuses Martins of murdering the porter leap off the screen. No longer a mere by stander, Martins now finds himself in night time chases through bombed out streets, shadows of goons looming high on cathedral walls. It’s the balance of action, intrigue and romance. Martins falling for Lime’s girl Miss Schmidt, who herself has issues with the various authorities, that keeps this motoring along. Lime’s is far from innocent in all this and when (spoiler alert) he steps on screen well... the reveal of Orson Welles and that wry smile gets me every time. Considering he doesn’t turn up as the missing Harry until the final act, he really does steal the show. It’s a test of friendships in desperate times. Constant tension reigns throughout, like the near ever present ukulele or whatever that is that accompanies the echoey footsteps on dark cobbled streets. The sewer chase finale, begins to feel like an impossible Escher print as the angles and shadows cut beautifully. It’s not nearly as complicated as it’ll have you believe at the outset, but it is nothing short of cinematic perfection.



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