Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Third Man ****

(Yes, I know one of the facts supplied in this review is deliberately wrong, I put it there to preserve a great twist.) God, I love watching "The Third Man." I love getting excited whenever Holly Martins is getting chased down ruined post war Vienna streets, set to a ironic, mockingly cheerful Caribbean style zither music. And I love our first shot of Orson Welles, one of the greatest movie moments of all times. I love watching the chase down the sewer every time I see it, the voices echoing down a hellishly wet dungeon. I love pretending I don't know the twist that comes later on in the movie, like it was the first time I saw it. I love the moment when the camera tracks a cat down the streets onto the feet of someone in the shadows. Is it the Third Man? This is a perfect mystery, not to complicated that you wonder you missed an important detail when you decided to take a leak halfway through, or too simple that you guess immediately the twist that is coming later.

It's a British production set in post war Vienna, which is in ruins, about a poor, simple writer of cheap novelettes like "Showdown at San Antonio Flats" named Holly Martins. (More than once he is told that he's "quite popular here in Europe.") Martins is looking for an old friend named Harry Lime who had offered him a job from Vienna. As Martins arrives, he is informed by a neighbor that he is 10 minutes too late - Harry Lime is dead. At the funeral he meets a British police officer named Calloway (not Callahan!) who tells him that Lime was mixed up in a crime racket. Martins spends much of the movie trying to clear Lime's name, which is difficult because the witnesses have jarringly different accounts of the accident in which Lime died. I won't tell you any more of the film - in fact, don't read any other reviews of this before you see it in case you find out something - this is a great film to just let play out in front of you.

The Third Man stars Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins, Alida Valli as Lime's girlfriend (who Holly inevitably falls for), Trevor Howard as Calloway, and, in a show stealing role Orson Welles, as Harry Lime, who appears entirely in flashbacks. It was directed by Carol Reed, who won his Oscar (probably undeservedly) for "Oliver!". The only Oscar this film won was for cinematography (that is definitely this films award).

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