Monday, October 02, 2006

The Third Man

The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed 1949.

Generally regarded as a classic of cinema history, I wasn't sure what to expect from Carol Reed's The Third Man. I openly admit I really knew nothing about the film going into it. It just happens to be one of those films that has somehow escaped my notice when it probably shouldn't have.

As the credits rolled I got rather enthused upon seeing that the film starred not only Joseph Cotton, but Orson Welles as well. Perhaps it was due to this excitement that I was a little disappointed that Welles never physically shows up on screen until perhaps the last 30 minutes of film. In a way its a shame because the dynamic tension between Cotton and Welles lights up the screen with its brilliance. But I am getting a little ahead of myself.

The story is a classic suspense/thriller in which the main character, Joseph Cotton, arrives in Vienna only to discover the friend he is supposed to meet with had been run over and killed by an automobile. Cotton quickly becomes suspsicous and starts snooping around in business that will only lead to trouble. Soon enough he discovers there was a 'third man' at the scene of the accident and Cotton becomes convinced that his friend, Harry Lime, was murdered.

All in all the story moves along well enough and at times I really got sucked into things but overall I found it also falters, seriously at times, leaving me with a mediocre taste in my mouth.

Some of this I attribute to the script. There are too many rough edges. Cotton's character is a hack writer who no one has ever heard of. After so much is made of this fact it is almost entirely dropped for the rest of the film. They play on the fact that Cotton is now living out the type of story he himself might have written, except it is not executed very well. The primary scene in which Cotton finds himself launched into the Q&A presentation he forgot he agreed to do echoes Hitchcock's The 39 Steps but failing to be as nearly as effective.

The other aspect that I had issues with was the directing/cinematography. Watching the film it felt like there were literally two people making the decisions behind the camera. At times I would in awe of the images unfolding on the screen but then there were other times I cringed and could only scratch my head at what was happening. Particularly the excessive use of dutch angles got annoying after awhile. At first I figured there most be some active reasoning in the choice of the shots but after consciously following and marking when dutch angle shots were used it became increasingly apparent that it was random. Perhaps Reed saw it as 'edgy' and therefore appropriate for the material that he was working with, and perhaps the audiences felt the same way at the time, but it definitely has not aged well.

There also seemed to be some indecision with the character of Anna Schmidt. For such a significant part I was surprised how ambigous the character actually is. It's as if they couldn't decide if they wanted her to be a femme fatale or not and so ended up just leaving things somewhere in the middle.

All that being said, I did enjoy the movie, particularly when Orson Welles finally arrives. The gravity and presence he commands on screen is almost overwhelming at times. In a few short minutes he is able to communicate one of the most delicously twisted villians I've seen on screen for a while. Please though, don't let my negative comments about the film dissuade you from seeing it. The Third Man definitely has its moments, I just expected more of them.


Laura said...

I thought the oblique angles and disjointed feeling to it were completely in line with the themes. The films strives to destabilize the film experience, just as the moral hierarchy is destabilized. In a genre that usually has a cut and dry good v. evil (even in the noir, I would argue), this is an interesting critique. It's also completely in keeping with a postwar/early coldwar mentality. The world (especially Europe) was unsure how it felt about all it just went through, and unsure about where it was going.

Laura said...

Of course, it's easy to say all this after the class discussion.

Grinth said...

Oh no, I agree with all that to a point. I sat there during the film marking each time those shots were used and, at times , it perfectly falls in line with that and at other times its seems like the director was just getting carried away...sort of like how slow-motion is continually over used in contemporary film.

Besides by the time things become the most destabilized and disjointed with the reveal of Harry Lime, Reed has all but abandoned these shots completely (as much as I can recall at the moment).

I guess I just felt it wasn't consistent and therefore detracted as much as it added.

Laura said...

Yeah, I can see how it could seem excessive at times. It almost seems like a pet aesthetic of Robert Krasker (the D.P.), but I don't really mind it.