Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Third Man (Carol Reed 1949)

Harry Lime: Oh, I still do believe in God, old man. I believe in God and Mercy and all that. But the dead are happier dead. They don't miss much here, poor devils.

Pulp western writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives to post war Vienna to meet his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Just after his arrival he is told that his friend has died in an accident. The police also tell him that he was a racketeer (dealing with diluted penicillin).

The film is about friendship, loyalty, treason. However it is also about good and evil, power, ambition… As Harry points out from the top of the Prater wheel: Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?

While inquiring about Harry’s death Holly falls in love with Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), Harry’s girlfriend. But Martins fails, as a lover and maybe as a friend too (he betrays Harry and reports him to the police). As the film progresses Holly becomes a sort of pathetic hero while Harry is a fascinating villain.

Filmed in deep black and white – with an unforgettable score by Anton Karas - in a war scarred Vienna the movie leaves little room for hope: The pessimistic film ends with Anna walking along the deserted tree-lined cemetery road after Harry’s funeral. It’s autumn and the leaves roll on the ground, Holly is waiting for her. However she passes by him without a look or a gesture…

Harry Lime: Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.