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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Musing Pictures: The Third Man

I have to say, I found this one to be a very strange and interesting piece of work.
With all the deep shadows, dutch angles, whole segments in German, the film maintains a steady, constant sense of imbalance. It's a sort of suspense that I haven't seen in a while, and that strikes me as almost unique to the Film Noir era, of which this film is a part. Most movies today rely much more on what they can show, not on what they can hide.

To me, the most striking element of "The Third Man" was the balance it struck between selfish motivations (which are prominent in film noir) and selfless motivations (more common to WWII-era films, such as "Casablanca"). The film's hero, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), vacillates constantly between higher and lower ambitions, between being a civic hero and a friend, between being a lover and a fighter. Interestingly, the film's intiial 'bad guy' shifts in his archtypal role as well, never comfortably fitting as an ally or enemy. Perhaps this is one of the film's triumphs (aside from the amazing way the camera is employed to twist one's mind). It is a remarkably mature look at the complexities of alleigance, loyalty, friendship and love. Perhaps even more striking is the film's historical context, with the nation on the verge of McCarthyism, and questions of loyalty at the forefront of the public consciousness.

On a side note, I imagine stories from the set must be quite wild. This is one of David O. Selznick's last films as a producer (he is not even credited, although the film was made by his company), and it stars Orson Welles at a time when Hollywood had yet to fully recognize his genius. Both men were known to be larger-than-life, with egos to match their talent, with fiery tempers, and with very clear and firm artistic visions. I wonder if they got along, and I wonder how milder personalities like Cotten and the film's director, Carol Reed, counterbalanced the dynamic personalities.

-AzS

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