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My first time with The Third Man


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#1 Evan Winter

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 09:31 PM

I have no doubt I'll be vilified for the following statement, however, I feel compelled to make it. Carol Reed's 1949 crtically acclaimed film 'The Third Man' was a poorly paced, thin plotted movie that failed to captivate me on almost any level at all.

The first 2/3rds of the film feature our protagonist delving into the mystery behind his friend's murder after he hears conflicting reports about the number of men around when he died. I found Holly Martins' motives for investigating the barely mysterious death to be a stretch and then struggled through watching the man blunder about for the next hour gathering almost no new information. The film runs approximately 1 hour and 44 minutes and until Orson Welles' shows up (55 minutes in) virtually nothing happens.

To add insult to injury, none of the characters are particularly compelling or interesting to watch (excepting Bernard Lee's Sgt. Paine) and all the characters that are built up throughout the tale (the other 2 men and various cronies having something to do with Harry Lime) end up having absolutely nothing to do with its conclusion.

I know it may seem unproductive to make a post about a movie I didn't like but I was surprised to have so strongly disliked such a traditionally well-received film that I had to mention it. I also wouldn't consider myself an ADHD style viewer who needs Bay-esque explosions and Rattner-like pacing to remain involved in an under 2 hour film.

I've seen Strangers on a Train (1951) and loved it, Citzen Kane (1941) is stunning, The Maltese Falcon (1941) didn't thrill me but I can appreciate its appeal, Notorious (1946) was excellent, Hamlet (1948) was enjoyable, 12 angry men (1957) was of the best movies I've ever seen, Vertigo (1958) was astounding, Paths of Glory (1957) fabulous (love those dolly shots), etc...

I've watched movies from the 40s and 50s. I understand that they should be watched with an eye to the context of their times. However, the movies from this period that I enjoyed, I enjoyed without reservation. They were good films for the 40s, 50s, or 2007. I cannot say the same for The Third Man.

In it's defense, I enjoyed the cinematography. I found some moments with the camera to be magic (when the camera pushes out of Anna Schmidt's window and they do a 'seamless' dissolve from soundstage to actual location so that we can see the 'unknown man' looking up at her window from the street below). The lighting was intriguing and without a doubt added a tremendous amount of suspense and mystery to the film - without such fantastic work I may have had to slit my wrists before even reaching the one hour mark. The film is definitely a keeper from a lighting point of view. But as a story...suffice it to say I would have been very annoyed at having spent my hard-earned 0.50 cents to see this back in the day.
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#2 Patrick McGowan

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 09:50 PM

Half a cent would be a bargain!

I am not a huge fan of The Third Man, it is a bit murky as far as the plot goes, so I will agree with you.

I think as soon as Orson shows up in that doorway, the film gets a little better. I love the ferris wheel scene, but the final chase in the tunnel is almost anti climactic.

I don't really know if this post adds to anything.

I guess I just had a similar reaction to what is considered a "classic" film.
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#3 Paul Bruening

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 10:14 PM

It's the zither... the zither... I can't get that tune out of my head.

I didn't like it the first time I watched it. It has taken a few times or more to get into it. But then, that's like listening to all the tunes on a CD. Even the stinkers get catchy after enough times listening. I do like it, now. I even like all the cheesy dutch angles. It does help to see it big enough to get what the originators were intending. Without a doubt, the old movies were intended to be seen on the absolutely enormous screens of the day without any regard for whether it would fly on a TV screen. I watch these movies eight feet wide on my wall screen off of my remanned Infocus projector. All of the aforementioned movies positively kick ass when you get them big enough. Citizen Wells has some shots that are as stunning as a roller coaster ride when seen big enough. The sewer scenes in Third Wells are very involving on a big screen and like looking into a cracker box on a TV set.
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#4 Joseph Winchester

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Posted 20 February 2007 - 10:58 PM

I'm not gonna try to change your mind on this, as you seem pretty stuck on your first viewing.

I've always loved this film for so many reasons. The betrayal that Holly feels from Lime is palpable, after he trusted and loved him so. That he would help to hunt down his best friend willingly is tragic. He believed what Lime did was wrong and should pay the price, even if he was like a brother. Tough decision to make...

And that is just the base level. There is so much more, if you'd look further.

If you follow along with the story of Holly as a trashy western novelist, it adds another dimension to the tale.

Also, the zither player was considered another character in the story, that's why it's so prominent. It was billed as such when the movie was released.

Watch it again. It's in there, you just need to find it.
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#5 Evan Winter

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Posted 21 February 2007 - 12:20 AM

*major spoilers for 'The Third Man' follow:

Hey Joseph,

I see what you're saying and I understand that it was meant to seem tragic when Holly betrayed his close friend. However, the situations, reasons, and events that brought them to this point felt terribly contrived to me (not to mention slow as molasses).

Also, Holly's sense of right and wrong seemed a bit off-kilter - Holly, a starving artist with nary a penny to his name, is invited by an old friend to war torn Vienna with the promise of employment (in order to save Holly from destitution). But before Lime could complete his promise to his friend he was forced underground to evade capture.

Now, the first and only betrayal is committed by Holly who betrays his friend to the police for a woman he barely knows and a woman with whom he is in lust (also the lover of his dear old friend). Indeed, the first time Holly was on track to betray Lime he was doing it not out of a sense of right or wrong; he was doing it for the girl (proof: after the girl says she doesn't want the police to get Lime and that his capture would really hurt her Holly decides he will no longer help and plans to get the next flight out of the country - the penicillin starved children be damned).

Let's not forget that, after all this, Lime still wanted to 'help' Holly (in his way). He still offered him a place in the racketeering and very foolishly went to meet up with Holly who had the cops with him this time (apparently because of Holly's recently strengthened sense of morality due to a hospital visit with dying children we never see). Plus, Lime has no reason to involve Holly in his business; Lime, a man of unarguably fuzzy morals, is doing this for Holly out of pure altruism (there are no ulterior motives suggested).

Now, it may sound like the story is pretty decent and reasonably deep from the above but it's not. The above, as opposed to a Coles' notes analysis, are more akin to Ph.D defense accounting of the events - I've made a mountain out of what was a rather small molehill. And let's not forget all of the above happens in pretty much the last 40 minutes. We've already spent 1 hour watching Holly ask every Viennan in the bleeding city whether or not there were in fact 2 or 3 men with Lime when he was 'killed'.

At the end of the day, it's just that I have difficulty understanding the person who, after watching any of the other films in my first post, still says, 'Right! The Third Man is just as good as those other old flicks'.

However, I want to thank-you for allowing me my opinion because at the end of the day movies are like anything else that smacks or artistry - different viewers will take different things from the work and one man's garbage will be another's gem.

P.S. - What was the point of the balloon seller??? Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Edited by Evan Winter, 21 February 2007 - 12:23 AM.

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#6 Stuart McCammon

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Posted 21 February 2007 - 04:43 AM

Wow, I could not have more different feelings about The Third Man.

As with many great films, it is not just the cinematography, but the director actually made the city into a character in the movie. Add to the the "character" of the zither music, and one has a fascinating, multilayered tapestry. Even having watched other great films, it may not have registered that the actors in The Third Man were not, as many film actors do, just being natural, but were acting, and their performances were extremely sublime - most of the fun in the movie for me comes from watching what is unvieled as the truth about Harry's "death" unfolds.

The chase scene at the end, rather than being an anticlimax, is just the logical extension of the city as character. The tunnel entrances, rather than just being gratuitous shots, are there because the director is making a point about the city while he is doing a chase sequence.

Anyway, my two cents)
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