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The Third Man

Directed by Carol Reed

UK, 1949

HOME, 9 July 2015

There is so much to see in this great, great film that even on a thirteenth viewing (and I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve seen it), you feel that you’re missing something.

This is so even as you relish anew the details that have stuck in your mind. Say, the policeman who hands Anna her lipstick as she’s taken in for questioning, an act of compassion by an anonymous man. Or the Baron and Dr. Winkel living in the same house by the Prater, their relationship clearly a gay one (see how the Baron places his hand affectionately on the doctor’s arm, as Holly turns away to wait for Harry by the Riesenrad). Calloway’s (Trevor Howard) throwaway cynicism is exhilarating, as when he says: ‘Death is at the bottom of everything, Martins. Leave death to the professionals.’ A remark that presages Paine’s death in the sewer, after which Martins picks up Paine’s gun and goes after Lime, walking like one of the protagonists in his novels.

Early on, Calloway casually refers to the war as being ‘when the business started in ‘39’, an unproblematic remark until you realize that the Allies had declared Austria the first victim of Nazi aggression, by virtue of the Anchluss of 1938. This was apparently an invasion, though Hitler was greeted by cheering crowds in the Stephansplatz. Clearly, Calloway line is at odds with the settlement (we are reminded that there are no tidy ends to any war) which viewed the Austrians as victims. Also, all those fucking objects cluttering Winkel’s living room (Martins: ‘You’ve got so much stuff.’), including what looks like a porcelain figure from the Augarten: is it fanciful to think that they were most likely plundered from the homes of deported Jews?

It is wonderful to look at Vienna’s baroque churches juxtaposed by the rubble and ruins of war, to think that they somehow escaped destruction; like looking at Piranesi’s drawings of Rome. This is, together with Lime’s flight through the underground sewer, authentic noir. And it is a world away from Jugendstil Vienna, Otto Wagner’s magnolia apartments with their floral patterns.

A detail I noticed for the first time here, for I was sat close to the screen: when Popescu (Siegfried Breuer), the Rumanian racketeer, turns over his hat, you can see that it was made by P. C. Habig: he’s definitely a man of wealth and taste.

Another thing: I came to The Third Man this time after viewing Joseph Leo Koerner’s excellent documentary on Vienna: it’s on You Tube and is highly recommended.

Finally, even the credits of the film are interesting in that Greene gets at least equal credit: it’s a Carol Reed production of The Third Man by Graham Greene & a screenplay by Graham Greene. Not ‘a Carol Reed film’. When did the director get the possessive credit?

A great, great film.