Patron Request: ‘The Third Man’

For some reason (the reason is that I’m stupid) I always thought The Third Man was directed by Orson Welles rather than just starring him. I think my brain mixed it up with Touch of Evil. This doesn’t really have any bearing on the review. Just wanted to establish context for me actually knowing very little about movies.

What I found most immediately striking about The Third Man, beyond the near-constant dutch angles and bizarrely uptempo score, is the similarity in the structure of its first two acts to Citizen Kane. Both films feature an unassuming writer picking up the pieces after the death of a titanic personality by interviewing many of the people whose lives he touched. There are even one or two direct references to Kane. It feels at times like a pulpier riff on Welles’ film, bringing the detective elements of the story more to the forefront. The circumstances surrounding Kane’s death were a mystery only inasmuch as they represented the general lack of public knowledge about the man’s life. Harry Lime, on the other hand, was quite well-known; it’s the actions that caused the death itself which are obscured. It’s not a perfect parallel by any means. It’s just something that jumped out at me.

While the film’s unswerving dedication to its tilting cinematography is certainly admirable for the time, it comes off to me now as a bit overcooked. I wish director Carol Reed had come up with some other ways to express the film’s disjointed tension. As it stands, it plays the exact same trick over and over and over again. It’s not a bad trick! It’s just wearying after a while. I know I’m going to come across as a jumped-up know-nothing youngster, and that’s fine. This is just my personal reaction.

Orson, of course, is killer. Without question he is the best thing about the movie. He brings so much light and life into the thing with just the briefest initial glance. It’s like the film is infused with tremendous electricity from the first frame we see his face. That sly, cocksure, uptilted grin instantly transforms the film. It’s his movie from that moment on, even when he’s not on-screen. I expect he conquers even the first two-thirds on repeat viewings, when you know exactly what he’s going to bring to the table. I could talk about Orson all day. I just love him so dearly.

That being said, I wish I had more to say about The Third Man. Besides Orson, it doesn’t really intersect with a lot of my cinematic interests, at least not in the current moment. It’s quite a good film, obviously. It’s just not one that strikes me in any particularly interesting way.

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