In Which Post World War Allegory Is Teabagged All Over Our Face We Speak Of Course of the Carol Reed Picture The Third Man

The Third Man
1949. Dir. Carol Reed

Our sweet new MOMA membership, a veritable bargain given the place is 16 blocks and five avenues away from This Recording world headquarters, led us to this evening screening of Carol Reed‘s The Third Man. I had never seen this before.

I went with Dan Murray, the biggest player in all of history, and Ben Yizzle, who is living the dream of all us common folks and working for a glitzy law firm, read, spent the summer going on expensive and impossibly misogynistic trips to strip clubs. I am kidding, it is in all likelihood not really like that.

“Don’t Worry Baby” — The Beach Boys (mp3)

Dan fell asleep for the second time, although he was only definitely out for about a half hour. Granted it was the most boring part of the movie and I’d already mockingly whispered the denouement to him when I figured it out in the first five minutes.

The Third Man is supposed to be predictable, though. That’s kind of the point. You know she’s going to walk away, and she does. You know the biggest name in the movie is billed even though he doesn’t show up until 100 minutes in, so you basically just know.

Before I discuss my other intimate feelings about The Third Man, let me share with you the average make-up of a film at the Museum of Modern Art.

-40 percent old people for whom this is their favorite movie and are absolutely scandalized when Dan and I are like, “That could be twenty minutes with commercials” afterwards. I love offending the old, they never see it coming, unlike this movie.

-30 percent total film geek as in they probably WANTED to see this by themselves and they’re going to go home and blog about it. Ow, I think I just ate my own tail there.

–20 percent girls with ugly looking ponytails

–1 percent Chuck Close

That’s about a hundred percent, right?

I totally agree with Roger Ebert whose reviews I have to admit I grew up on about the music. It holds up great and is the best part of the film, no other element except possibly the set design (fucking check out that ferris wheel) is even close.

Has there ever been a film where the music more perfectly suited the action than in Carol Reed‘s “The Third Man”? The score was performed on a zither by Anton Karas, who was playing in a Vienna beerhouse one night when Reed heard him. The sound is jaunty but without joy, like whistling in the dark. It sets the tone; the action begins like an undergraduate lark and then reveals vicious undertones.

“Anna Lee, The Healer” — The Beach Boys (mp3)

The story behind the film was this: The script was pretty good, it’s not a BAD story, but it needed a lot of other elements. As Ebert notes,

Reed fought with David O. Selznick, his American producer, over every detail of the movie; Selznick wanted to shoot on sets, use an upbeat score and cast Noel Coward as Harry Lime. His film would have been forgotten in a week. Reed defied convention by shooting entirely on location in Vienna, where mountains of rubble stood next to gaping bomb craters, and the ruins of empire supported a desperate black market economy. And he insisted on Karas’ zither music (“The Third Man Theme” was one of 1950’s biggest hits).

Despite Joseph Cotton being the most boring actor ever, the cinematography is dead on balls accurate.

I did also like them not using a traditional hottie for the female lead. Today Lindsay would probably play the role, missing a limb of course.

They fought about the final scene, which is almost worth sitting through a boring chase scene (by modern standards) to get to.

The final scene in “The Third Man” is a long, elegiac sigh. It almost did not exist. Selznick and Greene originally wanted a happy ending. (Greene originally wrote, “. . . her hand was through his arm”). Reed convinced Greene he was wrong. The movie ends as it begins, in a cemetery, and then Calloway gives Holly a ride back to town. They pass Anna walking on the roadside. Holly asks to be let out of the jeep. He stands under a tree, waiting for her. She walks toward him, past him, and then out of frame, never looking. After a long pause, Holly lights a cigarette and wearily throws away the match. Joseph Cotten recalled later that he thought the scene would end sooner. But Reed kept the camera running, making it an unusually long shot, and absolutely perfect.

A more in depth discussion of the final shot can be found here.

The allegory gets shoved in your face early on. It’s sort of clever, I’ll give it that. The opening sequence and narration is amazing, for sure.

Still this is a pop movie that made a shitload of money, it’s not a cult classic. So much of it holds up well, but hey, not everything’s Gone With the Wind. And also, there were no black people in this movie, forcing me to give it a thumbs down on the basis of, I don’t care about movies that are about White People’s Problems. Come to think of it, there weren’t any Jews in this either. Not…cool.

“Be Here In The Morning” — The Beach Boys (mp3)

“Busy Doin’ Nothin'” — The Beach Boys (mp3)

Naturally what one person has to say about this rises above the murk:

There is an ambiguity about our relation to the Cotten character: he is alone against the forces of the city and, in a final devastating stroke, he is even robbed of the illusion that the girl is interested in him, yet his illusions are so commonplace that his disillusion does not strike us deeply. Greene has made him a shallow, ineffectual, well-meaning American.

— Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (1992)


Mr. Daniel Murray and Mr. Orson Welles. May as well be clones.

“Dog Got a Bone” — The Beta Band (mp3)

“Terrible Angels” — Coco Rosie (mp3)

3 thoughts on “In Which Post World War Allegory Is Teabagged All Over Our Face We Speak Of Course of the Carol Reed Picture The Third Man

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