Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Third Man (1949)

"In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Yes, it had to be that quote. Predictable but necessary.

This film is, essentially, superb. It tends to suffer somewhat from the overly high expectations one tends to have for films as critically acclaimed as this, but I won't discriminate against it for that. The film didn't choose to be so hyped. In truth, this film may not be quite amongst the best ever made but it is, nonetheless, utterly superb.

I won't recount the intriguing plot with its twists and turns and the gradual reveal of the story of Harry Lime, played with splendid charisma by the great Orson Welles. But the script paints as dark a picture of human nature as one would expect from the typewriter of Graham Greene. Vienna is made to look awesome by Carol Reed in its monochrome splendour, and the cast is superb. This is a Vienna still under occupation by the four powers, where even minor aristocrats resort to the black market to survive. This once-great imperial city has fallen very far indeed, with its grandiose Habsburg architecture seeming to mock it. 

Above all this film has atmosphere, pervaded as it is by a sense of doom and pessimism. And above it all floats that zither tune. This is a film that everyone should see.

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