The Third Man

the third man
dir. carol reed


“A person doesn’t change just because you find out more.”

Third Man has a third act for the ages; it’s just the getting there that’s a pest.

Joseph Cotten (Citizen KaneShadow of a Doubt) stars as a man thrown into an investigation into the death of a close friend (Orson Welles) in post-war Vienna. Noted for its extensive use of Dutch camera angles and its interesting score (performed entirely on a zither), it’s a noir in all the right ways, though perhaps to a fault.

For one, it’s slow in introducing Welles’ character, in an attempt to make the twist that much more shocking (though is it really a surprise that they didn’t have top-billed Orson Welles’ character actually killed off-screen before the film started?). The film drags as a result, with important details spread out over several conversations between the same seedy characters, all of which could’ve been accomplished much quicker had, say, the film taken place in real life.

“Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax.”

Maybe the film just hasn’t aged well, or maybe it’s just me. It was released at the peak of its genre, and is revered by critics today. Noirs for me are hit-or-miss. I like this one, I think; it’s one you have to devote your whole being to, or much will be lost. If you’re willing to commit, you’ll be rewarded.

criterion-iconCriterion Spine #64


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