Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 13, No. 13. June 29, 1950
The Third Man
The Third Man
When almost every reviewer and, every periodical around has poured out its reactions to this film, it isn't easy to know what to say fresh. One could take the attitude that it is somewhat discreditable merely to agree, so start finding fault. Or one could Just look up all the other Comments and take care to say them an in different ways.
If most of the reviewers have agreed that The Third Man is a film which stands out head and shoulders above the ordinary box office trimmed product, then we can only agree with them. Mind you, The Third Man started life with a silver spoon in his mouth; the offspring of a triangular liason between Carol Reed and Robert Krasker and Graham Greene might be expected to have some unusual qualities. With such inherited endownments, it was practically guaranteed that—apart from mutations—it would grow into an adult exceptionally well equipped: the attributes of originality and imagination in direction, thought and a certain pungency in script, and not least a visual interest which, is far above the ordinary.
The Third Man has all these things. It may not be a groat film, except that it is bound to have a technical effect in some of its innovations, on those who follow But it is a thoroughly satisfying job of work—with director Reed and cameraman Krasker perhaps taking more of the laurels than the script writer.' Post war Vienna cant be the happiest place in the world, and it is difficult to see how the film could have better succeeded in catching on celluloid the dispirited desolation, the empitiness and futility, the amoral callousness which fill the air of a country at once liberated and conquered. The chief virtue of the film that—without heavy handed morality—it does show the heed for something to fill this particular vacuum. One is uncomfortably aware that the mere control of the racketeer, the extirpation of the signs of black-marketing, will never overcome the cynical pseudo-philosophy with which Lime is able to justify himself. Lime, the rugged individualist; for whom the world exists to provide a living: for whom there are two classes—the bright boys and the muckers. The part is well enough drawn without becoming a caricature—and we can feel no compunction when the world catches up on him. Maybe it's typical of Greene's attitude that Lime is wiped off by his friend, a weak, vacillating nobody, rather than by a stern avenging retribution. Taken in its barest form, the story is little more than a thriller, but Greene naturally invested the bones with the flesh of his own philosophy: and the result is both better and weaker because of it.
What really makes this is that it's a film. It realises from start to finish that what counts in film is what one sees; what effect produced in the mind of the audience must depend on the final form of the film seen. Reed is fortunate in that his technique never becomes precious or self-conscious. Close-ups are used when we are getting right to the character of the person, and they have meaning therefore. Long range shots put the people in their place among the background, and we get a sense of proportion. The whole pattern is worked out by a film virtuoso. Most satisfying to the jaded film goer is the stimulating sound, though. It is possible that every bandwaggon following film for years now will have a one instrument sound track ... but the zither, much acclaimed as it is—rightly so, because its astringent twanging is half the atmosphere—is far from all the sound. Lime in the tunnels, unable to pick the direction of the sounds of his hunters, is the best example. Blended with excellent camera work throughout, this is what really made the film. Because Reed showed that he could perform all the American tricks of polished technique and finish with one hand and still leave himself free to juggle his ideas with the other.
Of the few faults, was the worst Joseph Cotton? He started off badly with the only cliche of the film—the inevitable shot of the train pulling in and the carriage-doors. And he was, fortunately, acting a weak character. But, like Odd Man Out, the main character is impelled rather than impelling, fortunately. And we can close no better than in quoting "Time" . . . "the final proof of director Reed's greatness is that he got a temperate ... performance out of Orson Welles."