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Monday, 09 January 2012 00:00

Post-WWII Vienna Hides 'The Third Man'

filmschoolrejects.com filmschoolrejects.com
Written by Diane Carson
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Vienna, post-WWII, is divided into four sectors: the American, the Russian, the British and the French zones. When American pulp westerns writer Holly Martins arrives at the Vienna train station, he expects to meet long-time friend Harry Lime, but soon learns that Harry has died in a hit-and-run automobile accident. Holly attends his funeral instead.

However, as Holly queries witnesses, facts don't add up. Refusing to be hurried out of Vienna, a suspicious Holly begins searching for the truth, only to uncover shockingly unexpected details in this corrupt, black market environment. The intrigue involves a beautiful actress played by Alida Valli; British officers, including Trevor Howard as Major Calloway; a Doctor Winkel played by Ernst Deutsch; and Orson Welles in a show-stopping cameo. Reportedly reluctant at first to his part, Welles is now credited with one of the most iconic speeches in all film history, his musings on democracy, the Borgias, and the cuckoo clock. As Holly Martins, Joseph Cotten embodies American confidence that will perceptibly shatter.

Adapting Graham Greene's wonderful novel (with Greene also working on the screenplay), British director Carol Reed shot The Third Man entirely on location amidst the rubble that littered post-WWII Vienna. The atmospheric film noir darkness, dramatic use of shadows, and canted angles perfectly translate this sinister world into arresting visuals. Almost nothing is on the level, and the repeatedly angled shots reflect that disequilibrium. Anton Karas' zither music offers a haunting complement, a stroke of luck for Karas since Reed accidentally discovered him playing at a local bar.

To this day visitors can take Third Man tours of Vienna, descending into the underground tunnels through which a stream flows, having lunch at the Mozart café, standing in the famous doorway, and taking a ride on the giant Ferris wheel. Those tours and the movie provide immensely satisfying entertainment. The Third Man ranks among the best films ever made.

At Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Friday, January 13th through Sunday, January 15th. For information and the current schedule, you may call 314-968-7487 or go to the web at: Webster.edu/filmseries.

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