Monday, June 27, 2011

A person doesn't change just because you find out more.

No 21 - The Third Man
Director - Carol Reed

The film noir. The Murder Mystery. A great framework for a film, and one that is done amazingly well. The story is the simple tale of a suspicious death and a man's journey to get to the bottom of it, yet it is a story made all the richer by the surroundings it is in. The weird oppression and military nightmare of post-war Vienna makes this film a lot more tense, a lot more paranoid. Paranoia which is brilliantly depicted through the use of camera angles. Maybe they filmed a lot on hills. Or maybe the tripod's third man was a bit too short....

I don't mean to sound like I'm belittling it... the camera work is probably the most impressive thing in the whole film. Either in the angles and shot or in the transitions. There are some amazing fades or some great early examples of quick editing which help make the film feel a lot more ominous and shady throughout. The mystery of Harry Lime is rich and captivating, so much so that some of the peripheral characters feel like a nuisance, they're important to the main plot, but their sub-plots are just getting in the way of the real story. Yeah... I'm talking to you Anna Schmidt.

The film is really waiting for Orson Welles to appear and explain the mystery of Harry Lime. Welles is a delight throughout this film, for a lot of the film he has this permanent arrogant smirk as if he's just pissing himself in his glorified cameo. But actually, despite his brief appearances (both in number of times, and how long he's on screen) he manages to fill Harry with a lot of complex nuances. I love watching the arc of emotion Welles portrays. Particularly the moments when he feels betrayed or worried. In fact, as the net tightens and Harry gets progressively ruffled you see his fall from grace. The cocky smirker becomes bug eyed, gasping and crawling through a sewer. Its a remarkable journey and you can see what attracted Orson Welles to the part.
The camera also seems to love Welles, with loads of wonderful lingering shots over the enigmatic Harry Lime. But nothing will ever beat the character's introduction. As a light is cast over Lime's smiling face it seems like a two-tiered TA DAH. Firstly... at last! We get to see Harry Lime, the man we've heard so much. But secondly... at last! I was wondering when Orson Welles was appearing. Just look at that moment... he's either channelling some serious smugness with Harry Lime or he knows that he is pretty much the shit.

But the final point, which I'm repeating from earlier, is that even with great acting and a super story, the film's real triumph is how it looks. This is a beautifully shot film. This is not a spoilery scene... but watch the framing in the film's last shot, as Anna Schmidt walks out of the protagonist's life forever....