Re: 24 Third Man, The 1949
Other than the western, the film noir might be the most quintessentially American of all movie genres. On TSPDT's list of the 250 recommended film noirs, only two of the films on the list weren't made in America. However, one of those, No. 24 on the top 1000 The Third Man, is considered by many to not only be one of the greatest noirs ever made, but one of the greatest films ever made as well.
In technical terms, The Third Man is, quite frankly, excellent. Everything about it, the cinematography, the lighting, the direction, and the unusual but strangely transcendent score, are all fantastic. Although Orson Welles is given much of the credit for the film, it's Carol Reed's direction which really stands out. Even though his direction is obviously influenced by Welles', it's not defined by it, and is immensely effective. Also, it's difficult not to mention the shadows. Even in the fairly lackluster transfer I watched, the film's heavy, pervasive shadows really stood out. And let's not forget Welles' landmark performance as Harry Lime. Sure, he may only have about 5 minutes of speaking time, but he definitely made a lasting impression with that time. If his performance has a flaw, it's that it's too good. It ended almost as soon as it began, and for the rest of the movie after his famous speech I kept hoping he'd show up again. It made the rest of the movie after that point seem lesser in comparison, even though it was just as high quality as the first part.
Technical excellence aside, one particular thing about The Third Man really stood out at me that I hadn't heard of at all before hand. That is, that The Third Man might just be one of the most cynical movies I've ever seen. Throughout The Third Man Joseph Collin's Holly Martins stumbles through his investigation, ignoring key facts, getting drunk and getting in harms way with very little payoff. In fact, once could argue that all of Martins efforts in the first half are entirely pointless. Not only was he wrong, but he spent the time studying the murder of one of the most dastardly characters ever to reach the screen. And things only get worse after that. The woman he's fallen in love with betrays and ignores him, his best friend, the one who made even boring activities fun turns out to be willingly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, many children, the police captain who beraded and embarresed Martins turns out to be completely right and his entire trip to Vienna gains him absolutely nothing. Hell, the most charismatic character in the movie is the villain. The devil has a skip in his step and a smile on his face, while God sits on the sidelines exhausted. Good may have technically won in the end, but it's not like the world is a lot better for it.
With the exception of Paths of Glory, no movie on my journey so far as unsettled me quite as much as The Third Man. Maybe it was just because I expected something so much different, or maybe it was because, unlike most movies labeled as cynical, The Third Man has been one of the only I've seen which doesn't dwell solely on its own cynicism. The Third Man's cynical nature is never mentioned or explored by its makers, it's just kind of there, and to me that struck me more than any of those movies ever have. Ebert may believe that The Third Man defines everything that is romantic about the movie-going experience, but to me there was nothing romantic about this film. 18 years before Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate changed American movies by putting violence, sex, and disenchantment at the center of the film industry, The Third Man offered a startling vision which, by being so close to it's contemporaries in structure and character yet so different in mood and theme, ended up being even more effective than either of those films could ever be. Talk about ahead of your time. 9/10