“I’ve done things that would have been unthinkable before the war.”
Response to Peary’s Review:
It’s actually hard to name just one element that contributes to this film’s success; as noted by Peter Bogdanovich:
Indeed, everything about this expertly crafted, finely acted film keeps one glued to the screen and the storyline — thanks in large part to consistently innovative cinematography, with action taking place on inherently atmospheric sets.
The attention to period detail and overall ambience in this film is especially significant; this is not simply any old “murder mystery”, but rather one that’s inextricably entrenched within the unique milieu of a city split into fragments by various occupiers, its motley inhabitants dealing with the inevitability of post-war chaos, corruption, and mistrust. Lonely Martins stumbles into this unsettled setting, mourning the loss of a man he considers “the best friend he ever had” while falling hard for stunning beauty Valli (excellent in her most iconic role). Meanwhile, Howard’s cynical-realist policeman is perpetually on the sidelines, ready to remind Cotten what kind of man his friend Harry Lime really was.
Countless memorable images stand out from The Third Man: “Holly being bitten by a parrot, Holly being chased by a little boy who’s telling everyone within earshot that Holly’s a murderer, Lime and Holly speaking while on a Ferris wheel, Lime being chased through the sewers, and in the finale, Holly waiting for Valli as she walks toward the camera”. Also notable are Holly’s disastrous (indeed, nightmarish and Hitchcockian) talk in front of an audience of “cultured” Brits ready to hear him expound on high-falutin’ literary topics; “Baron” Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch) playing violin at the Casanova Club while an overweight female sips soup right under his chin; the many scenes in which faces of random citizens are shown in crowded, close focus on the screen; Lee punching Holly and then, without missing a beat, politely helping him get back up. There’s no sentimentality here: as much as Holly may want to imbue his old friend with the glow of eternal loyalty, his idealized vision is broken down bit by bit, and there’s no happy ending in sight (though surely he has plenty of material to bring to his work as a novelist).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)