Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Third Man (1949)

Writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) travels to Vienna, still ravaged by the war, to visit his boyhood friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). It seems Holly's pulp novels aren't selling all that well and jumped at the opportunity to mooch off his old friend. Sadly for him, good 'oll Harry is dead. Seems he walked out in front of a truck. Bad news for Holly.

The local police chief, who didn't seem to have bent too far backwards investigating the death, isn't too torn up over it. Seems he has quite a lower opinion of Lime than Holly. Something to do with penicillin and the black market. So, with nothing better to do, and to redeem the good name of his buddy, he decides to start asking questions. Soon he discovers discrepancies in the police report. It says two men helped Lime to the side of the road but a witness clearly saw three. Maybe Lime's death was no accident. Maybe it was murder. And the first person to ask is The Third Man.

Happen to know what a zither is? If not, it's a traditional eastern European stringed instrument that makes a uniquely annoying sound, certainly not the kind one would master in hopes of impressing the lady-folk. In the world of western cinema, there is room for exactly one film to make exclusive use of it, and this is that film. If there exists another movie in creation that uses this instrument exclusively, that movie should be torn up, burned, then the ashes fed to rabid snakes.

That said, this noir film seems to work well with the comically upbeat zither. In fact, most of the movie works well. The acting was fine, the setting and atmosphere were great, the story had me guessing, and the hottie (Alda Valli as Lime's grieving girlfriend) was hot.

Not wanting to spoil anything, I'm going to leave it there. It's a very good mystery that bears rewatching. AMRU 4.
"Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

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