A NEW LOOK AT A TRUE CLAS­SIC

Carol Reed’s 1949 film is back in a restora­tion that shows off the rich mu­sic, act­ing and at­mos­phere.

Los Angeles Times - - SUNDAY CALENDAR - KEN­NETH TU­RAN FILM CRITIC A ver­sion of this piece was pub­lished in Tu­ran’s “Not to Be Missed: 54 Fa­vorites From a Life­time of Film.” ken­neth.tu­ran@latimes.com

It was the rare film of Graham Greene’s work that the nov­el­ist was happy with, the only ex­am­ple of Or­son Welles’ that the ac­tor liked well enough to watch on tele­vi­sion. A film of bril­liant pieces that co­a­lesce into a su­perb whole, it could only be “The Third Man,” and it is back in the best shape of its life.

Open­ing Fri­day for a one-week run at the Land­mark Nuart, “The Third Man” ap­pears in a new 4K ver­sion that was the toast of Cannes, the first restora­tion this Carol Reed-di­rected thriller has had since its re­lease in 1949.

Just as much of a “Third Man” char­ac­ter as any­one played by an ac­tor is the city of Vi­enna in those cor­ro­sive, ca­su­ally amoral post-World War II days when it was di­vided into sec­tors run by each of the great Al­lied pow­ers: Bri­tain, France, Amer­ica and the U.S.S.R.

The film makes ex­cel­lent use of real-life lo­ca­tions, es­pe­cially the city’s mag­nif­i­cent ar­chi­tec­ture, of­ten glimpsed half-crum­bling or stand­ing des­ti­tute next to enor­mous piles of rub­ble.

The at­mos­phere Reed and com­pany cre­ated is as thick as the lo­cal cof­fee, an ideal set­ting for a world with­out he­roes where ev­ery­one is ei­ther a fool, a cynic, a crim­i­nal or, quite pos­si­bly, a com­bi­na­tion of all three.

Robert Krasker’s Os­car-win­ning black-and-white cin­e­matog­ra­phy was es­sen­tial in cre­at­ing this am­bi­ence. Its use of dis­con­cert­ing cam­era an­gles to de­pict a noc­tur­nal at­mos­phere of deep and dan­ger­ous shad­ows, a dark world in ev­ery sense of the word, was key to its be­ing named in Amer­i­can Cin­e­matog­ra­pher mag­a­zine as one of the 10 best-shot films of cin­ema’s first half-cen­tury.

The film’s other ir­re­place­able el­e­ment is the in­deli­ble zither play­ing of An­ton Karas. Though it’s of­ten said that Reed stum­bled upon Karas play­ing in a small café out­side Vi­enna and de­cided to em­ploy him on the spot, Charles Drazin in his au­thor­i­ta­tive “In Search of The Third Man” says Reed heard him at a welcome party the day he ar­rived in Vi­enna.

The di­rec­tor’s de­ci­sion to use Karas for the score was un­heard of, Drazin writes — “Like Steven Spiel­berg telling John Wil­liams not to bother turn­ing up and hir­ing in­stead a man he’d met on the beach with a penny whis­tle” — but it paid off. Karas’ mu­sic be­came a world­wide sen­sa­tion, lead­ing to a U.S. ad cam­paign that promised, no kid­ding, “He’ll have you in a dither with his zither!”

Into “The Third Man’s” cesspool of ca­sual amoral­ity comes Holly Martins (Joseph Cot­ten, never bet­ter), a bumbling, self-right­eous and there­fore dan­ger­ous Amer­i­can (Greene, who wrote the screen­play, didn’t think there were any other kind) who has naive no­tions of jus­tice plus a great deal of mis­placed con­fi­dence in his abil­ity to get to the bot­tom of things.

Greene, who be­lieved “in­no­cence is a kind of in­san­ity,” re­turned to this theme in “The Quiet Amer­i­can”; in his and Reed’s hands, “The Third Man” is the story of a man’s un­sen­ti­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion, of the hard road he trav­els in the get­ting of wis­dom.

A self-pro­claimed cre­ator of cheap nov­el­ettes with names like “The Lone Rider of Santa Fe” and “Death at Dou­ble X Ranch,” Martins, “happy as a lark and with­out a cent,” has come to Vi­enna at the be­hest of his old­est friend and pos­si­ble fu­ture em­ployer, Harry Lime (Welles). (It’s been sug­gested that Greene based Lime on his de­vi­ous close friend, Soviet mole Kim Philby, whose mid­dle name was Harry.)

Un­for­tu­nately, ev­ery­one tells Martins, he has come just a bit too late.

Lime has been killed, the vic­tim of a ran­dom traf­fic ac­ci­dent, mourned by his girl­friend, Anna Sch­midt (Al­ida Valli), and a pair of epicene Vi­en­nese named Baron Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch) and Dr. Winkel (Erich Ponto).

Met at Harry’s fu­neral is the film’s ul­ti­mate re­al­ist, the unemo­tional Ma­jor Cal­loway (a crisp Trevor Howard), a Bri­tish mil­i­tary po­lice­man who tells Martins that his life­long com­rade was “the worst rack­e­teer who ever made a dirty liv­ing in this city.”

Filled with right­eous in­dig­na­tion and never con­sid­er­ing that he might be get­ting into some­thing con­sid­er­ably out of his depth, Martins is de­ter­mined to prove the ma­jor wrong and find out what re­ally killed Harry, start­ing with try­ing to dis­cover who an uniden­ti­fied third man seen at the site of the ac­ci­dent might be.

“Death’s at the bot­tom of ev­ery­thing, leave death to the pro­fes­sion­als,” the ma­jor says, but Martins is in no mood to lis­ten.

Di­rec­tor Reed does ex­cep­tion­ally well con­vey­ing the topsy-turvy na­ture of this world of smil­ing in­sin­cer­ity where a man typ­i­cally spec­u­lates on Lime’s after­life state by say­ing, “He’s ei­ther in heaven [point­ing down] or in hell [point­ing up].” Reed, whose other work in­cluded “Odd Man Out,” “The Fallen Idol” and “Out­cast of the Is­lands,” was a mas­ter­ful or­ches­tra­tor of this kind of off-kil­ter am­bi­ence, the hope­less­ness of a uni­verse turned morally up­side down.

Reed and Greene also com­bine to cre­ate vivid char­ac­ters very much of their time and place, like the smirk­ing baron in his enor- mous, fur-col­lared over­coat in­con­gru­ously walk­ing through a Vi­en­nese cafe hold­ing a tiny dog and a copy of Martins’ “Ok­la­homa Kid” or the small boy (Herbert Hal­bik) liv­ing in Lime’s apart­ment build­ing who starts to re­sem­ble a sin­is­ter, ma­lig­nant dwarf.

“The Third Man” pro­vides defin­ing roles for all its lead ac­tors, es­pe­cially Cot­ton as the hap­less, self­pi­ty­ing fool who thinks he’s a hero in the mak­ing and for Welles in a part that French critic An­dré Bazin called a mile­stone in his ca­reer. Welles’ first on-screen ap­pear­ance is one of cin­ema’s great re­veals and puts the ac­tor’s pol­ished non­cha­lance and enig­matic smile to the best pos­si­ble use.

Not that the Amer­i­can ac­tor couldn’t be fussy: Reed later re­called that Welles so re­belled against film­ing in un­der­ground Vi- enna (“Carol, I can’t work in a sewer, I come from Cal­i­for­nia”) that his shots for those se­quences were filmed in Eng­land’s Shep­per­ton Stu­dios. Mod­ern tourists, who’ve made “Third Man” tours of Vi­enna sew­ers quite pop­u­lar, are con­sid­er­ably less finicky.

Though Welles wrote parts of his own di­a­logue, in­clud­ing the cel­e­brated speech com­par­ing the rel­a­tive cul­tural mer­its of peace­ful Switzer­land and Italy un­der the bloody Bor­gias, the key di­rect­ing choices were all Reed’s.

That very much in­cludes the movie’s somber clos­ing shot and its nervy un­wa­ver­ing cam­era place­ment that Sight & Sound mag­a­zine called a can­di­date for the great­est film fi­nale ever. This end­ing was shot even though Greene ob­jected to it, a po­si­tion the writer re­canted once he saw the pic­ture.

“He has been proved tri­umphantly right,” Greene wrote of the film­maker. “I had not given enough con­sid­er­a­tion to the mas­tery of Reed’s di­rec­tion.”

No one en­coun­ter­ing this film, for the first time or the hun­dredth, will make that mis­take again.

Rialto Pic­tures / Stu­diocanal / As­so­ci­ated Press

OR­SON WELLES

as Harry Line in 1949’s “The Third Man,” called a mile­stone of his ca­reer.

UCLA Film and Tele­vi­sion Archive

JOSEPH COT­TEN and Welles in a story by au­thor Graham Greene, di­rected by Carol Reed with stun­ning cin­e­matog­ra­phy.

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