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  • Writer's pictureDomenic

One Year Anniversary Post: Revisiting The Third Man| Review

Updated: May 31, 2022

On the one-year anniversary of my website, I wanted to do something out of the norm. What better way than to revisit my favorite film, The Third Man, in a different style than my other reviews.

I've seen The Third Man 11 times, and every time I've received a 108-minute long glimpse into the pinnacle of this art form called cinema. The Third Man is the best cinema has to offer. While there are films that are commonly regarded as the best of all time, i.e Citizen Kane, Vertigo, 2001: A Space Odyssey ----those come close to The Third Man but pale in comparison. With that heated statement, here are five categories to break down my favorite film:

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Narrative: The Third Man resembles the themes of both the unfolding of WWII and its aftermath. Just as countries slowly and steadily learned of the terrors that Nazi Germany had inflicted upon the Jewish population, so does Holly, the main character, gradually learn the treachery Harry, the antagonist, has cause upon countless individuals. Through this fight for righteousness and justice, many enemies become friends. Churchill befriends Stalin to fight against evil, so does Holly assist Maj. Calloway and Anna. In the end, justice is fought for and wins, but after that the heros leave and the allies depart from one another. The time period and setting of the film take place in call to mind the livelihood and hopelessness that occur during the aftermath of a war. Austria is left in rubble, buildings are destroyed, crime runs rampant, the government lies on the brink of collapse, the people are hopeless. The presumed murder of an individual is the least of anyone's concerns. But the outcome of the film showcases how those very same people can unite to accomplish something greater than themselves. As for the story line of the film, the screenplay is a paragon of film. The entire first half of the film leads to a singular moment that is so perfectly written that it's hard not to wonder why this film isn't considered the greatest of all time. Those small detailed moments of writing precision and perfection occur throughout the film. Definitely one of the greatest first and third acts in cinema.

Cinematography: Of the films that are commonly cited to have the best cinematography, The Third Man consistenly ranks amongst the top five or so. That is without question, considering that every frame of The Third Man contains incredible lighting and/or composition. Even when there's a mere expository speck of dialogue (thankfully this film doesn't have any), Robert Krasker, the cinematographer, still miraculosuly finds a way to shoot it to perfection. His shots inculcate us with the idea that we're watching a master at the top of his craft. His visual efforts to embark the viewer into a labyrinth of darkness are one of the many highlights of the film. The audience member feels as though they have been transported into a hyper-stylized yet familiar setting primarily because of Krasker's remarkable ability to bring out the precise atmosphere of a film in every shot. The Third Man works so well because the people behind the scenes work their hardest to capture the precise vision director Carol Reed has for the film and Krasker only helps cement that claim.

Direction: It's often debated whether or not Welles gave his hand in directing The Third Man. The film shares some very distinct similarities to Welles' masterpieces like The Lady From Shanghai and Citizen Kane. I believe that hypothesis to be wrong. For one, people were copying tricks Welles performed behind the camera right after Citizen Kane was released. So, if The Third Man does, in some way, shape, or form, resemble a Welles-ian like picture, then the most rational conclusion would be that Reed was just simply influenced by him. It was most likely a coincidence that Welles happened to be in the cast and for the film to resemble, to some degree, his work. Apart from that, Reed is a master of direction. The reason behind the feeling, atmosphere, and overall sense of the film is primarily because of Reed's choices as a director. He knows exactly when to place a Dutch angle and when not to (the Dutch angle is primarily popular because of The Third Man, German Expressionism only birthed it). His vision of postwar Vienna is all too real to call stylized. His vision of a world of criminals, heroes, and villains is too stylized to call reality. The result is a film unlike anything seen before.

Influence: While it's not as influential as Citizen Kane (and if I were to judge the title of best films of all time solely on influence, then it would be Citizen Kane, for every other factor it would be The Third Man), The Third Man influences a variety of films and makers. For instance, the Dutch angle wouldn't be nearly as popular amongst directors if not for Reed's decision to push the practice to a more efficient manner, whereas it wasn't previously seen as this effective. Nowadays, it seems as though anytime a director wants to establish a mysterious or off-kilter scene's tone and narrative, they'll end up using a Dutch angle. And when it comes to film twists, none were remotely as meaningful as the one found in this film. Yes, there were other important twists, but they never devoted the entirety of their remaining runtime to that one singular twist. That practice has almost become mainstream in cinema today.

Favoritism: I've obviously cemented my love for film noir in past reviews and in lists. One of the very first film noirs I saw was The Third Man, which kick-started my passion for the genre. It really sums up the best this genre has to offer, with the possible exception of a more cutthroat femme-fatale, and provided a guiding light for what exactly interests me in a film. The Third Man is consistently my favorite film, and I truly mean it.

Time Stamp: March 2021

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