So I just listened to the Out of the Past podcast on the Third Man where Shannon Clute and our professor discusses whether the Third Man is noir. Note Clute strongly disagrees that the movie is noir and while Edwards defends it's noir status he seems to defend it more on its visual style.
Clute's main argument is that the film via Harry Lime is too B&W and not ambiguous enough. But I completely disagree. For one I don't think noir can't have truly evil villains. It's not Lime's story, it's Martins' story. And for me what Martins learns and experiences in the Third Man is what makes the narrative very much a noir.
The podcast brings up that Holly Martins writes dime Westerns that often have a very Black & White morality. I do think this is important to Holly's character but in the fact that where he goes into the situation like a Western Hero: Trying to prove his dead friend's innocence and show the corruption of the bad "sherrif" (in this case the Trevor Howard character) and help the girl in the end the opposite happens.
Instead Holly has a rude awakening that this isn't like his Western hero stories. For all his bluster to his friend's innocence he is made to look a fool. His friend wasn't innocent or even murdered. And even though he helps the police catch Lime he has to do so by betraying his best friend and shooting him. To me that is not a B&W situation at all. Yes we can say Lime was truly evil but in a B&W story, it would not be Holly's friend.
To add to this Holly asks for one thing to help the girl but not only does she refuse his help at the end of the film she walks away and doesn't even acknowledge him. He did the "right thing" but she would rather be turned over to the Russian part of the Vienna. Hardly the ending of a "Western Hero" and an ending very suitable to a noir.
Anyways this was one of my favorite podcasts of the series so I recommend everyone give it a listen.
That bugged me mightily too, as I listened to this entry in the terrific Clute-Edwards podcast series. I saw much more moral ambiguity and shading in the THIRD MAN story than did Mr. Clute. Holly Martins' pulp-Western black hat/white hat worldview, if he ever had it in the first place, was beaten into the ground by the time the movie was over. He went through a major disillusionment and survived it, as the last few seconds of the movie show us. As VanHazard wrote in his excellent earlier post, every character (but one) acts more or less opportunistically in this story. Wheeling and dealing and horse-trading and one hand washing the other is what it took to restore some semblance of order to this brokedown city. Who is to condemn? It's just politics on a smaller scale. All the deeds done in THE THIRD MAN can be regarded as on a moral continuum, with Harry Lime's nefarious racket on the extreme far end and Calloway's maneuverings to catch him much closer to the other, "good" end.
Holly killing Harry in the end wasn't a heroic white-hat deed. True, he did come to recognize Harry's evil after he witnessed first-hand its results. But down in the sewer, with an almost impercebtible gesture Harry asked Holly to pull the trigger. So he could die at once right there and not have to account for his crimes in front of a judge and jury. Like Anna said to Calloway at one point, if I remember correctly, "Better that Harry die than fall in the hands of your men". Holly did him the favor.
What makes the movie so troubling and fascinating is that it is NOT heroic. It shows us how everyone who knew Harry - his co-conspirators Kurz, Winkel, the Hungarian; Holly, Anna especially, and even her cat - was in Harry's thrall in spite of knowing what he'd done. Holly was nostalgic for his old friend, this charismatic figure who could fix anything. Anna was tragically in love with him. She stayed true til the end to her line, "A person doesn't change because you find out more." The movie doesn't condemn anyone for being under Harry's spell. On the contrary - after Anna's long walk at the end, I positively ache over her foolish love.