Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #16: Postwar British Noir (Scene from The Third Man)

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Yes, I agree with you. They don't run away screaming. But where do this fatality this sense of doom, come from? I suspect that at least a part of it has its origins in Europe. Many writers, directors and others artists fled from the hell on earth, Nazism, leaving relatives and friends to die there. I suspect that some carried with them their fears, anxieties and lack of faith in the future into the movies they made. 

It could also be existential and come from the human condition, which applies to everyone. No one country has a monopoly on the quest for meaning in life.

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The third man, a great film, but not in the same space as hollywood films of this period.

 

Today, 09:35 PM

Re visiting these classic noir films 

 

On the case of Postman always rings twice

 

The beauty of both stars will shine forever more as Poe stated..................

 

 

On the case of the Out of the Past

 

The epitome of noir finishes like fine wine............long and lasting.

 

 

The case of Act of Violence

 

post war melodrama with great noir opening that states camera isn't all.

 

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The darkness of night obscures the war damage but touches of Europe: the fountain, the inviting doorways, the lovely old light standards and cobblestone streets make the setting exotic.  Since everything looks out of kilter, the effect on Joseph Cotten and on the viewer is disorientating.  Orson Welles' face appears out of nowhere suddenly bathed in light but otherwise disembodied since he is dressed in dark clothes and standing in shadow.  He smiles like the Cheshire Cat before he disappears just as suddenly.  It is a mysterious and memorable entrance.

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Many people have commented about the zither music played as theme in The Third Man. I have just found out that there is an entire article about it on Wikipedia.

 

Below I paste the main part of if, but you can read the article on this link.

 

 

The Third Man is a 1949 British film noir, directed by Carol Reed.[1] One night after a long day of filming The Third Man on location in Vienna, Reed and cast members Joseph CottenAlida Valli and Orson Welles had dinner and repaired to a wine cellar. In the bistro, which retained the atmosphere of the pre-war days, they heard the zither music of Anton Karas, a 40-year-old musician who was playing there just for the tips. Reed immediately realized that this was the music he wanted for his film. Karas spoke only German, which no one in Reed's party spoke, but fellow customers translated Reed's offer to the musician that he compose and perform the soundtrack for The Third Man. Karas was reluctant since it meant traveling to England, but he finally accepted. Karas wrote and recorded the 40 minutes of music heard in the Third Man over a six-week period, after the entire film was translated for him at Shepperton Studio

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General thoughts (about the entire film)

 

* Great on location shots, the ruined city, the sewers, the lighting, the camera angles, the zither music.

* Its a truly International Noir, with English, German, and Russian spoken and no subtitles.

* No Hayes Code to hamper creativity, you see a topless dancer behind Cotton in one café sequence.

 

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Many people have commented about the zither music played as theme in The Third Man. I have just found out that there is an entire article about it on Wikipedia.

 

Below I paste the main part of if, but you can read the article on this link.

 

 

The Third Man is a 1949 British film noir, directed by Carol Reed.[1] One night after a long day of filming The Third Man on location in Vienna, Reed and cast members Joseph CottenAlida Valli and Orson Welles had dinner and repaired to a wine cellar. In the bistro, which retained the atmosphere of the pre-war days, they heard the zither music of Anton Karas, a 40-year-old musician who was playing there just for the tips. Reed immediately realized that this was the music he wanted for his film. Karas spoke only German, which no one in Reed's party spoke, but fellow customers translated Reed's offer to the musician that he compose and perform the soundtrack for The Third Man. Karas was reluctant since it meant traveling to England, but he finally accepted. Karas wrote and recorded the 40 minutes of music heard in the Third Man over a six-week period, after the entire film was translated for him at Shepperton Studio

 

Interesting. I just read that Karas never really embraced the popularity and rebuked the fame he received from his theme.

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The entire scene was in real black and white.  It was filmed at night.  You see shades of areas of the street and the stone wall behind Joseph Cotton.  You only see the cat at the bottom of the door.  There is someone behind him.  After Cotton's calls force a woman to turn on her lights, you see the side of Harry's face.  He seems to have a smile on his lips.  Then the light goes out and he disappears.  His shadow running along the street looks distorted.  This film adds to film noir because of its use of post-war Europe.  Lives are in ruins.  There is the black market, which Harry is part of.  The film is wet and cold.  The zither music adds off elements and feelings for the viewer.

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One of the reasons the "entrance" of Harry Lime is so interesting isn't immediately apparent in this clip, but once you've seen the whole film you are aware that what sets this introduction of a major character is that it comes so very late in the film. Harry's "death" initiates and propels the action through the entire film, but we come to meet him late in the film. Even then, it is unclear if Harry wants to be introduced. He's hiding in the shadows. Joseph Cotton is calling to the man in the shadows, unaware that this is in fact his old friend Harry. The shaded figure does not respond to Cotton's request that he reveal himself. It is only by chance that the woman in the apartment above, annoyed at the noise in the street, opens her window and sends a sliver of light down to the street that illuminates Harry, and turns the plot in a new direction. The noirish use of light and shadow in this scene is brilliant. On the one hand the light source is obviously the light from the woman's apartment, but it exposes Harry in an arresting formalistic composition.

 

The depiction of war ravaged Vienna, with the piles of bricks and other rubble is gritty and realistic, but the cinematography lights the scenes with formalist compositions that heighten the sense of suspense and underscores the fact that the film is about Harry and his cohorts, people who dwell in the shadows.

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The entire scene was in real black and white.  It was filmed at night.  You see shades of areas of the street and the stone wall behind Joseph Cotton.  You only see the cat at the bottom of the door.  There is someone behind him.  After Cotton's calls force a woman to turn on her lights, you see the side of Harry's face.  He seems to have a smile on his lips.  Then the light goes out and he disappears.  His shadow running along the street looks distorted.  This film adds to film noir because of its use of post-war Europe.  Lives are in ruins.  There is the black market, which Harry is part of.  The film is wet and cold.  The zither music adds off elements and feelings for the viewer.

 

Sometimes you see glimpses of how relatively minor, borderline obscure B noir films may have influenced later, more renown films.  

For instance, managed to catch part of the 1943 Val Lewton film, The Seventh Victim, on TCM a little while ago, and smiled at two scenes that struck a familiar cord.    It was an RKO film directed by Mark Robson, and starred Tom Conway, Kim Hunter and Hugh Beaumont, among others.   Hunter's search for her sister in Greenwich discovers a Satanic cult and then some.   

 

Not quite Rosemary's Baby, but the two scenes that struck a familiar cord were:

 

...a shower scene that could have been a precursor to Psycho, camera inside the shower, with Kim Hunter, looking through the curtain as a silhouette appears in the bathroom.   No knives, but one of the cult delivers a warning.   

 

...and later, after the cult's plan to have the missing sister commit suicide by drinking poison fails, the sister skittishly walks home through a very noir city landscape when one of the cult members steps out of black shadow, ala Harry Lime, into light, to follow the sister with obvious bad intent.   

 

No way, of course, to know if either in some way influenced Hitch or Carol Reed, but it's a somewhat creepy little film, with the usual Val Lewton touches.     Don't think the film is considered noir, either.   Like many of Lewton's films, they're more often labeled horror or mystery, though generally including many noir elements and devices.      

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The first time the audience sees Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in the film, "The Third Man" we are led to his feet by a cat, representing perhaps the vulnerability of Harry's friend Holly Martin (Joseph Cotton). Holly calls out for the person attached to those feet to identify himself and state his purpose, but he never does. All at once a disturbed neighbor switches on a light which washes down, illuminating the face and we, and Holly, can see that it is Harry, wearing a smirky, charming sort of expression conveying his confidence in Holly's loyalty, more or less hoping to persuade Holly not to betray him. Martin seems surprised and confused by the appearance and subsequent disappearance of Harry. At this point the film work shifts from a straight forward, realistic approach to a more formalistic style utilizing exaggerated angles, elongated, looming shadows and the zither playing which creates an almost carnival mood, juxtaposed against the serious nature of the themes of greed, murder and survival. One can feel how going through a war and witnessing such large-scale destruction could lead to indifference to human suffering in one who already sits on the colder side of the fence, such as Harry. Reed's decision to hold back the introduction of Welles and then suddenly have him appear out of nowhere is extremely effective in building tension and creating curiosity about Harry Lime. Just this brief glimpse of the central character in the story conveys so much information to the audience. Later films noir were strongly influenced by Reeds direction, as well as the themes of ambiguity, confusion and desperation.

On a more basic level, the cat can also represent the many lives of Harry Lime--not only does he 'come back from the dead', but he also appears to take on another life/persona depending on who he is around (and what he wants).

 

Also, the 'carnival mood' of the zither music reinforces (for me) the idea that this is a game that Harry enjoys playing...

 

Thanks for letting me add to your thoughts, Osfan!

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Vienna is a dark city in this film.  War torn and war weary, Vienna is well depicted by the cinematographer such that it is an ideal location for the film noir style.  There seem to be shadows beyond the dark shadows. The man wandering the street, Holly Martin, is a somewhat inebriated probably on that German gin.  One thing I notice now are the camera angles.  There are many diagonal shots at the beginning throughout this scene.  Even the dark doorway is is skewed.   When this scene opens, you're drawn to the sight of the cat in the doorway.  In the distance that is all that you see; but, having seen this film many times before, now I watch for the shoes of the man standing there in the darkness because I now know that they will be there.  When you've never seen this film before you are right there with Holly Martin as he sees that momentary glimpse of Harry Lime smirking there in that dark doorway.  It's dark magic.  Then he is gone deeper into the shadows setting us up for the suspense to follow.  Great film noir!

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Vienna is a dark city in this film.  War torn and war weary, Vienna is well depicted by the cinematographer such that it is an ideal location for the film noir style.  There seem to be shadows beyond the dark shadows. The man wandering the street, Holly Martin, is a somewhat inebriated probably on that German gin.  One thing I notice now are the camera angles.  There are many diagonal shots at the beginning throughout this scene.  Even the dark doorway is is skewed.   When this scene opens, you're drawn to the sight of the cat in the doorway.  In the distance that is all that you see; but, having seen this film many times before, now I watch for the shoes of the man standing there in the darkness because I now know that they will be there.  When you've never seen this film before you are right there with Holly Martin as he sees that momentary glimpse of Harry Lime smirking there in that dark doorway.  It's dark magic.  Then he is gone deeper into the shadows setting us up for the suspense to follow.  Great film noir!

 

I sure hope Vienna is fixed up now.   I'll be going there in a month.   

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 Holly Martins believes Harry Lime is dead. What's more he thinks he was murdered. While investigating his death, Holly involved himself in a serious crime affair and suspects he's being watched. He's nervous. A minute ago he had a conversation with Anna and heard about the cat. Now he hears the cat's meowing. The cat revealed somebody's actual presence – it sat between two polished shoes. Holly saw the shoes and started to shout at the villain to step out which woke a lady living in the building. The lady started to nag and switched on the light. And the ray of light revealed Harry Lime's face. He is only slighly surprised, not scared, he smiles and raises his eyebrows like this was a game to him, a paper chase. All we can see is growing amusement. And then the light is off and Lime again is hidden in the shadow. Stunned Holly is simply chasing the shadow, only hearing his footsteps.

I've been raised on Polish cinema and such images like post-war Vienna are nothing new and maybe that's why they do not appeal to me that much. It's desolated and sad, people are depressed – the war is over, but they are treated as the guilty ones that started the war in the first place. This is the city of the shadows – shadows of men trying to start a new life, shadows of those who escape from their past or from their enemies and of course an ideal environment for different sort of spies. And this is realistic. Most of the city is filmed in low-key, which helps to obtain those scary shadows. What brings us into formalism is Dutch camera angles and diagonals that make us sometimes feel like Holly did – disoriented, sometimes even blind. Even Harry standing in the doorway seems not real.

The zither music seems to complete this whole impression – a music that simply mocks the outsider, a music that tells us nothing is normal in this city, that everything is a joke, just like Harry's death.

And finally the cat... The cat „betrays” Harry just like Pluto betrayed Ignatius Groper. Pure formalism.  

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This film is possibly one of my favorite noirs, mostly because of the use of realism in the cinematography. Having the reveal come from practical lighting is not a gimmick in this film because the cinematographer and gaffer established the realism of the on-scene night based imagery throughout the story.

Plus, the score predominantly features a zither. C'mon.

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I also really, really hate the music for this film. I'll probably gut through on a re-watch soon, but this clip reminds me of how grating it is. Maybe this is totally subjective for me or people with my taste, but the music at times just grates! Like "change the channel" grates, not  not calling to mind some uncomfortable emotion or tone.

 

I agree with those saying the music does convey lightness, someone playing a game and enjoying it almost mockingly so, and lending a european/germanic flavor. I wish it didn't personally annoy me so much, as I like plenty of other music that conveys similar things.

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Mr. Welles doesn't say a word here, but he says a lot instead. His shadowed sillouete is clearly viewed in short takes diffused by other elements like the unusual music and the woman shouting at the window. Joseph Cotten actually see the mysterious face, but it doesn't mean he started to understand who that really was. That's the reason that makes it so effective.

 

The Vienna presentation, the running sequence and all night shots are highly realistic because they explore well the city at night. However, we see here a lot of diagonal compositions that make its misc-en-sène highly formalistic as well. The sillouette of a man running on the wall is just another great exemple of that, along with steady takes from the door's entrance where Welles is standing on the dark.

 

This British movie is just as important as any other American of its time because it strenghts the noir filmmaking style by introducing Eurpean elements to the narrative. To watch a city like Vienna on the screen is just a really well-appreciated contribution to noir.

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Orson Welles makes his entrance in this clip by hiding in plain sight.  He is in shadow. When the camera panned I was thinking this is a perfect place to hide, because it is so dark.  Then he starts running and disappears, where did he go?  I was thinking the statue had a secret button that you pressed. (One too many episodes of Scooby Doo LOL)  But no they find the showy steps in the street.  Where does this go?  I would not go by myself.  This clip shows the perfect setup for Film Noir.  Mystery, shadows, hidden doors, it is a recipe for a great movie.  

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Orson Welles makes his entrance in this clip by hiding in plain sight.  He is in shadow. When the camera panned I was thinking this is a perfect place to hide, because it is so dark.  Then he starts running and disappears, where did he go?  I was thinking the statue had a secret button that you pressed. (One too many episodes of Scooby Doo LOL)  But no they find the showy steps in the street.  Where does this go?  I would not go by myself.  This clip shows the perfect setup for Film Noir.  Mystery, shadows, hidden doors, it is a recipe for a great movie.  

 

I'll be in Vienna next month.   I'm going to try to go to some of the areas shown in the film.   There is a sewer tour but the travel books says that tour stinks (yea,  as in really stinks!).

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The Third Man (1949) is one of my favorite, all-time films, and my favorite film noir.  Every aspect of the film is brilliantly conceived in every way a film should be from the cinematography to the acting.  
    What makes it the best of film noir for me is exactly how disorienting it is and in ways that go beyond the typical film noir techniques of askew angles, low-key lighting, men in fedoras, the femme fatale, and the like.
     For example, one person on the blog commented that he did not like the music.  I think that this is what Carol Reed wanted: to disturb the viewer not just visually, but aurally, which is what the music used in The Third Man does.  I doubt most Americans in the late 1940s would have ever have heard a zither or its music.  It is an instrument many western Europeans most likely would have known of, but not really been familiar with.  It is so eastern European.  Something from the fringe of Western Civilization, and not near the American fringe.  It would have sounded weird to most Americans and to many western Europeans (though probably as weird to them as to us).  The zither music, and the untranslated used of German, both are aural equivalents of visual effects of low-key lighting and canted angles, and darkness typical of film noir.
     Note how Carol Reed makes no attempt whatsoever to make his monolingual American audience, with its typical (American) English-only attitudes, feel comfortable with much of the language of the film.  There are no American or English actors playing eastern Europeans and badly imitating a German accent, just real eastern Europeans speaking English with a real German accent or, even more shockingly, speaking real German with no attempt to make it easy for the American audience to understand what was being said.  We just have to trust the translations of suspect individuals and rely on the body language and context to try to understand what is being said.
     Holly Martins, our pathetic protagonist embodies all this American discomfort with “foreignness”: he is hostile even to his English cousins (he might be anti-British!) and has to rely completely on strangers to understand what is going on.  The problem is that when they speak to him in English, a language he understands, some are lying to him, so they might as well be speaking gibberish.  English, comfortable old English to Holly Martins and the Euro-American audience is no longer a reliable source of information, just like light in a film noir does not always shine on the truth.
     This skewing of voices and sounds forces the viewer to rely on the visual medium, the visual language of the film, which itself is dark, foreboding, dangerous with its brilliant (used figuratively here, not literally), use of the camera, which transforms a real, bombed-out city into the best film noir set that could ever be imagined, language, then, adds to the disorientation, the skewing of the information in the story.  It also reminds us that a modern motion picture is not principally an aural medium: it's main language for the story is the visual language.  But the visual language in film noir is skewed and disorienting.  What Carol Reed does in The Third Man is make both the visual language and aural language are perfectly synchronized to disorient the audience.
     The zither music, strange to American ears, added to the German language and British accents, takes this American development in film style to another, international level.  At this point, film noir returns to its European roots and finds a home in a film directed by a European, Carol Reed, that takes place in a European capital, Vienna, with an international cast.
     And this is only part of what makes this film such a great motion picture.  I haven’t even talked about the editing, acting and overall story.  There is so much to this film.   Just like a great book, you can come back to this film a hundred times and still see something new and keep learning about whatever it has to teach us.

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"The Third Man" has always been one of my favorite movies. It's beautifully filmed, extremely well written and acted, and brilliantly directed. Its cinematography captures the devastation and ironic beauty of Post War Europe, in this case Vienna, in a similar way that Fellini would film Italy in his films, or Truffaut would film France in "The 400 Blows". The tilted angles the city is filmed from in certain scenes suggests how off balanced everything was in this turbulent time. 

 

This particular scene is one of the most important, as it the first time that it is revealed to Holly (and to the audience) that Harry Lime (Orson Welles) is not dead. Holly cries out and taunts the figure in the shadows, before the light from a nearby window reveals that it was Lime. Holly is shocked, but Lime smiles, indicating that he thinks this is all terrific fun. Holly runs to him, and nearly is hit by a car, the same way that Lime had allegedly been killed. One thing that I never noticed before came a moment later when Holly tries to convince Calloway that he had seen Lime. He says "I chased his shadow", which also interestingly enough speaks to the fact that he's been unknowingly chasing Lime's "shadow", or rather the people overshadowed by Lime and his crimes, throughout the whole film. 

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Welles' entrance is so effective because he appears from a darkened alley into light cast from an upper window dwelling that has opened by an angry woman.She begins shouting angrily at Cotton,below, because he is shouting loudly at the dark shadowy figure (Welles) following him in the alley way.To Cotton's surprise it is not a spy but the friend he assumed was deceased smiling back at him.

The scene appears realistic due to it's location;the setting includes shots postwar dark, lonely,wet streets; typical European tenements; lowly lit street lamps,all of which help to elicit feelings of a very depressed and wartorned country.It is highly formalistic, because of t he night-by-night shooting; Long shots: of Cotton in the quad area, the two men coming through the archway of the street;closeup of Welles face in the doorway and hard lighting on Cottons' surprised face; echoing sound of Welles' running feet and shadows on the wall as he dashes through the streets; music rising loudly as one of the men realizes where Welles might have hidden and the final three shot of the men about to enter a very dark suspicious-looking underground.

This film contributes to noirs in all aspects of how noirs are filmed; the character-template, tone, feel,lighting, style and mood.

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