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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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And I never thought of this as film noir. No relentless descent into darkness, no femme fatale, etc. Stylistically, there's a beautiful use of light and shadow, and wonderfully framed angled shots, but is that enough to call The Third Man a film noir?

 

 

To me "The Third Man" is absolutely noir. The key is the moral uncertainty. There seems to be no clearly defined right or wrong in this world, and Holly, the American "cowboy" is completely ill equipped to deal with it. And when Holly does realize that Lime is evil, and takes part in his finish, it brings him no reward. In one of the great final shots, Anna, working under her own code of loyalty, simply ignores him.

 

It may be true there is no femme fatale, but consider if there is an homme fatale. Doesn't Harry tempt Holly just as cleverly and ruthlessly as any of the women we've seen?

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 I especially like the dialogue and expressiveness of the actors. (This also is true in the rest of the film; the female lead is perfectly soft, sad and burdened; Cotten's character perfectly confused, determined, and crestfallen). 

Good call on the dialogue and actors! I too loved Alida Valli's performance and after viewing this multiple times and having trouble trying figure out her character and why she was the way she was.  By looking at her role as an "actor" and searching the script for a handle on how she should be played, I finally caught it.  When Cotten goes backstage to her dressing room he eventually asks her if she was in love with Harry, she replies she doesn't know...she doesn't know anything anymore, she only knows "she wants to be dead too!"  No wonder she has no interest in Cotten's advances.  She's as much a ghost of a person as Harry is, just kind of going through the motions of life without caring.  Thus the ending scene between her and Cotton was most appropriate.  

 

As we all know there are no small parts only small actors.  I would point out a wonderfully well played "moment" (don't blink) by the minister/religious character during the second time around at the burial site near the end of the movie.  Without any dialog, he is upset, didn't want to perform this ritual again and he's out of there!  It's so short and fast, it took me many screenings before catching it!

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Canted angles, inclined streets, titled hats, and elastic zither music--nothing is on the level in this scene. The formalist techniques add a delusional effect to the realist architecture and sculpture and place the audience in the mental state of the protagonist and his "German gin."

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If i am in a city where corpses pop up once in while here and there, and I notice someone is stalking me I wouldn't stop, I would keep walking. Better yet, I would keep running and screaming. But tougher than me noir guys don't do that. They scream to the other guy hidden in the shadows, allowing us to watch one of most fine entrances in noir movies, which starts just with a man's feet. The cat between the feet adds a creative touch to the entrance, as well the unexpected source of light illuminating the face of Orson Welles, who can't do nothing else than gives us a embarrassed smile. And coincidence or not, the previous clip, from The Postman Always Rings Twice also has a entrance by Lana Turner showing her feet and legs. Who, do you think, has the better legs?

 

Another point to add is Graham Greene, considered by James Naremore as an important contributor to noir in his book "More Than Night" and author of the novel in which the movie is based. Greene is also the author of other works that inspired Ministry of Fear by Fritz Lang, This Gun for Hire, by Frank Tuttle, Brighton Rock by John Boulting and The Fallen Idol, by Carol Reed again. 

 

The Third Man (1949) is an important contribution to the bunch of noir movies that have Cold War as background, but not the first one, I believe, since we also have at least one more, Berlin Express (1948), by Jacques Tourneur, made a year earlier. 

 

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This is the cat and mouse walk chase before the final. Dutch angles to make the streets look dark and strange. Orson Welles keeping an eye on Cotton in the streets only Welles knows. The music starts and stops. The camera has a loud voice with its angles and close ups.

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There's darkness and quiet.  For a while all we hear is Joseph Cotten calling to the figure in the darkness to show themself.  All of a sudden we see Orson Welles with this great grin!  Then he disappears into the darkness!  We hear steps and Harry Lime has vanished.  We are left with rhe discovery of a hidden stairwell.  The suspense mounts!  Here we go!!!  Great use of darkness and light!

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Carol Reed's The Third Man is probably one of my all-time favourite (noir) films. I guess it has an european touch of sophisticated and clever cynicism that makes it so different from the majority of other american films noir. 

The first stylistic element that indicates that this is not just another film noir it's the soundtrack: the music doesn't stress the nocturnal ambiance of danger and mystery to which the empty, mazy streets of Vienna point to, but rather clashes with the particular mood expected from a film noir in an challenging and remarkable way. Of course, by the end of the scene this same music reappears in a more frenetic rhythm, as an effect of dramatic punctuation, but in the first moments the sound of the instrument played (some kind of guitar) not only is very familiar for me, but also makes me think of hot and languorous mediterranean evenings rather than the cold nights of Viena.

It is also partly because of that quality of the music that Harry Lime's entrance in the film is so effective: his ironic smile suits perfectly the music style, both acting as a tempting invitation to some kind of unknown adventure.

But music doesn't operate alone in this emblematic Orson Welles's character's entrance: light, dark and shadow are the "must-have" visual elements without which noir wouldn't be noir. In an apparent empty war-town Vienna, only Joseph Cotten and a noisy cat are courageous enough to walk on the streets so late at night; Joseph Cotten's character notices the cat but he doesn't immediately see at the man hiding behind it; it's the emerging light from a suddenly opened window (where a woman is screaming in German to shut up the noise in the street) that reveals it presence, and it's the returning of darkness that allows Harry Lime to disappear again; finally, when Cotten sees the runaway man, it's his shadow that he follows, only to find himself again lost and alone in the deserted streets of the Austrian capital.

At the surface, Vienna is depicted in a realistic way, but once we get closer to what Joseph Cotten's character's sees or feels, the formalistic elements contaminate the framing composition and the cinematography in an unmistakable and extremely innovative noir style. For example, the diagonality of the second and fourth shots (the doorway with the cat, where Harry Lime's hiding) break up the realistic effect, and so does his "running shadow". The ending of the scene seems to suggest that we'll only get to understand the secrets that Vienna hides if we go down its mysterious undergrounds.

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the cat has cuter legs :lol:

 The cat between the feet adds a creative touch to the entrance, as well the unexpected source of light illuminating the face of Orson Welles, who can't do nothing else than gives us a embarrassed smile. And coincidence or not, the previous clip, from The Postman Always Rings Twice also has a entrance by Lana Turner showing her feet and legs. Who, do you think, has the better legs?

 

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I loved how the crazy street angles and doorway angles make you feel off kilter, just like the main character is feeling.

We first see Orson Welles' very shiny shoes (film noir).  When we see his face it is the only part of the scene that is in the light, another formalist technique.

The zither music seems to add emotion to the scene, it imitates the frustration when the main charchter splashes the water out of the fountain and creates the excitement when the police office thinks of the hidden staircase as an escape route.  The zither even does a sort of "tah dah" this is how he escaped when they show the stairs spiralling downward.

The back lighting of the staircase suggests to the viewer that it will be important in the story.

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the cat has cuter legs :lol:

 

Well I finally find something we disagree on.    Lana has the better legs.  But the cat is cuter than Orson.  :P

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now i agree with that: cat better looking than orson hee hee

Well I finally find something we disagree on.    Lana has the better legs.  But the cat is cuter than Orson.  :P

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now i agree with that: cat better looking than orson hee hee

 

Moving on,  have you seen the film Manhandled?   I ask since your avatar has the lovely Dorothy Lamour.   She stars in this 1949 noir with Dan Duryea and Sterling Hayden.   The film is only OK.  While the actors do a very good job the direction is kind of slack failing to built enough tension.    Of course Duryea has the charming bad boy role down pat.    Worth checking out for fans of these stars.   

 

After I saw Lamour in The Fleet is In I was a fan.     

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Yes! But's it's been a while.  The beginning is good and I like Dan Duryea in it. For me it loses steam when Sterling Hayden shows. But I like the psyco-analytical angle to it. Thanks for reminding me of that one. I have to get the dvd.  I have list of ones I want since this class.

Never saw Lamour in the Fleet though

Moving on,  have you seen the film Manhandled?   I ask since your avatar has the lovely Dorothy Lamour.   She stars in this 1949 noir with Dan Duryea and Sterling Hayden.   The film is only OK.  While the actors do a very good job the direction is kind of slack failing to built enough tension.    Of course Duryea has the charming bad boy role down pat.    Worth checking out for fans of these stars.   

 

After I saw Lamour in The Fleet is In I was a fan.     

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Personally, having seen this film a few times, I've always thought its style was kind of "Welles-esque," with low-key lighting, odd camera angles and so on. Not to detract from Carroll Reed at all, an excellent director in his own right; perhaps it's just Orson Welles being there that brings Citizen Kane or Touch of Evil so readily to mind.

That said, the scene is very effective: the slanted streets and skewed angles that reflect the Cotten character's drunkenness; the shock of him seeing Harry Lime (whom he thought was dead, after all); and the slight startled look on Lime's face when the light initially hits it, instantly transforming into a self-satisfied smile - after all, Harry Lime is a person who needs to adapt instantly to new situations.

 

On a side note, has anyone else seen the TV series they made out of The Third Man? It starred Michael Rennie as Harry Lime, and presented him as a do-gooder, helping people out in postwar Europe! Pretty different from the movie.

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-- What makes Harry Lime's (Orson Welles) "entrance" in this film so effective? At first, when Joseph Cotton recognizes he's being stalked,  the cat, the skewed camera angle of the door and low lighting engage the viewer.  We are focused on that doorway.  The great lighting on Harry's face when the neighbor turns the light on all make this scene more engaging.  What's more surprising is Harry's reaction.  I expected him to run or confront Joseph Cotton's character, but he has this smug confident smile on his face.  

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Third Man has one of the greatest soundtracks in all of  film history.  One of my all time favorites. From the lighting to the camera angles this film just zips along.  Who knew zither music could be so cool,

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This film, The Third Man, has Welles' finger prints all over. Carol Reed may be the director but Welles must have had some input on this film. The formalist technique is so reminiscent of Citizen Kane that if Reed's name did not appear in the director's credit one would say it was directed by Welles. Anyhow, the scene in question is well shot. The use of the lighting from the apartment to reveal Welles in the entry way was a clever way of introducing a light source to reveal the mysterious figure of Harry Lime. The shadow of Lime running down the street was another clever use of natural light in the evening. This film is truly a piece of art and it is for this reason that it is so highly regarded. This film is no different than a work by Van Gogh or Picasso; film making at its finest using the tools we credit to what we call "film noir".

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THE THIRD MAN is a perfect illustration of noir's realistic and formalistic approaches. Realistic for the stark depiction of post-World War II Vienna and the outpost of the European situation at the time, especially where the Four Powers are concerned in overseeing the city. Formalistic for the harsh lighting (suggesting a fragile infrastructure and its impact on residents' lives), the exaggerated shadows (e.g., Harry's flight after being discovered by Holly) and the bizarre angles that hint at the danger lying around the corner (the street people who watch Holly as he negins his probe into Harry's "death"). I've used the line before, but I like Popescu's offhand advice to Holly, "One must be careful in a city like Vienna," which, of course, Holly pointedly ignores (along with Calloway's sage guidance: "Leave death to the professionals"). These are verbal cues to the noirish world Holly has entered. Harry's introduction is startling even if we are beginning to believe, up that point, that despite all evidence to the contrary, he might actually still be alive. When confronted with the fact he's no ghost, much of what we've learned about Harry, his roguish behavior and flippant attitude is summed up in that impish smile he offers to Holly before taking a powder. Significantly, Harry has stepped out of the shadows of our consciousness and become real for the audience. The light from the second-story apartment that illuminates the doorway and Harry's face is is a terrific use of the key light effect, one of a number of outstanding shots in THE THIRD MAN. These were clearly influenced by Hollywood noir films (and, perhaps, by Welles) but the British had their own take on light and shadow for maximum effect in their postwar flicks; check ODD MAN OUT (1947) and OLIVER TWIST (1948) for fascinatingly dark visual compositions, not to mention the spooky opening of GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946).

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One other item I wanted to mention is the use of tilted camera angles to create disorientation or heighten the mystery. Roy William Neill was fond of them in the Sherlock Holmes series at Universal from 1942 to 1946. His directorial preference for the angle is more pronounced in THE HOUSE OF FEAR (1945).

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Harry Lime's entrance is so effective in that he is framed in total darkness only to have a woman oper her window to reveal Harry and the coy little smile.

 

The realistic touches come from the location shooting and people such as the policemen approaching Joseph Cotton as crazy.  The formalist touches come from the lighting off of wet cobblestone. Also, the overpowering zither music and very subjective camera angles.

 

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  • What makes Harry Lime's (Orson Welles) "entrance" in this film so effective?

It's very unexpected, veiled in mystery, but, above all, humorous. His smile says it all. Yes, he's the ghost, the stalker, he's the one that is in the know and has control. The film doesn't start out with a serious air of anything. For the first few seconds, it's just a man walking at night, which can mean a lot of things, but not always danger/mystery. However, as things progress and he becomes aware of someone watching him and then is chasing down Harry only for him to disappear, the tension rises.

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Love the way this is shot. It's like a horror film - the shadowy canted gothic doorway where you can only see feet. Is that a corpse, a killer, a spy? Whoever it is can't be all bad, I mean cats are a discriminating judge of character. And we're right! Look at that quirky little smirk on Orson Welles.

 

More Poe-like shots - running footsteps down a slick cobblestone street, leading to a hidden stairwell  circling under the depths of Vienna. Not sure what's going to happen. Joseph Cotten doesn't seem worried, Orson Welles looks like he's having fun, but the scenery, lighting, and music say otherwise.

 

Classic!

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This was a spectacular entrance. We think the man Cotten is talking to is simply just another spy. All we see are his feet, and a cat in between them. The only reason we see his face is because a woman is annoyed by Cotten’s shouting turning her light on in her apartment. The revelation of Welles is sudden and therefore the impact is more powerful. The man we thought was dead is standing there across the street! Then just as suddenly, the light in the apartment goes out and he disappears. The on location shooting adds to the realism of the scene. We believe that we are in Vienna, in a street, chasing a man into a square. Yet Reed abuses the formalist distortion of angles to the point where nothing is standing upright, not windows, or doorways. We chase shadows on the walls rather than real people and the shadows disappear in a way that real people can’t. Normal footsteps surround us and we are not sure where they are coming from. We constantly feel that we are being watched, understandable in a square where there are nothing but buildings with lots of dark windows. The camera is only horizontal when Cotten is trying to convince the other two men that what happened really happened. Finally, the use of fog when they open the trap door leading down the dark stairs is clearly formalistic. 

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Along with the use of German Expressionist-style angles & shadows, the way Orson Welles is revealed in a sudden blinding light is very film noir! Then, he disappears in the blink of an eye. The car coming down the street as Joseph Cotten tries to cross gives the scene a noirish unbalanced feel! Great movie! Great scene!

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The dark wet streets; cobblestones; shadows canted in all directions; Orson Welles face bathed in a sudden light; ...this is so quintessentially film noir. Welles' expression, or rather expressions are priceless. He emerges from the shadows not like a vision, a la Kathy Moffat, but like an apparition. And indeed he is a ghost, he's not supposed to be alive. And he smiles that knowing smile...a post-war Mona Lisa.

I agree with another student who says Welles must have had a hand in making this movie. It's so much like his work. (And how could he resist giving a little advice?)

But I have to disagree about the soundtrack. I find it incredibly intrusive and really annoying. I think this movie is a classic, but I wish I could see it without having to listen to this endless zither music. 

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