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


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The look and feel of this scene is so completely different from “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” that you wonder how they could both be considered noir. This scene certainly looks more European. You can certainly see the influence of German expressionism. Carol Reed certainly pushed the disconcerting camera angles to the limit. We still certainly have the noirish light and shadow too, but the real genius is the music. If the scene were supported by dark somber music, it would be too much. The happier music (and Welles bemused smile) turns it into a childlike game of hide and seek. Joseph Cotten always makes it look so easy. 

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The 1st image of Harry Lime, with the cat, was animated and at the end of every "Ebert Presents at the Movies". If I recall, Roger Ebert said this was his all-time favorite scene. Does anyone else remember this? It's easy to see why Ebert felt that way!

 

There is a very generous use of the Dutch angle in this scene/film. We've seen some thus far in our journey, but not nearly to this extent!  

 

Then there's the very loud and blustering American, played by Cotten. I don't recall many films before this where the American was so clueless. 

 

Then the zither music, which had to have thrown audiences off guard. Shoot, it still works, doesn't it?

 

For at least the 3 reasons, above, is why The Third Man is an important contribution to films noir.

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What makes Harry Lime's (Orson Welles) entrance so effective in this scene from The Third Man is the use of the key film noir tools, light, shadow and music.   The man in black is more effective by remaining hidden in the shadows keeping the suspense high and the motives unknown.  Is Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) in danger?  Could this be a messenger?  Countless possibilities especially considering the cast of players and suspects the film has introduced up to this point.  It's the cat's meow that alerts Holly to the figure lurking in the shadowed doorway across the dimly lit street.  As Holly finds himself a better lit, safe position he starts shouting taunts.  Only when a light is turned on in an upper story apartment by an upset tenet, is a spotlight effect created over the doorway, illuminating the mystery person to be "the late" Harry Lime. 

 

If you have not seen the entire film, this is a *Spoiler Alert*, please read no further.  We learned earlier from Anna Schmidt (Valli) that her cat was only friendly towards Harry, so if we had taken that clue to heart we would have realized the man in the shadows couldn't be anyone else. Within  the first few minutes of the movie we learn that Harry Lime was killed or murdered so without relying on a flashback we have multiple  characters telling their versions of the story.  Harry's "accidental" discovery shows we were duped as well the other characters in the film and now we have to figure out the rest of the mystery.  Carol Reed does an amazing job using all the tools of noir from the low key lighting and heavy shadows, doomed characters (we start off at a funeral), military police on the prowl searching/investigating, locals living in fear, black market deals, a scarred city framed in odd camera angles, night shots, political uncertainty and all of it underscored with this very unusual and very effective zither music accentuating the pulse of the film.

 

The realism could not be any better than what we are seeing with this burnt and bombed out vision of Vienna.  This would have been next to impossible to replicate on a sound stage.  You know this is the real deal.  And the sewer scenes complete with swarms of rats (you've got to see this on the big screen!) multiple arches, chambers, shadows galore...and you can almost smell it (as Bernard Lee says, "Sweet isn't it?").  I haven't checked lately but I know a number of years ago that was one of Vienna's most popular tourist attractions, and of course, the cemetery!  I believe Carol Reed raised the bar with this one by using tried and true film techniques and inventing many of his own not to mention working so close with his actors and cinematographer Robert Krasker.   

          

Perceptive analysis, Mr. Raff.

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This scene is so beautifully done, I could watch it over and over. It is fabulous!

It shows Cotton walking in the dark, deserted streets with the irony of the straight camera shot contrasted with the bizarre angle of the road. The zither music plods along with a pleasant, happy tune as he hears the cat meow and notices the darkened figure in the doorway and the shine on his shoes. He feels clever and calls out to the "shadow" accusing him of being a bad at his job having been seen. "Come out, come out, whoever you are. Step out into the light," he taunts, mockingly.

The light of an upstairs window comes on and illuminates Welles' face and Cotton realizes that it is Harry Lime who he has presumed dead. He is shocked and Lime is amused. The music becomes mocking, as well, as Lime shocks Cotton with his joke.

Cotton tries to cross to him, but a car breaks the visual contact with Lime and the camera angle changes, giving Lime a chance to run.

We only hear his footsteps as he runs and the shadow cast on the walls of the streets. It is unsettling and bizarre and we are not really sure where he is although Cotton chases after him, he loses him when the street opens up into a courtyard. Cotton is confused because there is no place to hide, but Harry has vanished. Cotton wipes his face with the water from a fountain as the cherub, who has seen everything offers no help, mocking him as well with its smile. Cotton throws water on it.

The next part is a bit later after the British officers arrive to investigate. The long camera shot shows one investigator as he lingers at the cherub and Cotton and the other investigator framed in a large archway as Cotton describes what happened. When it dawns on the British investigator that the structure in the middle of the courtyard, an octagonal structure that stands in the middle like a phallic symbol, is a hidden staircase, the music returns to the mocking music of Harry Lime and the investigator says, "it wasn't for the German gin." They all have been duped not once by Lime but yet again.

The music and lighting make all the difference. The mocking musical score that is delightful, the dark lighting with the wet cobblestones shining in the dark, the darkened doorway scene with the cat and Lime's face finally illuminated by the woman above. The off-kilter setting of the slanted streets and camera angles that show the world as skewed, make the post-war Vienna scene stark, dark, lonely and depressed. The close streets with their high walls give a claustrophobic feel. The empty Vienna streets with only Americans and British blustering loudly about, the residents closed up in their homes completely silent - having no voice here.

This film is absolutely film noir. It's contribution is obvious with the superb acting of Welles and Cotton and the talented camera work and musical score, juxtaposed with realistic, on-location war-torn Vienna shown with such formulistic film noir style. This is definitely one of the best examples of the style.

 

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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. 

Good point. But what I like about noir situations like this (as opposed to teenagers-in-a-haunted-house scenarios-- why are you going into the basement?) is that it seems logical and inevitable that they don't walk away screaming. The alternative is always worse (or seems to be to them). Staying in the city is supposed to solve the problem, or they can't escape (as a hitchhiker in a car). Or it's part of their job and a badge of honor to find out who-dunnit (the Philip Marlowe character, frequently). Noir is very different from horror movies in this respect, with its fatality and dependence on human tendencies. 

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Music makes The Third Man.  It is fun and jaunty; when juxtaposed with the drama of the plot, it creates one very unique movie.

 

Also worthy of mention is the incredible lighting this film offers.  Realistic in its set-up and but artistic in its storytelling, the lighting here honestly stuns with its precision.

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It's the smile that makes the entrance (and exit) of Harry Lime so much fun. He seems so in control over his visibility and invisibility, a master of shadows and secret passages, but someone who can sometimes summon the lime light as well. Even if it's only to mock those who try to capture him in their glance.

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With a smirk and a nod, he is no more!

 

Harry Lime's (Orson Wells) entrance is so surprising that it does to Joseph Cotten's character Holly seem as though he materialize out of thin air and disappears in "a puff of smoke," just as the Viennese detective will voice later.  Lime appears framed in the archway of a building at first with only his patent leather shoes bookending the cat cleaning its paws.  When a Viennese woman turns on a lamp in her upper-story apartment while voicing her complaint at Holly's yelling remarks to the hidden man, the light floods down on Lime like a searchlight.  Lime stands there in the titled camera angle with this head cocked to one side, further accentuating the angle, and Lime smirks and nods at Holly with a knowing, clever look of confidence as if to say "Ha, ha.  Now you see, then you don't!"  The lamp in the apartment extinguishes, and Lime vanishes seemingly without a trace.

 

The movie The Third Man combines various elements of realism and formalism.  The first part of the scene is highly formal in its technique of tiled camera angles, tight close-ups, and dreamlike fog.  Holly feels the intrepidness of some person following him.  Like in a nightmare, Holly calls out to the hidden spy to reveal himself.  The second part of the scene when Holly brings the Viennese authorities back to the place of his seeing Lime is predominantly realistic.  The cinematography shows Vienna at night with its cobblestone streets wet with dew, fountains with angels and classic architecture as an tourist would see.  This portion of the scene is concerned with unraveling the mystery of Lime's disappearance which is solved by the long view shot which highlight the kiosk and spurned the Viennese detective to feel for and reveal a hidden door--the magic is destroyed when the trick is discovered.

 

This scene from The Third Man is masterful in its combination of realism and formalism, in its creation of mystery and its resolution of the magic, as well as its contrast of light and dark to create a mood of mystical intrigue.

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The post-war Vienna world of “The Third Man,” is bleak, dark, and foreboding.  All the realistic on-site locations are shot formalistically; deeply shadowed low key lighting, shots canted and twisted at impossible angles; conveying a world torn from its bearings by the Nazi horror.

 

In contrast to the other film clips discussed this week, Orson Welles’ Harry Lime doesn’t make an entrance; the audience discovers him.  Much like Frank with Cora’s lipstick in “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” Lime waits for us to come to him.  As soon as he we discover him he scurries away over the greasy black night streets of Vienna.  Joseph Cotton’s Holly Martin, followed by police investigators, gives chase through the nightmarish out-of-kilter streets.  As they enter the kiosk square, the images are upright again, the buildings are again on even keels, but Lime has disappeared.  He has made not so much an entrance, but a quick cameo appearance, cut short with a blackout.

 

The film’s signature Eastern European zither music becomes more strident, emphasizing a build up to the inspector’s break-through idea.  On his order the men pry open the kiosk, revealing access to the city’s sewers.  Harry Lime has escaped as if he were Lucifer descending back into the depths of hell.

 

The clash of realistic locations shot with formalistic sensibilities creates instability in the viewer.  The choice to shoot many scenes in the cultured, centuries-old city of Vienna, the city where the Nazi plague was born, adds the credence of post war despair to the film.  The imprint of David O. Selznick, Alexander Korda and Orson Welles shooting in Europe with European actors and technicians results in a unique blend of Hollywood and European film noir cynicism, again broadening the acceptance and influence of the style.

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The Third Man (1949) I LOVE the steep angled European street shots, and the zany music mixed with suspense and then Orson Welles appears suddenly! It is such a combincation that keeps you watching. Mix all of that with the shadowed doorways and lamp lit streets, and it makes for a brilliant and complicated shot. I wonder how long it took them to film that? Either way, I can't wait to see it!

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I only wish I could claim that The Third Man was responsible for zither music being played in film noir movies. However, I think that specific influence was limited to the radio series The Lives of Harry Lime,  in which Orson Welles seems to be having an enormous amount of fun.

 

He also seems to be enjoying himself here. He's amused at his own dramatic appearance. We don't get to see his face when he's running away, but I bet Harry Lime is smiling.

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

 

Other than the sly smirk Orson Welles delivers for his brief entrance it is backed by mystery, shadow, music and a cat that provides a distraction for Joseph Cotton.

 

Discuss how this scene is both deeply realistic (in its depiction of a war-torn Vienna) and highly formalistic (in its use of a variety of non-realistic camera, lighting and musical techniques).

 

I believe from what I gather the location shooting provided most realistic set pieces of all. As for formalist techniques the non-realistic angles, shadow play, and zither effectively deliver something so different and mysterious it's a huge kudos for the camera team and a real treat for the viewer. It's a film noir-**** of non-stop formalistic delights.

 

In what ways can this scene from The Third Man be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

As someone else effectively said this is not only one of the best film noir also an underrated best film of all time distinction. Very glad we covered it in this course and I'd safely place among my faves. The criterion version is worthy if in doubt -Don't be. I find it difficult to add my own sentiments to film history scholars writings but I would say it encompasses every noiristic attribute one could imagine. Solid addition to the film noir cannon and hugely important for all of its style and superb quality filmmaking.

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16. THE THIRD MAN: International intrigue.

A British noir with dutch angles, German Expressionism in Vienna starring Americans. Everything is on the diagonal--even Wellle's head is tilted--so the kiosk, the one center-frame vertical object, is hidden in plain sight. Welle's gives himself a far better sceen entrance than he ever gave to any of his leading ladies

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I don't know. I saw this film when i was rather young and was astounded by the appearance of Lime. Everytime I see a repeat viewing, this scene always gets me, no matter how often i see it. Good movies can't be ruined by spoilers, because there's so much else to see other than just the great reveal.

That was my point. Although the scene "gets" you "no matter how often [you] see it," you were "astounded by the appearance of Lime" the first time you saw it. That's a privilege that should be reserved for first time viewers.

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I really loved this scene. That brief flash on orsen well's face, there is a mocking smile as if he wants to laugh at the other fellow and then darting off into the night before the guy can get close was also fantastic...I even loved the kitty lol

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I have not yet seen this film, but I absolutely fell in love with the cinematography. The crisp black and white, the use of shadows as Harry is not at first visible, the oblique angles of the streets of Vienna as Holly traipses through - what I especially love is how the woman is shouting out her window as Harry stands in the doorframe. Which is real, which is in Holly's mind - or maybe a little bit of both but not completely either?

 

The look on Harry's face as he smirks at Holly - is it mocking? Is it coy? Is it enticing? Foreboding? I love the "mystery" aspect of this opening!

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I have not yet seen this film, but I absolutely fell in love with the cinematography. The crisp black and white, the use of shadows as Harry is not at first visible, the oblique angles of the streets of Vienna as Holly traipses through - what I especially love is how the woman is shouting out her window as Harry stands in the doorframe. Which is real, which is in Holly's mind - or maybe a little bit of both but not completely either?

 

The look on Harry's face as he smirks at Holly - is it mocking? Is it coy? Is it enticing? Foreboding? I love the "mystery" aspect of this opening!

 

It's not really an opening. It actually happens about halfway through the film, if I'm not mistaken. But it IS a must see. I encourage you to watch it.

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In this clip from The Third Man, one thing that jumps out at the viewer is the music. More specifically, the fact that the music doesn't fit at all. It would sound more natural with a silent movie, or something like The Sting. That's what makes it brilliant. The Music drags the audience back to the core theme of Film Noir: contrast. Every Noir emphasizes contrast.

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Right from the start of this clip the location and the way in which it is shot is used to show the emotional state of the character. Even in the middle of a large city, it appears desolate and completely secluded. As Holly wanders the empty the streets, we get a sense of his feelings of emptiness and despair. This beautiful city appears bleak and without hope in the postwar period, much like Holly does at this point in the film. He is a stranger in a strange land and the effective long shots make him appear small and unimportant. The first shot we get of the doorway which is concealing the elusive and supposedly deceased Harry Lime, is shot from an askew angle, compared to the straight shots previously of Holly walking the lonely streets. Something is off, not quite right and it draws our attention, and illustrates how it attracts Holly's eye as well. We don't know who the darkened figure is, what his intentions are, but being swathed in darkness we can only assume the worst. Then, a bright light, like a ray of hope, illuminates the face of Harry Lime, the lost friend who has suddenly made a dramatic re-appearance, saying nothing, but smiling at the man who has spent the entire film up to this point in search of him and the knowledge of what happened to him.

 

This scene is also a microcosm of the film up to this point. Upon seeing his friend again, he is just as suddenly plunged back into darkness, ever elusive. A car passes in front of him, blocking his pursuit, a physical impediment to his search, much as he has been blocked this entire time. He never lays eyes on Harry's form again, other than a fleeting shadow on the walls as he desperately chases after him. The music assaults the ears, rather than subtly setting the tone, and contributes to the disorientation of the chase. All he can hear are echoes of footsteps, loudly on the soundtrack, but unsure from which direction they are coming from, as they bounce off the walls of the seemingly empty city. Finally Holly finds himself in an empty plaza, once again hopelessly lost as Harry has once again disappeared into the ether.

 

It's a truly effective entrance, from its surprising appearance of a man presumed deceased masquerading(?) as someone who has ill intentions towards out protagonist. We get nothing from him other than an impish smile and a sudden re-disappearance almost like magic. It's a taste of what we have been searching for the entire film, before it is shockingly taken away again. There is no cheerful reunion among friends, and we are left like Holly, reinvigorated into our search and more intent than ever to meet up again with our target.

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Welles'  entrance is, like all memorable  entrances, unique and creative. Here Cotten responds to the mewing of a cat and talks as if the cat is following him. However, he soon realizes the cat is at the feet of a man, and he then shifts his conversation to the man. "Why are you following me, who are you? ", he asks. This scene is shot at out of doors, at night with wet streets and shadows,all  with the unforgatable and iconic zither music in the background, one of the most recognized pieces of musical sound track in all of film, I would argue.

 

Cotten's voice shows the slight influence of alcohol, making the voice almost exotic. This fact will play out at the end of the scene (flash forward), when the next day Cotten and two police offercers return to the place from where Welles disappeared, finds his escape route, and one officer says, "but for German gin." ( Had Cotten not been slightly intocitated, he may have been able to follow Welles.)

Cotten is intriguingly unusual and striking.

 

Welles, on the other hand is silent in his entry and makes his character known only through the close up facial expressions.  His feet are shown first along with the cat, then his face comes into view highlighted by a bright light which contrasts with his jet black overcoat drawn up close to his face, and black fodora hat. He slowly shows  a half-smile suggesting entrigue, mystery and adding to the suspense. Viewers are drawn immediately to this strange character who evokes evil or at least a sinster motive, and they want to know more about him. He suddenly runs away and the sound of his feet and his shadow against a wall is all that Cotten has as clues as to who he is and where he is going.

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I saw The Third Man for the first time back in January. After hearing such good things about it, I thought that I'd check it out. While I'm not over the moon about it like some people are, I do think it's quite good and I think Carol Reed did a really good job in his direction of the film (and, to explain a bit more, I hadn't liked Welles when I watched Citizen Kane back in high school and so I kind of went into The Third Man with a dislike for Welles and anything he's in; since January, I've rewatched Citizen Kane and quite like it, so maybe I need a rewatching of The Third Man, too).

 

Anyway, The Third Man is a great British film noir and Welles' entrance is classic. What better way to unmask the man in the shadows--and Welles at that--than putting a light right on his face? Throughout the movie, everyone has been looking for Harry Lime (Welles) and it's such a cool and little but impactful entrance. And then he disappears back into the shadow, which foreshadows the famous sewer chase at the end of the film. Welles gives us a suspicious smile and leaves Cotten in the dust; Cotten's character was so close to getting him and then he loses Harry in an instant. At least we learn some of Harry's secrets.

 

We get Dutch angles, rich chiaroscuro, some witty dialogue, and a meaningful entrance. This sounds like a bonafide film noir to me.

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Well there is no mistaking the classic noir techniques in this scene.  I'll say up front, this is NOT one of my favorite films and it is for one thing.....that annoying music, it distracts me through the entire film.  I have watched this film once......so I'll discuss the music first and get it out of the way.  I think the music was there to not only give us a European feel, but to almost make light of the situation.  There is no dark feeling in this music no sound of impending doom, but a light continuous sound of someone playing a game, someone toying with other people....it is unusual for noir.  Sigh I have yet to see the point in it.  It also for me personally was quite distracting and I don't believe I ever picked up the true plot of this movie.  I doubt I ever will because I have not been able to sit through it since.

 

Although I am not a huge fan of Welles I certainly understand his presence on film.  When Cotton's character calls him out, we are waiting to find out who this mysterious and scary person is following him. Although Cotton's character acts confident, it is obvious that he is unnerved.  Cotton's behavior is unusual in being so public and vocal for such a cloak and dagger situation, but that is the catalyst for our introduction to Welles' character.  That cute little kitty sitting there between his feet is our indicator that Welles' character is playing cat and mouse with Cotton's character.

 

We see the light shine on his face and he looks smiling and confident that he is not going to be caught.  This is characteristic for Welles, taking command of a scene, keeping his audience guessing.  He is masterful as a director and I think it is because of his brilliant acting talents although he did not direct this movie, it certainly looks as if he could have and I have to wonder if Reed became an influence on his directing. One of his most notable being "A touch of evil" which pretty much scared the hell out of me....I am much more a fan of his directing than I am his acting....

 

Joe Cotton is one of my absolute FAVORITE actors.  He is exceptionally suave and charming in many of his bad boy roles i.e. "Shadow of a Doubt" a great Hitch movie. In this scene though we see him confused, in chaos, frightened and unsure of himself. I love his acting in this scene as he seems to be trying to convince himself as well as the officers on hand that he's not crazy and he truly did see Harry Lime, someone who is apparently not supposed to be around.

 

The cinematic features in this scene are incredibly good examples of the noir style.  The angular scenes as Cotton chases Welles down gives us all the proper sense of chaos, confusion and bizarre-ness for this scene.  We understand that Cotton cannot believe his own eyes and he almost has to prove to himself that he saw what he saw.  Those deep dark shadows provide the sense of creepiness, that cloak and dagger feel appropriate for this scene. Harry Lime could jump out of any doorway and pounce on Cotton.  Cotton is the prey in this scene and he knows it....or does he?

 

At the same time we get beautiful shots of post war Vienna.....at night of course as we generally get in a good solid noir, but beautiful nonetheless.  I have to wonder, Richard discusses how America was now contributing to film making in other nations.....European nations.  Was this not only giving back for the cinematic genius that came out of Europe pre-war, but could it also have been part of the effort to get Europe back on its feet post war?  I think so....

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What makes Orson Welles's entrance so effective?

 

Well for one, Joseph Cotten thought he was dead!

 

One thing I remember from watching The Third Man is when Orson Welles makes his entrance.  He doesn't say anything, but he has a smirk and a look on his face that says "Okay, well you caught me!"

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Good point. But what I like about noir situations like this (as opposed to teenagers-in-a-haunted-house scenarios-- why are you going into the basement?) is that it seems logical and inevitable that they don't walk away screaming. The alternative is always worse (or seems to be to them). Staying in the city is supposed to solve the problem, or they can't escape (as a hitchhiker in a car). Or it's part of their job and a badge of honor to find out who-dunnit (the Philip Marlowe character, frequently). Noir is very different from horror movies in this respect, with its fatality and dependence on human tendencies. 

 

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. 

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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.

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