film: Carol Reed: The Third Man (1949)

the-third-man1Walking out the door each day and ten steps later reaching the doorway through which Graham Greene passed daily for years filled me with some sort of awe. I also had to walk out of the theatre during End of the Affair because it made me so miserable, I left and cried. As much as that one affected me, The Third Man did quite the opposite in my reading it. I recall long nights trying to pay attention, failing, and finally deciding to not read The Fallen Idol, which the book also contained. Thus it was with but little pleasure that I anticipated viewing the film for which he wrote the novella. Recently I’ve been finding that films with interesting opening credits tend to be fascinating films. And so this was–the credits are set over the strings of a zither being played–and the credits said that zither music is provided by Anton Karas…which gave me the impression that the full soundtrack’s music would be zither. Impossible. And that is precisely what sold me, repeatedly, on this film. When an orchestra is supposed to hit, when we should be most frightened, anxious, bothered…the music explodes, joyous, colorful. The film begins with a very Soviet montage, and that sort of quick humor that reminds me of Hitchcock, that in its lightness portends fearful gravity, very Tao Teh Ching when removed from pure theory (what!?). That said, as much as I enjoyed much of the film, and as much as  I had to battle fierce nausea while pondering  Alida Valli’s fake mole (reaffirming what Hawthorne illustrated, though I was nauseated anyway…yes, I had to turn off the film until I was feeling well again, I had to watch Dick Van Dyke or something), and as much fun as it was to wonder if Orson Welles was actually acting or just being himself…by the last half hour I was checking my watch every few minutes. That means approximately ten times. That’s to say, I was bored.

But, when one watches the Criterion Collection, one does not do so to be entertained, for entertainment is a vulgar pastime, and we discerning types lend our eyes to the screen for the purpose of understanding our own lives better, at the very least, through measuring the length of shots (and of shadows in film noir), and trying to decide what the film is really saying, beneath all that mean profit-making nonsense. I recall enjoying Brighton Rock a lot more, even if the protagonist was a stinky old whore.

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