For the first time in many years, I watched The Third Man last night – and was once again dazzled by it. It’s a surprisingly confident film, with its odd camera angles, and Harry Lime as the Godot-like absence at the heart of the film, and wonderful use of light and shadow in the backstreets of post-war Vienna.
The theme tune is also unforgettable, and some of the set-pieces remain breathtaking... the wall shadows, the chase through the sewers and the fingers reaching up through the grille.
There’s no point in running through the plotline here, but on this viewing, a few things struck me. The rudderless Maria character was always weak and simpering, but this time round she struck me as having been infected by Harry Lime, in the same way those who had consumed his watered-down penicillin had been. She seemed contaminated, weak-willed.
The central character Holly Martins is the absence of a hero - a writer who despises his own work, blunders from scene to scene, uncovers nothing, discovers nothing. He digs and digs for the truth, only to come upon it by accident as lights are switched on and people blurt things and give themselves away.
The fact that underneath all of the divisions of the quartered city, a criminal enterprise is thriving down below in the darkness, along the sewers, is a strong metaphor: the triumph of secret crime, right under the noses of those policing the public and political disagreements above.
And Orson Welles is a byword for charisma – he brings the film to life the minute he emerges from the shadows. It’s a brave story-telling choice, to make such a morally loathsome character so magnetic. That’s the power of Graham Greene (who wrote the screenplay) as a writer, I suppose.
And it’s always a treat to hear Lime’s famous little speech at the fairground on how dull democracy and 'brotherly love' are. To say something so amoral with such flair.
If you’ve never seen it, I recommend it highly - here's Harry's wonderful speech at the fairground: