The Third Man

I saw this at the Prince Charles Cinema just now and it really does deserve to be seen on a big screen. Not only for the fantastic (in every sense of the word) location shots of Vienna in ruins, but also for the ornate set designs, and to feel the full impact of those Dutch angles. The film is a visual treat, but it's also fast paced and carefully written. Graham Greene makes the protagonist an American writer of pulp fiction, who is under no illusions about the extent of his talents. At one point he gets asked about his opinion of James Joyce and stream-of-consciousness, to which he cannot offer a meaningful reply. Some of that may be Greene reflecting on his own inadequacies as a writer. But he tries to redeem his hero nonetheless. His pulp fiction is all about brave men setting an example – something very difficult to do in the moral cesspit Vienna has become. The choice the protagonist has to make is between sticking up for his friend, or ensuring that he faces justice for his crimes. Both are honourable choices, and while he chooses the latter, the femme fatale he falls in love with chooses the former.

Why she remains loyal to Orson Welles's Harry Lime is difficult to answer. Welles gives little indication that his character is capable of love. He is the mercurial nihilist willing to put a price on poisoning children. But Anna is capable of loving such a monster. Perhaps she is simply hoodwinked, and wishes to preserve the false happy memories of her affair. The shattering of her illusions might explain the final scene, in which she ignores any further romantic entanglements and walks out of the film. She describes Harry Lime as a child caught up in a grown up world. That better describes the protagonist – who clings to boyish ideals of male heroism. Welles on the other hand has already learned to swim with the sharks.

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