Not rated! We don't even have a "Passed" or "Approved" stamp for this movie. Honestly, I don't know what to do now. I mean, it's no different when it comes to saying inappropriate things that happen in the movie. I will say that the most distressing thing about The Third Man is the sick ward full of dying children. You don't actually see the kids, but it is a bit of a horror movie knowing what Harry has done in the name of profit. There's shots fired. People die from gunshot. But really, the movie is pretty quiet, especially considering that I just wrote about Scarlet Street. It's not rated, but it is more about what you don't see than what you do.
DIRECTOR: Carol Reed
It's the Orson Welles movie that's not actually an Orson Welles movie. I always associate this movie with Orson Welles, both with performance and with direction. I watched it back in the day when I bought the Criterion of it and then I haven't really revisited it since. But in my head, everything in the movie is Orson Welles. Welles, at best, has five minutes of screen time? Don't worry, I'm not saying anything new. Peter Bogdanovich opens the film with a special guest introduction. With his name-dropping persona, he comments that "Orson" loved stuff like this. It was the perfect role for someone. Everyone talks about the character for the majority of the film and when he finally shows up, his performance is considered genius. I like Paper Moon, Mr. Bogdanovich, but I wish you would just be slightly objective over the whole thing. (Although, is he the director in It: Chapter Two? Probs.)
It's actually really weird that I love The Third Man so much. 1) I always mix it up with Touch of Evil, which makes me a bad film blogger and 2) it shares a lot of the same DNA with the Cold War spy drama, similar to the stuff that John LeCarre writes. As much as I find the Cold War fascinating, John LeCarre bores the living daylights out of me. But The Third Man more meets the tone of the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy stuff more than the rambling jargon of those movies. Really, it takes the best elements from those films and purges all of the nonsense that I find unbearable. A lot of that comes from the unique environment. Vienna post-war is this very specific location. The law doesn't work like it normally would. Like post-war Germany, Vienna is divided into zones. The law works one way in one place. It is a different beast in another. When setting becomes so important to the plot, it kind of offers us something that we're not really accustomed to. The rules not applying almost creates something wholly original. It's a crime that I confuse this movie for Touch of Evil because I actually think that The Third Man might be wholly unique. Perhaps someone out there might be able to make a healthy comparison to another movie, but I'm blanking on anything right now. (Note: I don't feel like rewriting this paragraph, but I am aware that The Third Man is pre-cold war. If anything, this is an ancestor to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.)
I know that it is going to sound like I'm straining to find something to write about, but I'm really not. There's something oddly prescient about The Third Man for today's culture. It seems like low hanging fruit to attach this movie to a #metoo culture, but we're kind of in a world that asks us to question those around us. It's not even that topical to go #metoo, but I do want to make the connection between the two. I was a huge Chris Hardwick fan. I know. That makes me that guy. I listened to a billion episodes of Nerdist for years. I saw him perform live in Montreal and I think his persona is genuinely inspiring. I know that he's grating with his type-A personality, but I'm a guy who has been teaching for a decade, has a blog, runs four miles a day, and used to have a podcast. There's some connection there.
But when Chloe Dykstra made those accusations about him, I didn't know what to think. Honestly, I still don't really know the whole story. The old guard within me wants to believe Hardwick. After all, I've been in a toxic relationship where my ex-girlfriend yelled at me for all of the horrible things that she had done. But the other end of the spectrum, it also seemed eerily plausible that Hardwick may be abusive, at least emotionally. The Third Man, despite it's great reveal that Harry is alive the whole time, questions the morally noble concept of loyalty and puts it up against the crime of ignorance: selective blindness. Maybe we're in an era that we have to start questioning everything we do. I had a conversation with my wife about The Outsider on HBO. If my wife had damning circumstances surrounding a murder, I 100% would believe that she didn't do it. But she didn't say the same thing about me. I know that I'm a pacifist, but in a heartbeat she would sell me down the river.
The Third Man is this criticism about the role of humanity. Joseph Cotton's Holly Martins is a likable guy, but he's kind of a brute. He's instantly standoffish. He is really to quarrel before he has facts. And he's the likable hero of the whole piece. Anna, perhaps, is the most sympathetic character throughout the story. While technically a criminal, much of her criminality focuses on simply being an illegal refugee in a region that does not want her. Yet, she is also completely allowing actual evil crime to happen in the name of her own selfish love. This is one of those rare films noir that has the police completely moral and justified in their actions. Holly seems like he is fighting for a crusade out of loyalty to a police force that is more worried about conviction and closing books than doing anything actually beneficial to society, but it is really quite the opposite. In a way, Holly is a villain of the piece until the truth is revealed. He becomes heroic not through his investigation, but through his character development.
I go through these phases where I wonder if the world is a good or bad place. I may have written about this before and I ask you to forgive me if this is just a broken record. Since I was in high school, I kept wondering if the world is a good place with bad people in it or is it a bad place with good people in it. For the past four or five years, I've lent into the latter. The Third Man kind of confirms this. Harry seems like this really great guy. Everyone seems to like him. But for all of his charisma and relationship with Holly, Harry finds the idea of not profiting off of someone's misery naive. I would like to say it is because Harry is the surprise antagonist of the piece, but this is how the world works. I polled my class if they could take a job where they would be paid remarkably well for doing something they thought was immoral. Thinking that the class would be split pretty evenly, I could then start a debate. There was one kid in the entire room who would refuse that job.
I would like to think that they were just bragging and playing a game, but one of my more moral students was woo-hooing the downfall of the stock market. He bet that everything would crash and he just started sweeping up cash. I don't know exactly what he had invested in, but it was the direct result of everything else failing. When I told him that people would probably be suffering because of this crash that he bet on, he didn't really seem to care. This is a kid I completely respected and that I lead in prayer every day. It's a little bit of a bummer because as a humanities teacher, that's exactly what you expect to pass along: humanity. I talk about morals and conflict and the role of man's soul and it seems like that is fighting an uphill battle.
So then why do I like The Third Man when it is so depressing to think about? I think addressing the themes that Carol Reed's The Third Man discusses reminds us that we should be like Holly. Holly is a braggart who changes when the facts are presented to him. This is a world that actively distorts facts to match personal bias. Holly really wanted to deny everything that he was hearing, but God forbid, he did a little research on his own and discovered that maybe these reports weren't lies. Maybe our gut might not be the best litmus test for what makes a good person. I mean, the movie by itself is great. If you removed all of the pompous morality that I just dropped, the film holds up beautifully. But it's so weird that a movie like The Third Man is calling out people for unhealthy skepticism.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.