The Third Man is a movie of sobering pleasures. It has often been lauded, rightly, as one of the most beautifully shot film noirs, as you can see for yourself now that it has been digitally restored by Rialto — looking crisp and handsome after its makeover, it opens at Film Forum on June In reality, Reed had the cobblestone streets of Vienna hosed down, at great cost, before shooting, but the effort was worth it: The nocturnal world of The Third Man is the pinpoint center between prosaic and magisterial, a vision of a city still in post-wartime flux but also desperate to reclaim its pre-war serenity and beauty.
The glorious look of The Third Man serves another purpose: It gives one of its supporting players, Orson Welles, one of the greatest entrances in movie history.
But when this shape-shifter makes his first appearance, even we begin to have our doubts about how bad he might be — and by that time, we already have evidence of his horrible deeds. The Third Man is haunted by might-have-beens, ghosts of possible choices that would have resulted in a very different film. Selznick, who peppered Korda and the filmmakers with controlling notes from the States.
Plus, Welles, always trying to scrounge up money, came cheap. The Third Man is unimaginable without Welles. His role is small but mighty, the fulcrum on which the whole film is balanced. You can see how a guy like Harry Lime could cause so much trouble. But his charm is also a kind of poison, certainly for Martins.
Somewhat surprisingly, Greene originally wanted a happier ending for Martins, one in which he actually gets the girl. Reed had other ideas, and luckily, his vision won out.
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