65. “The Third Man”, Carol Reed (1949)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

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The Third Man

dir. Carol Reed scr. Graham Greene cin. Robert Krasker with Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Alida Valli, and Orson Welles

In 100 words: From the moment that zither motif begins, the movie has you under its spell. Reed’s post-war noir feels dreamy, finding ways to film Vienna’s beauty amid its crumbling architecture and the antiquated structures. The Dutch angles and expressionistic use of shadows and light also heighten the romanticism. Though everything about the film’s images and sound feel phantasmagorical, the script fills the screen with indelible characters so disillusioned, hardened, and maybe even confused about each other’s names: Harry Lime’s famous oratory crystallizes the cynicism at the heart of the story, surely made even more memorable by Welles’ smug delivery. That ending!

Other Movies for Context: The battered grace of the movie’s images remind me of G.W. Pabst’s The Joyless Street (1925) or even The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), although everything about it feels uniquely attuned to its milieu. But the post-war vision also owes a lot to the films of Italian neorealism, including Roberto Rossellini, especially Germany Year Zero (1946)  Carol Reed would go on to win an Academy Award for directing Best Picture-winner Oliver! (1968).

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