The 4K Man
With the opening few bars of it’s famous zithar title music (believe me even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ve heard the song) Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949) is an immediately divisive little gem. The music almost like a cheeky irritant sets up the movie magically, a frivolous tune introducing an unusual quirky dark tale in a very war torn and scared Vienna, it’s jocular notes quite at odds with the multiple deaths strewn throughout the story.
But as is the case with alot of harsh human tales, dispensing hilarity is often the most effective medicine, and there’s plenty of laughs going on amongst the stunningly set and stark unforgiving lighting of Viennese rubble by the stunning cinematography mastery of Robert Krasker. Mixed in with all the Austrian dirt is the chaos of a post World War II society governed by multiple Allied nations (UK, USA, Russia and France). Where disorder and confusion rules, it’s a prime location to set the film noir machinations of some skullduggerous goings on, particularly when written by the very capable hands of Graham Greene, the balance of brilliant dialogue to image is second to none.
Pulp novelist/scribbler Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives in Vienna after an invitation from his old school friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Unfortunately for Martins, the first place he’s meeting his old buddy at is his funeral. Lime has just been killed in a car accident. The grief is brief with sadness quickly turning to frustration with ever evolving and contradicting explanations of what actually happened. Something isn’t right, and Martins literary creative mind starts to see elements joining together (or he thinks they are) to create a different explanation.
Adding to the murkiness of the whole escapade is the realisation that his old friend wasn’t the nicest of folk and was actually heavily involved with black market medical drug smuggling, and that he was very bad at it too. So a heady blend of paranoia, chaos and pulp writers ability to create a story where maybe none lay.
As is generally the norm in film noir, there to confuse the lead man even more so is the beautiful lead lady, in this case the radiant Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli) as the grieving love interest of Lime. Thankfully Martins is there to console her whilst dutifully falling for the one he can never have.
Anna is just one of the many highly individualistic characters that are encountered as the threads of stories are seemingly woven together, with sterling performances all round as the likes of Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), Baron Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch), Popescu (Siegfried Breuer) and Dr. Winkel (Erich Ponto) becoming a collective bunch of odd balls that really are from another era, dually bringing Martins closer and further away from the truth of what is going on.
There are some wonderful moments of misplaced suspicion and paranoia, the powerful shadows of the locations creeping into the alleyways of the writers mind. Even the corrupted city scape of Vienna adds liberally to the unease, with the pestilent criminal underbelly almost coming out in the majority of scenes with dilapidated, rotten walls abounding scenes, the purity of this old city is long gone.
What doesn’t look deteriorated is the actual movie itself. With a beautiful, loving yet arduous process the original film has been given a stunning restoration and clean up to 4K, and it looks magnificent. Originally done for a cinema release, it’s now available on blu-ray for multiple viewings at home.
Thankfully, as is not always the case, it has a very loving and liberal amount of extra features including a fascinating making of, interviews, commentaries and it’s huge influences on cinema in general. I have to say my inner geek really loved the short documentary on the actual restoration process. This release is nothing to do with making a quick few pounds, this is a genuine love of cinema.
The Third Man is available on blu-ray and dvd now from StudioCanal.