Director: Carol Reed
Screenwriter: Graham Greene
Stars: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alide Valli
Carol Reed's The Third Man, with a script by famed British novelist Graham Greene, is an exercise in anticipation. An American writer (Joseph Cotton) arrives in Vienna not long after WWII on a search for his for his friend Harry Lime. Except Harry's died, supposedly. Our intrepid writer, a seeker of counter-narratives, isn't convinced.
For the bulk of the movie, the viewer seeks Harry alongside the writer through the gorgeous chiaroscuro of black-and-white noir. There are intimations, shots full of shadows, an incessant score that teases and ratchets up the suspense. And then,voilà: Harry, played by none other than Orson Welles.
Harry lectures the writer, explaining his philosophy about death and power that chills the blood because of how true it sounds. The resurrection of the writer's former pal is not a happy occasion, not one bit.
Here's Harry, coming to the close of his famous "Cuckoo Clock" speech:
"Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
The film's philosophy is bleak, the execution perfect. Above all, its lessons about power resonate today. —RS