The Third Man-1949
Here I shall give three scenes which stay on mind.
The American pulp writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) has come to bombed-out, post-war Vienna on the invitation of his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) but is told of his death under most mysterious circumstances. One night, Martins becomes aware of a figure in a doorway on the opposite side of the apartment of Lime’s girlfriend Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli). He spots her cat meow loudly. The animal rubs itself at the feet of the silent, motionless figure in the shadows of a doorway. Harry can see the big shoes of the figure picked out by slanting light. A mystery figure and he defiantly calls out to the figure to come out and reveal himself. Then, Holly momentarily and suddenly sees Harry, the ‘third man’ himself.
A light from an upstairs window briefly illuminates the figure’s face, shining straight across the street. The sight of the teasing, smiling face of his friend staring back at him packs a punch in the somber mood of the film. It lights up briefly Holly’s confused mind at a loss to explain the sudden demise of his friend. Amazed to see Harry still alive the viewer is given jab into sides hinting he being alive could only mean there is something evil in the air. Holly is startled and then the light is extinguished. Before Holly can reach his friend, a car approaches and blocks his path. The figure makes off and vanishes to the sound of retreating footsteps in the dark. Holly finds the doorway empty by the time he crosses the street.
Another scene that stays in my mind is the meeting of Lime and Holly atop a Ferris wheel above the Russian sector. In the light of the day, Lime emerges and greets Holly with a bemused look: “Hello, old man, how are you?” They both ride high above the ground on the ferris wheel that is still operating in the midst of the dark city – it is the last ride of Holly’s symbolic childhood. As they rise higher in the car which they have all to themselves, Harry shows how uncaring he can be about Anna’s predicament after betraying her to the Russians: “What can I do, old man? I’m dead, aren’t I?” Harry explains how he doesn’t wish to be a hero:
What did you want me to do? Be reasonable. You didn’t expect me to give myself up…’It’s a far, far better thing that I do.’ The old limelight. The fall of the curtain. Oh, Holly, you and I aren’t heroes. The world doesn’t make any heroes outside of your stories.
Holly confronts Harry with his disgust at his racketeering and corruption (the light side exposing the dark side) and how he has already informed the police and Anna about Harry’s charade and disappearance. Harry claims immunity in the neutral zones of Vienna. Knowing of his cynical dealings on the black market, Holly asks if he has ever seen any of his victims – children who populate the hospital wards [in a city and amusement park desolate of playful, happy children]. Harry looks contemptuously down from the ferris wheel at the scuttling mortals below, cheerfully calling the people unrecognizable “dots” from the height of the ride:
Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. (He opens the door to the car.) Look down there. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20,000 pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man, free of income tax. The only way you can save money nowadays.
They reach the very top of their ride on a child-oriented attraction, and for a few ominous moments [in a very different kind of amusement-thrill ride], Harry threatens Holly. He contemplates executing his uncooperative friend and making him one of the “dots” below because he is the only one with living proof of his existence: “There’s no proof against me, besides you.” Harry suggests that he could easily shoot him – a bullet hole in a corpse that had fallen from so high up in the wheel would not be found. Holly wraps his arm around a door frame and clutches it for protection:
Holly (looking out the window): I should be pretty easy to get rid of.
Harry: Pretty easy.
Holly: I wouldn’t be too sure.
Harry: I carry a gun. You don’t think they’d look for a bullet wound after you hit that ground.
But Holly counters the threat by mentioning that the police are already on his trail – they have dug up the corpse and discovered it wasn’t him but Harbin. Harry is startled that the body of his cohort has been disinterred and his voice suddenly drops. As the car starts its journey downward, Lime closes the door, discards his deadly plan to dispose of Holly, and then compares himself to governments:
Harry: Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t. Why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about the suckers and the mugs – it’s the same thing. They have their five-year plans, so have I.
Holly: You used to believe in God.
Harry: Oh, I still do believe in God, old man. I believe in God and Mercy and all that. But the dead are happier dead. They don’t miss much here, poor devils. (He traces Anna’s name and the image of a heart with an arrow through it on the window of the car.) What do you believe in? Oh if you ever get Anna out of this mess, be kind to her. You’ll find she’s worth it.
When they reach the end of their ride and exit the ferris wheel on the ground, Lime offers his boyhood pal a partnership in his illicit business:
Holly, I’d like to cut you in, old man. There’s nobody left in Vienna I can really trust, and we’ve always done everything together. When you make up your mind, send me a message – I’ll meet you any place, any time, and when we do meet old man, it’s you I want to see, not the police. Remember that, won’t ya? Don’t be so gloomy. After all, it’s not that awful. Remember what the fellow says:
Then, he smugly delivers his famous and cynical monologue ad libbed by Welles and exactly in line with the whole mood of the film. The amoral Lime cynically justifies his black market criminal activities by recognizing that despite appearances, good and evil (black and white, peace and war, up and down, etc.) are complementary concepts. He puts his thesis in historical context:
In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed – but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long, Holly.
The final closing sequence of the film is just as memorable: Holly leans on a cart and waits on the tree-lined cemetery road for Lime’s former lover Anna as she leaves Harry’s second funeral on foot. Off in the distance, she is walking and approaching toward him, first a dot, then a shadow, and then a full figure – in an extremely long-held stationary shot. As he seeks in vain for any response from her, she stoically ignores him and continues by, passing him without paying any attention – without a pause, a look, a word, or a gesture. Holly follows her with his eyes, but she stares impassively ahead, walking out of his life. He lights a cigarette as the film fades to black.