by Emmi Kurowski
I am lost. Alone. A stranger in an exotic locale in a faraway land - Philadelphia, PA in the US of A. I don’t know the streets, I don’t know the culture, and worst of all, I can’t find my friend. At this moment, I can really identify with one of my oldest pals, Holly Martins, played by the Ashley-Jane-favorite, Joseph Cotten, in Carol Reed’s 1949 classic, The Third Man.
This film noir follows American pulp western writer with a taste for booze, Holly Martins, as he travels to post-war Vienna at the urging of his old college pal, Harry Lime. Holly is not what you’d call cultured. It’s impossible to say what he would have been expecting to experience in Vienna, but it’s fair to say it’s likely a helluva lot different from what he happens upon. Vienna is a divided city, literally just barely standing amid rubble and ruin. Each sector has its own set of shady officials who don’t speak “American” like Holly. I feel for the guy. I know what it’s like. While I can look up Philly slang to figure out what people are acccctually saying to me as I stumble around the city searching for Whole Foods (ughhh, there’s more than ONE?), Holly cannot. We, as the audience, aren’t in on it either. We get no subtitles. We’re just as lost as Holly. [Note: To be fair, I am used to being lost. This is what it is like to travel with me. I too am a clueless, well, Canadian, with a taste for booze (let’s be honest - I'm okay with it).]
Holly manages to find someone who is able to explain to him where he can find his buddy Harry. Where?? At his funeral. Oh. Well, that’s bad timing. As it turns out, only a short time earlier, Harry Lime was hit by a car and killed. Damn. So Holly does what any good friend would do and attends the funeral. Kind of a sad welcome to Vienna, right?
While he’s there, he meets two British Army Police. One is a fan of his writing, and the other warns him that Harry was a bad dude and that he should just get lost. Interesting. Holly also meets his friend’s girlfriend, Anna. It takes him approximately 2.3 seconds to fall in love with her. First reason to stay. Also, there is talk. Things aren’t so cut and dry. There’s a big mystery nagging Holly - how did Harry really die? There is talk of a mysterious “third man” who was there at the scene. What’s all this? Was his death really an accident? It’s clear that Holly isn’t going home anytime soon. What is Holly to do? Why, start dabbling in detective work, of course! Second reason to stay.
Like any conscientious dabbler, Holly wants to talk to Harry’s doctor, er, his “medical advisor”. He denies this “third man” theory, but he seems pretty shady. Then a lil baby kid is like, “Whaaaaa? He’s lyin’!” Busted, dude. Harry ain’t that good of a dude.
Now wait. Let’s talk about the look of The Third Man. It’s perfect. For real. It’s fair to say I was downright DAZZLED by the visuals, and believe me, that is not a word I just throw around haphazardly. The Academy award-winning cinematography made me wish I could just see everything this way in my real life. Every day. Shadows and light, wide angles, expressionist frames, dutch angles, slick cobblestone streets. It’s gorgeous. This is not a film set. This is Vienna, the real deal. If you have ever wondered why I’m in love with movies, watch this film. This. This is why.
My favorite scene is right after Holly drunkenly goes to Anna’s apartment just to see her late at night. He tries to play with the cat, who is having none of it. She responds that her cat only liked Harry. At the end of the scene, the camera moves through the flowers by the window and onto the nighttime streets of Vienna. We meet back up with the cute little cat as it scuttles down the street and finds what must be a familiar friend. The cat meows and rubs up against the leg of a man in the shadows. The cat plays with the fella’s shoelaces and my heart literally melts into a puddle of goo. We cut back to Anna’s apartment where Holly confesses his love for Anna (aw boi) and my heart breaks - sometimes it just ain’t the right time, pal, no matter how much you wish it were. Sad and broken, Holly is back wandering the streets alone and sees Anna’s cat with a shadowy figure. Classic drunk Holly starts to pick a fight with whoever he figures is tailing him. His yelling echoes through the streets and wakes up a woman who is clearly unhappy with all the noise. She turns on her light and……….we finally see him.
In the flesh. Harry Lime. WHATTA MOMENT! This is my favorite character introduction in a film e-v-e-r. Like, my heart can barely handle it. The zither is zithering (I would like to buy one) as the dramatic lighting illuminates the enigmatic face of my boy, Orson Welles, like a goddamn criminal angel. Aw Orson, babeeee doll. Welles described his role as Harry Lime as a “star part”. We have been hearing about Harry for what seems like for-eh-ver. We don’t know what he looks like, or really, anything about him, other than the fact that he is dead. Well guess what?!? He ain’t dead! I could watch this scene over and over and over. In fact, I have watched this scene over and over and over. Orson said all he had to do was show up in the role because his character was talked up so much throughout the film that the audience would be thrilled no matter what. Well, Orson didn’t call it in. He is excellent! Did you even know I love Orson Welles? I LOVE ORSON WELLES. Orson Welles as Harry Lime is just fantastic. The charisma this dude has - if I could have even a lil bit of it, I wouldn’t be lost in Philly right now. I’d be drinking beer with total strangers in a box seat at a Phillies game. Hell, I’d be announcing the Phillies game.
So. Harry! What’s up, boi? You’re not dead! What’s going on?
Harry is on the run. Ever try to chase someone when you’re drunk? It’s not nice. It’s so much easier to get even more lost. Like, at least in my situation, I can text the Fixer, “Jaimeeee, girl, I’m lost. Can ya please track my iPhone?” while she rolls her eyes and helps her lil puppy pal yet again! (Fixer / Editor's note: I would not roll my eyes). Holly is left to his own devices to get to the bottom of this. Harry has done some bad things, pals. Penicillin. The wonder drug. Someone’s bound to take advantage of that, right?
Are you wondering if Harry feels bad for what he's done? Nah, he doesn’t. From atop a ferris wheel, Harry lets Holly know, what’s a few ants anyway? Kids dying of meningitis? No biggie. Aw man. Orson, I love you, but Harry? No. He gives his famous speech about the cuckoo clock - just watch it. I won’t give it justice.
Who will Holly be loyal to? It’s hard to find out that a friend isn’t who you thought they were. He offers his full cooperation in exchange for Anna’s safety, a noble Ashley Jane-like act, but it don’t mean a damn thing to this woman.
The chase. Damn. You seeing this, James Bond? I don’t want physically unbelievable and scientifically impossible maneuvers. A simple foot chase. Not a fancy pants acrobatic one. Just a run of the mill foot chase through Vienna. Thrilling. Harry keeps running through the sewers of Vienna and the walls begin to literally close in on him. You can't run forever, man. You gotta answer for what you’ve done.
It’s not the way Holly planned it, but what EVER goes the way a drunk writer dude plans?
Holly is a changed man. He is not living in the boozy haze of one of his western novels, he is somehow darker. He’s a part of this seedy Vienna underworld now. He’s pulled the trigger, finished Harry off. How could he not see the world differently? After my time bumbling around an unknown city, I see the world a little differently as well. I’ve done some things I’m not proud of - not held the door for a stranger or two, started thinking in Fahrenheit, but I hope my experience will only serve to toughen me up. Holly needed it, and I’m tellin’ ya, I need it too. In this life, there is disappointment. Sometimes people aren’t what they seem. Sometimes you don’t get the girl. But dammit, what a ride - am I right, Holly?
The final scene - just watch it. My heart hurts.
“He never grew up. The world grew up around him.” - Anna about Harry.
She could be talking about me.
All I know is, The Third Man.
Holly - it’s not easy to be the lost dude in a strange world, but really, what is?