BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE THIRD MAN

By • May 22nd, 2007 •

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(Criterion Collection) 1949. B&W. 104 mins. 1.33:1 AR. 2 Discs.

Who would have thought that the film’s most memorable visual brush-strokes would have been the fault of Orson Welles’ prima-donna shenanigans during the shoot? Alas, it’s true – and I guess it could be seen as a vote of perverse confidence for any hapless young director who finds him-or-herself up against an obstinate ego such as Welles’ was. Check out the documentary “Shadowing THE THIRD MAN,” not without its own share of pretensions, ninety-minutes that should have been eighty, but all is forgiven in light of what its archeological dig has yielded of the truths behind the shoot.

Not that many directors would condone or stand for that kind of behavior. If Welles had pulled that on STREET TRASH, for instance, I would have had Bill Chepil kick his fat ass off the set. But I had a first time director to protect, whereas Carol Reed, a seasoned pro, rolled with the punches and did what had to be done for the sake of the film, and somehow Orson the Obdurate came off great. It’s actually one of his best performances. The scene on the Ferris wheel (which I made sure to ride while in Vienna) is among the best ever written-performed-and-directed. And the scene in the sewer (which I avoided while I was in Vienna, though tours are given once a week) is another classic. Both feature Welles, and he really seems to be into it. It illustrates how gifted actors like Welles and Brando (another tough case) could have their little jokes at our expense, but the camera loved them, so who got the last laugh, really?

Better yet, perhaps, is “Graham Greene: The Hunted Man,” made in 1968 for the BBC’s show Omnibus. The elusive Greene agreed to talk, but not to appear, in the program, and so his fascinating ruminations are covered visually by clips from films of his work, shots of his passport, and are punctuated by interviews with earnest schoolboys who appreciate his work but reject its downbeat nature. Maximillian Schell once came up against a similar problem, in his film MARLENE, when Marlene Dietrich first agreed to appear, than back-pedaled to only granting him taped interviews. Schell, probably unwilling to give up the funding, went to great lengths to hold audience interest in a feature-length running time, by actually rebuilding her apartment and pretending that the camera was hovering just outside, trying to peer in and get a glimpse of her. I found Schell’s approach offensively false, nor did I feel it was in any way an honest depiction of Dietrich, since she was very old, and too removed from her glory days to give us any sense of her past except cynicism. In contrast, this little gem, its interview taped on the Orient Express to Istanbul, is constantly enlightening, and we do feel like we’re eavesdropping on a rare, even slightly dangerous, encounter. Greene even admits to having played Russian Roulette ten times, until the experience dwindled in excitement to no more than taking aspirin for a headache.

And then there’s the third doc, ”Who Was the Third Man? – created fifty years after the Austrian premiere. A half-hour in length, it was commissioned by the Vienna Sewer Department, and aired in April 2000. There is a bit of overlap between it and the longer “Shadowing THE THIRD MAN,” but no problem, the clips and information are used in slightly different ways, so it only adds to the fine accumulation of research.

Steven Soderbergh further elaborates on the findings of the documentaries via his shared commentary track, which accompanies the feature. With him is Tony Gilroy, who penned the BOURNE film series. Soderbergh has done his research, much of it by reading a book called ‘In Search of THE THIRD MAN’ by Charles Drazin.

The film itself holds up better than ever. I don’t know why that should be. Perhaps the ruins of Vienna are a great part of it. I’m not thrilled with the grain that has been brought out of the print material used. I’ve seen cream-like textures on old prints of the film, and while this texture makes it somewhat more documentary-like, which certainly works, it wouldn’t have been my chosen way to utilize the negative.

This is a certainty for multiple viewings, so it is highly recommended, for home libraries, and for school libraries. One thing it makes me miss is so many other films from Greene’s work that have yet to show up on DVD in this country: OUR MAN IN HAVANA (also by Reed), THE POWER AND THE GLORY, Lang’s MINISTRY OF FEAR, Ford’s THE FUGITIVE, THE HEART OF THE MATTER, Ken Annakin’s ACROSS THE BRIDGE (a label called Shanachie claims to have released it, but I’ve never seen it in a store), THE MAN WITHIN, and CONFIDENTIAL AGENT.


Includes:
Peter Bogdanovich intro
Audio commentaries by Steven Soderbergh and Tony Gilroy, and by film scholar Dana Polan.
An Abridged recording of Graham Greene’s treatment by actor Richard Clarke.
“Shadowing The THIRD MAN” (2005), a ninety-minute doc.
“Graham Greene: The Hunted Man” – an hour-long, 1968 episode of the BBC’s Omnibus series.
“Who Was the Third Man?” (2000) – a thirty-minute Austrian doc interviewing cast and crew.
1951’s “A Ticket to Tangiers” episode of “The Lives of Harry Lime” radio series, written and performed by Orson Welles.
The 1951 Lux Radio Theater adaptation of THE THIRD MAN.
Original UK press book.
Actor Joseph Cotton’s alternate opening voice-over narration for the U.S. version.
32-page booklet featuring essays by Luc Sante, Charles Drazin, and Philip Kerr.

Directed by Carol Reed.
Story and screenplay by Graham Greene.

Produced by Alexander Korda and David O. Selznick.
Photographed by Robert Krasker.
Music, and zither music, by Anton Karas.

Sets designed by Vincent Korda.
Editor – Oswald Hafenrichter.

With: Joseph Cotton, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard.

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