Film Noir photoshoot, photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair, 2007.
Diane Lane, Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Dame Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Connelly, Aaron Eckhart, Eduard Norton, Robert DeNiro, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Hudson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington, Adam Beach, Amy Adams, Derek Luke, Kirsten Dunst, Robert Downey.
james mcavoy and patrick wilson in the same photo oh no
Dames Judi Dench and Helen Mirren. Oh yes.
If there’s ever been a film that’s used location more effectively to create atmosphere than The Third Man, I’d like to know what it is.
Brighton Rock (1947)
Based on the book by Graham Greene. Screenplay by Graham Greene and Terence Rattigan. Produced and directed by John and Roy Boulting. Starring Richard Attenborough, Hermione Baddeley, William Hartnell, Carol Marsh, Harcourt Williams, Wylie Watson, Nigel Stock and Reginald Purdell.
“These bannisters have needed mending for a long while.”
“I’ve never changed. It’s like one of those sticks of rock. Bite one all the way down, you’ll still read Brighton. That’s human nature.” Brighton Rock, 1947.
Directed by: Carol Reed
That famous zither music rings out in counterpoint to heavy footfalls on a cobbled street; a cat’s meow, big shoes sticking out from a shady doorway. A light flicks on in an upstairs window, throwing light onto an enigmatic face, a smile like a shared joke between old friends. A speeding car and he’s gone… so transpires the greatest character introduction in the whole of cinema. Harry Lime only appears in The Third Man three short times, only speaking once, but dominates the film. Few actors besides Orson Welles have the charisma and presence to hold such influence over so short a span, but the shadow he casts over this atmospheric masterpiece is every bit as large and murky as those that lurk round every corner in Carol Reed’s dark vision of postwar Vienna.
It is a film of shadows, of shady characters of obscured motives, of dark alleyways and hidden dangers. Holly Martin, a down on his luck American pulp novelist arrives in Vienna at the request of his friend Harry Lime, on the promise of a job. On arriving he is told his friend has died in an accident. After British officer, Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) tells him his friend was a racketeer, and ‘an evil man’ Holly is indignant, and goes about trying to clear his name. Though as he struggles to get answers from Harry’s girl Anna (Alida Valli) and the Vienna underworld what he learns of the mysterious Harry Lime is not what he expects of the friend he knew.
It may be the appearances of Welles that stick in the memory, and Lime that casts the biggest shadow, but Joseph Cotton as Holly is magnificent, his growing infatuation with the secretive Anna the heart of the film. Embodying the postwar optimism of America he’s a man who believes in doing ‘the right thing’, and clashes with the European mood of melancholy and pessimism. Welles states in the famous ‘cuckoo clock’ speech, which, according to the films writer Graham Greene Welles wrote, that ‘the world doesn’t make any heroes’. Holly tries to fly in the face of this assertion, like one of the characters in his third-rate pulp westerns, but seems doomed to fail.
Holly’s pulp novels, like Anton Karas’ famous Zither theme, are an important indicator of the films tone. Playful but dark, just like the inscrutable Lime, Reed’s film contains many elements of a more conventional thriller; many conventions of film noir (like the western, the pulp of the movie world) but rises above genre to become a true British masterpiece.
Enriching this dark and playful tone is the Academy Award-winning cinematography of Robert Krasker. Persistent use of oblique angles and distorting wide-angle lenses insinuate a world out of joint; the at times bizarre lighting a wonderful expressionist landscape of shadow. In this the city also plays its part. Shot entirely on location in recently devastated Vienna (much to producer David O Selznick’s chagrin), rarely has a place functioned so well as a character. With the rubble still littering cobbled streets, and bomb craters amid grand old buildings postwar Vienna was a world, quite literally, torn apart.
Rarely does Reed use the city so effectively as in the climactic chase through the sewers. A heart thumping combination of long echoing shots of empty sewers, and close ups of Welles’ sweating face, desperately searching for a way out.
Again it’s an appearance of Welles’ Lime that leads to that memorable scene but Cotton delivers his own unforgettable moments. The film that gave us the greatest introduction to a character, also provides us with one of cinema’s greatest endings, the wonderful elegiac final shot when Holly’s naïve US optimism comes up against Anna’s bitter cynicism.
A triumph of character and of style, a master-class of direction and of acting, The Third Man is an essential classic.