The latest restoration of “The Third Man” will expose this classic of British cinema, this classic film noir to a new generation. I wonder how they will greet it.
I was fortunate in that I first saw “The Third Man” on a local (Philadelphia) UHF station was I was in high-school. What a perfect time to be introduced the film’s heady romanticism and dazzling camera-work! I have loved the film ever since.
Recently, discussing the film with a friend I was surprised to learn that it fell flat for him. He didn’t care much for the ending and found the Anna/Harry Lime relationship implausible because Harry was such a smug, reprehensible swine. Even Orson Welles, who played the part once defined Lime as “Lucifer…the fallen angel.” Certainly a fellow who intentionally cripples and kills sick children for the sake of a 70-pound profit per diluted vial of penicillin seems to fit the description.
But my defense of the film is that the very nature of Anna’s love is what makes this a film noir. Anna loves Harry who treats her as a disposable consumer item and shops her to the Russians (she being an illegal immigrant) when he has no further use for her. Similarly Holly Martins, Lime’s erstwhile best friend, although they’ve been out of touch for some years, is in love with–or at least infatuated by–Anna, who frankly tells him that she wouldn’t know the answer if he phoned her and asked whether or not he sported a moustache. Anna has a cat who only likes Harry. Why this is again remains a mystery. When the cat finds Harry in a doorway spying on Holly and Anna it enthusiastic rubs against his leg and goes into an orgy of scratching at his highly-polished shoes. But Harry doesn’t even bother to pet the poor thing. In fact, it’s presence gives him away to Holly who, believing him to be a policeman, mockingly calls him satchel-foot.
The thing of it is, everyone likes Harry, but Harry likes no one except Harry. Why such a person inspires loyalty, even love, is perhaps the true mystery at the center of “The Third Man.”