The Third Man

http://www.solarmovie.is/link/play/1789679/ this link seemed to be safe and functional for me. Relevant clip is 1:00 to 5:36

The Third Man is a text with a lot of relevance to the question of “America in the World” and trans- and internationality. A British production, the film featuring American and Austrian actors performing their nationalities in a story set and shot on location in occupied Vienna, 1949.

The Europe that the film’s American protagonist encounters is one of with the stench of death in the air with deceit all around and moral clarity nowhere. The sense of continuity with the culture of interbellum anxiety is enhanced by the use of continental Expressionist cinematography like that which stages Holly Martins with the deceased Harry Lime’s porter. The cross-linguistic encounter with its reversal of heaven and hell prefigures the “upside down world” Martins will fall into in Vienna. The opening narration declares the Vienna of the Past (“the Vienna of Strauss”) by gone and inaccessible to a newcomer “after the war.” Indeed, the Vienna Martins explores is more like the Vienna of Freud, where lusty bohemians skirt the law and express morbid acceptance of very intimate dances with death.

I think it’s worth comparing The Third Man to the structure of “Heart of Darkness.” An earnest story-teller sold on the dream of imperial progress is sent searching for a missing man of great repute. As the protagonist gets closer to the heart of the mystery, the stakes are raised: “it’s better not to be mixed up in things like this,” Martins is told when grilling Harry Lime’s porter about the circumstances of Lime’s death. “I wasn’t the only one who didn’t give evidence!” Post-Hitler Europe is a place where people don’t own up to much, and many things are considered better left uninvestigated. Like in “Heart of Darkness,” the object of the protagonists searchings and imaginings is revealed to be the truly darkest character of the story, and yet still have more in common with the narrative subject than any of the menacing intermediaries who line the trail to the center of the mystery.

This overbearing atmosphere of deceit and foreboding make the film a very interesting text of empire. The film’s grim vision of life in Allied-occupied Europe compromises the moral clarity stemming from the defeat of fascism which lent drive to American-led liberal internationalism. The opening narration’s clear mix of disdain for and uneasiness with the “cooperative” administration of the international occupation reflects this. We have to take seriously a film that at a moment of unprecedented American ascendency told a story about America looking deep into the heart of a Europe it had thought fallen into decadent barbarism, and seeing its own self-image as progressive “city on a hill” challenged.

Ben Chametzky

One thought on “The Third Man”

  1. Although I have not had the chance to see the whole film, the beginning reminds me of Brighton Rock, another one of Greene’s novels. It also has a mysterious death as the catalyst for the plot, and the concept of “heaven” and “hell” is likewise prevalent.

    Bearing that in mind, perhaps this clip is suggesting that religion is in many ways transnational. Although the porter is not able to communicate the idea of heaven and hell accurately in English, or perhaps has a different conceptualization of heaven and hell, the concept of an afterlife divided into heaven and hell appears to be one that is prevalent internationally.

    Like

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