The Third Man

There were no empty seats at the showing of THE THIRD MAN, the highlight of The Spying Game programme.  The film is more freckled than it once was, and glitching slightly, but still retains its original guile and vigour.  The same could be said of some audience members, a mostly mature crowd of longterm fans whose laughter rang out in joyful anticipation of favourite lines and scenes.  Wonderful to see this classic in its intended context – on the big screen, with a young couple smooching in the back row.

This complete 104-minute edition of the film retains elements once cut to suit the American palate, such as allusions to Cotton’s alcoholism.  Director Carol Reed ensures never a dull moment among Escher perspectives, puzzled camera tilts and a wry zither soundtrack.  The plot, as well as the style, is paradigmatic – to this day, supporting characters haven’t learned that if one has something urgent to convey to a man in a fedora, one should just spit it out, and not arrange a rendezvous.  Welles’ boggling eyes glisten like moonlight on wet cobbles, and his chubby chops lend an air of a petulant precociousness; reflecting his tendency to behave like a spoilt child on set.  His character Lime sees people as insignificant dots.  But can he really become one of those dots himself, and melt into the shadows?  No more than Welles, then known as “box office poison”, could ever have faded into obscurity after his electrification of this chiaroscuro classic.

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