Of racketeers & politicians
Turner Classic Movies presented not one but two versions of Carol Reed’s 1949 classic The Third Man last night — the American and significantly (for fans) different British version. TCM also presented a new documentary about the film — quite good, by the way. I consider The Third Man one of the ten greatest movies ever. In fact, I adore it so much that when Deb and I visited Vienna a few years back, we not only took a walking tour of sites used in the movie, accompanied by zither music, but I spent one afternoon watching it on a “big screen” in a local theater that still shows it several times a week.
I’ve probably seen The Third Man a couple dozen times, but watching it again last night, it seemed to speak darkly of politics and Election 2004.
For those who haven’t seen the film (shame on you), its villain is Harry Lime, played magnificently, if briefly, by the great Orson Welles. Harry is always charming. Actually, he’s downright seductive. He’s also, as one character remarks, “about the worst racketeer who ever made a dirty living in this city.” Confronting his abused friend Holly Martins (the wonderful Joseph Cotton) aboard Vienna’s famous Ferris wheel, in just one of the movie’s unforgettable scenes, Harry compares his criminal career to government:
“They talk about ‘the people’ and ‘the proletariat.’ I talk about the suckers and the mugs. It’s the same thing. They have their five-year plans, and I have mine.”The calculation and seductive power of a Harry Lime isn’t much different from the calculation and seductive power of politics and the State. The polls, with which media flog us each day, are evidence that the American electorate brims with “suckers and mugs” who want to believe the rhetoric, even if they don’t really.