Thursday, May 24, 2007


A few years ago, our friend Kris, acknowledging my movie fanaticism, asked me to recommend some “classics.” At the top of my list was Carol Reed’s 1949 noirish thriller The Third Man, one of the few highly praised films in cinematic history that’s actually better than everybody says it is. A week or so later, Kris reported back. She’d rented the movie and loved it. “But you goofed,” she said. “Joseph Cotten isn’t in it. It stars William Powell.”

Third Man...Thin Man. OK, the mistake is understandable. But as wonderful as those old Powell and Loy films are, The Third Man is above and beyond, an entirely different beast.

Since I first saw it in college 33 years ago, I’ve cherished The Third Man. I can’t even guess how many times I’ve seen it — two, three dozen times? I adore it so much, in fact, that on the one occasion when Deb and I visited Vienna — quite unintentionally on the film’s 50th anniversary — we made pilgrimages to the movie’s most famous sites, including the Ferris wheel at the Prater amusement park and the very doorway in which Harry Lime (Orson Welles) makes his extraordinary first appearance. Remarkably, all those locations still exist as they did in 1949, except for the lack of post-war rubble. One afternoon that same week, I watched The Third Man on a big screen at Vienna’s Burg Kino arthouse theater, where it still screens several times a week. Very, very cool.

Well, this past Tuesday, the Criterion Collection released an upgrade of its earlier Third Man DVD. So I’ve been spending a lot of evenings again with Reed, Cotten, Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, and Vienna itself. (I’m craving a Sacher-Torte right now.) The new package is worth every penny, even if you have the previous Criterion release. It’s a two-disc set, which includes a gorgeous new transfer of the movie, every bonus that was squeezed onto the original DVD, plus a load of new stuff: two feature-length audio commentaries, the excellent 90-minute 2005 documentary Shadowing the Third Man, another 30-minute 1999 Austrian documentary commemorating the movie’s golden anniversary, a 1968 hour-long British TV program on novelist Graham Greene (author of The Third Man), and a new booklet of essays. This thing is fantastic.

Buy the DVD, even if you’ve never before seen The Third Man. Trust me. You’ve gotta have it, and you’ll watch it over and over again. And relish Welles’ remark to Holly Martins (Cotten), one of the greatest bits in movie history: “You know what the fellow said: In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love — they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home