Shadowing the Third Man (2004)

TV Movie   |    |  Documentary

Shadowing the Third Man (2004) Poster

Documentary about the production of The Third Man (1949).


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3 December 2004 | gcrokus
| Things Are Not That Simple Anymore
For some years we have been reluctant to admit that 'The Third Man' is the film we most admire. Always falling short of proclaiming it the best movie ever, we instead have taken the less controversial position that it is certainly one of the great films, undoubtedly in the top ten, arguably the best, perhaps the finest, but never actually deeming it Numero Uno. Well, no longer are we so wishy-washy; in viewing the fascinating documentary 'Shadowing the Third Man', the original film is propelled back onto our radar screens and in the act gives us good reason to give it it's due.

Great film has some or all of the following elements: action, drama, a love interest, a political undercurrent, a surprise, great dialogue, remarkable filmography, auteur, a memorable musical score, superior acting, an intriguing story, the hint of violence or violence itself, interpersonal relationships worth caring about and novel use of a location. What part of 'The Third Man' does not have all these components?

'Shadowing' Director Frederick Baker, an outstanding documentation hits just the right note in capturing the feel of the post-WWII setting (Vienna), mixing in enough zither music and original movie footage to infuse this film with real authenticity.

Peppered throughout we hear from Graham Greene (screenplay), Alexander Korda (producer), Carol Reed (director), assistant director Guy Hamilton, cinematographer Robert Krasker and of course Orson Welles. Not one second of footage or voice-over is less than fascinating.

As an example, Welles himself reveals, as he did in one turn of a ferries wheel in the actual film, more information than we ever knew. On two points we are stunned: he admits that in an early interview he gave an impression that he co-directed the film, and he clarifies his intention; secondly, he credits Carol Reed's deft direction unwaveringly!

What is disappointing about Welles is finding he was more than reluctant to film scenes in the Vienna sewers. This seems completely inconsistent with our view of the risk-taking Orson, the same man that tried his hand at new endeavours throughout his life.

There is enough attention to small details to reveal just how much labor went in to this smart and atmospheric documentary. Only one topic is a bit difficult to follow; that of Vienna's history. It seems an insertion and does not flow naturally from the moments preceding it.

As to the ending of 'The Third Man' – for our money the finest ever recorded -how satisfying to hear Greene admit, after telling us the he and Reed disagreed on the final scene that '…Carol Reed was right…slight pause… he made a magnificent ending'.

Daniel Selznick (son of co-producer David O. Selznick) says of the 'The Third Man' 'formula' that throughout 'things aren't at all what they seem to be' – adds an illusion to the point that we do not have here the simple plots of Holly Martin's pulp Westerns; and concludes that 'after World War II it wasn't that simple anymore.' And there be noir.

Rating: 3 and ¾ stars.

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