Tag Archives: Trevor Howard

The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed)

The Third Man runs just over a hundred minutes and takes place over a few days. It’s never clear just how many; director Reed and writer Graham Greene are both resistant to the idea of making the film too procedural. Greene’s scenes, even when they’re expository, still strive against lucidity. Everyone in the film is their own person, with their own agenda–it’s an entirely depressing affair.

Joseph Cotten is a hapless American in over his head and slightly aware of it. He liberally ingests alcohol to get himself through. Trevor Howard is a cynical British military policeman; he’s aware of the futility of trying to police in unison with three other governments (the film takes place during the post-WWII occupied Vienna, the four Allied powers each taking a section–as the film’s opening narration succinctly informs). Cotten thinks Howard has it wrong about his friend, played by Orson Welles. Except it turns out Howard and Welles are just alter egos. They never get their moment to reflect on one another, because Cotten’s the lead. His bumbling, drunken American is the audience. Reed and Greene are putting on a show about the world and what a terrible place people have let it become.

The Third Man has a lot of noir elements–Reed and cinematographer Robert Krasker’s use of Expressionist angles and harsh black and white is breathtaking–but it’s an anti-war picture. It’s the epilogue to a war film; after the fighting is done, what’s left for the people. Alida Valli gets to be the people. Howard’s the hero, Welles’s the villain, Cotten’s the audience, Valli’s the people. The people whose lives the war changed, something Cotten can’t understand. There’s so much to The Third Man before it gets to be a noir thriller–Reed’s use of German and Russian dialogue (Cotten’s protagonist only speaks English, as does the presumed audience), the way Vienna residents engage one another, the way they don’t, there’s so much to it. It’s so incredibly heavy it seems like Cotten’s sort of doofus is going to collapse under it all. At one point, when it appears his obtuseness has finally gotten him in too much trouble, he asks his captor if he’s going to be killed. It’s not resigned, just curious. Because Cotten has finally realized he doesn’t understand Vienna, he doesn’t understand Valli. But Howard and Welles do understand it.

When Cotten finally does get to be the hero, when he finally does step up to the plate, it’s not because he’s grown, but because he’s not willing to grow. He’s learned there are no heroes in the Old West but he still has to pretend there can be. It’s devastating. And it’s not even the main plot of the picture. It’s not even Cotten’s main plot, really, because his relationships with Valli and Welles are far more important than his one with Howard. It’s such a weird, anti-romantic film. The film is a mental assault–Reed’s direction, Krasker’s photography, Oswald Hafenrichter’s stunning editing–it’s not a question of the viewer catching up, it’s about the viewer not breaking down. Greene’s script is all too happy to oblige; the subtle understanding of the characters reflects in their dialogue. The Third Man seemingly ends where it begins, all the character development is conveyed in the dialogue, more specifically the actors delivery of it.

It’s an exceptional motion picture.

Great supporting turns from Bernard Lee and Ernst Deutsch. Cotten’s excellent, Valli’s better, Welles is sort of otherworldly. All of the audience’s hopes–and thereby Cotten’s–are pinned on Welles. He delivers. He’s a movie star in a world without movie stars. It’s not just his gentle but exuberant delivery of his dialogue, it’s his physical performance. Welles’s character development isn’t in how his delivery of dialogue changes, but in how his body moves. It’s so good.

And Howard’s awesome. It’s kind of a thankless role, but he’s awesome. He has to be unquestionably right and can’t ever seem obnoxious about it. There’s this gentle humanity to him, underneath the real world cynic.

Technically, there’s never a bad moment, never a less than perfect cut, never a less than perfect shot. Reed, Krasker, Hafenrichter and composer Anton Karas are all spectacular. Reed’s use of Karas’s Zither music (central European folk music) deserves a lengthy discussion and examination. Karas’s music leads Cotten (and the audience) through the film, but is never tied to them. They’re occasionally tied to it, but the music gets to be freer. The film even opens on a close-up of the Zither instrument itself, the strings vibrating as the opening titles run. Reed (and Greene) are very deliberate in giving instructions as to how the viewer engage with the film. The Third Man is never hostile, always inviting. It’s just inviting the viewer to be depressed and to value that depression.

Like I said, it’s exceptional. It’s exceptional overall, it’s exceptional in its technical qualities, it’s exceptional in its actors essaying of their roles. If The Third Man isn’t perfect, there’s no such thing as a perfect film.

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Carol Reed; written by Graham Greene; director of photography, Robert Krasker; edited by Oswald Hafenrichter; music by Anton Karas; released by British Lion Film Corporation.

Starring Joseph Cotten (Holly Martins), Alida Valli (Anna Schmidt), Orson Welles (Harry Lime), Trevor Howard (Maj. Calloway), Bernard Lee (Sgt. Paine), Ernst Deutsch (Baron Kurtz), Erich Ponto (Dr. Winkel), Wilfrid Hyde-White (Crabbin), Siegfried Breuer (Popescu) and Paul Hörbiger (Porter).


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Brief Encounter (1945, David Lean)

For the majority of Brief Encounter, I had very little opinion of Lean’s direction. It’s incredibly dispassionate and functional, but very solid. I think I assumed it’d be innovative (along the lines of the Archers) but it’s not. Very realistic, very British.

Until the second to last scene, when Lean has to essay the most dramatic moment in the film and fails miserably. He gets away with it for a couple reasons, which I’ll discuss in a moment, but it’s a terrible moment and Lean forecasts it as well, making it even worse.

But he gets away with it because Brief Encounter relies very little on his direction. The film rises and falls with Celia Johnson. Though the film is about her and Trevor Howard’s infidelity (he’s a married doctor, she’s a housewife–though she does have a maid and cook, so housewife doesn’t have the same connotation as the American sense), the film’s not about Howard at all. Quite unfortunately, Johnson narrates the film in her internal monologue confession to her boring but loving husband (Cyril Raymond).

If Johnson’s performance can overcome that narration–the film eventually breaks from it to show a single, humanizing scene with Howard–she can make Lean’s unfortunate spinning camera go away.

Brief Encounter is a rather good film, but fails to be anything extraordinary (except in terms of Johnson’s acting).

Oh, I forgot–the other way Lean makes up for the terrible direction moment. Immediately following it, there’s an exquisite fade, simply masterful.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Lean; screenplay by Anthony Havelock-Allan, Lean and Ronald Neame, based on a play by Noel Coward; director of photography, Robert Krasker; edited by Jack Harris; produced by Lean, Havelock-Allan and Neame; released by Eagle-Lion Distributors Limited.

Starring Celia Johnson (Laura Jesson), Trevor Howard (Dr. Alec Harvey), Stanley Holloway (Albert Godby), Joyce Carey (Myrtle Bagot), Cyril Raymond (Fred Jesson), Everley Gregg (Dolly Messiter), Marjorie Mars (Mary Norton) and Margaret Barton (Beryl Walters, Tea Room Assistant).


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Triple Cross (1966, Terence Young)

Looking up Triple Cross on IMDb (I look up everything on IMDb to fill out my little film-viewing record), I noticed the user comment. IMDb user comment’s are almost always terrible and, since I usually check a record after watching a film, amusing. This comment read, “Plummer’s no Connery.”

Well, obviously not. Christopher Plummer can act.

There are some comparisons to a James Bond film, of course–Plummer is constantly insubordinate and constantly bedding the ladies (though, much like the first three Connery Bond films, only three). I guess Terence Young also directed the first two Bonds as well. Triple Cross is not a Bond film simply because the supporting cast matters. You like them. You feel for them. I don’t know of a Bond film except (maybe) Goldeneye that succeeds in that regard.

Still, Triple Cross has a lot of problems. Young is a rather mediocre director and, for the first twenty minutes, I kept thinking that the British deserve not having a significant film contribution if Young is their idea of a “premier” filmmaker. Plummer is charming in the role, but there are few moments of actual depth. The most effective scene–between him and a Nazi general, played by Yul Brynner–is soon diminished–someone felt it necessary to bring Brynner back. Probably to fulfill his screen-time requirement….

Romy Schneider, who I know is famous, is good as one of Plummer’s romantic interests. There’s a lot of good acting in Triple Cross, but it’s usually for naught. I don’t know if the film is too honest in its historical portrayal or not enough. Probably the former. Films rarely suffer for taking dramatic license with history. The guy from Goldfinger, Goldfinger himself, is in it and does a good job too. World War II movies of Triple Cross‘s era peak with The Great Escape, but there are some other reasonable ones in there. They just weren’t made by Terence Young, apparently.

Still, I got the R2 DVD for like six dollars on eBay (from the UK, including shipping, which is quite a feat), so I’m happy enough. I don’t think Christopher Plummer has ever been bad and it’s nice to find a film where he’s the lead.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Terence Young; screenplay by René Hardy and William Marchant, based on a book by Frank Owen; director of photography, Henri Alekan; edited by Roger Dwyre; music by Georges Garvarentz; produced by Jacques Bertrand; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christopher Plummer (Eddie Chapman), Romy Schneider (Countess), Trevor Howard (Distinguished Civilian), Gert Fröbe (Colonel Steinhager), Claudine Auger (Paulette), Yul Brynner (Baron von Grunen), Harry Meyen (Lt. Keller), Georges Lycan (Leo), Jess Hahn (Commander Braid) and Gil Barber (Bergman).