Welcome to day 1 of my new blog series about my all-time favorite spy films and television shows, in which I reveal the inordinate portion of my life I’ve spent re-watching the Bourne Identity.
(This is also my go-to excuse whenever someone persecutes me for not having seen The Wire in its entirety. Seriously, I would rather just have a dance party to the opening credits of the Bourne Films for all of eternity rather than be forced to sit down and watch a series in which I have seen the pilot ten times and have yet to get past it. “Not Having Seen The Wire” also apparently constitutes as a war crime every conversation I have with people who’ve seen The Wire, which makes me want to watch it even less just out of principle, but that’s for my next blog series: 31 Days of Not Watching The Wire)
If you missed it, here’s my little introduction post about the series. If you didn’t, good job. You’re caught up.
I’m not really going to summarize plot in these series because A) I’m not in film school anymore and no longer have to write papers analyzing storylines for six pages to pad my wordcount B) you just have to trust my taste and go watch these movies, and C) I think it’s more fun to just jump in and talk about the fun parts. It’s my blog, I can dance if I want to.
I will link to the trailer, though, so you’ll have some idea what I’m talking about even though I mostly just want you to go see these damn films and tv shows because they’re amazing.
I also won’t be talking about the directors as much because this is a writing blog, so if you want to fight me on this, just do it on Twitter. @AmyMSuto
Today’s film is none other than the classic 1949 film, THE THIRD MAN. It’s not squarely in the spy genre as it’s set in post-war Vienna and pre-Cold War, but the noir style and general sense of intrigue place it in my definition of the “spy” genre:
Written by Graham Greene and directed by Carol Reed.
Starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli.
Summary: Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, Harry Lime.
Favorite line: “A person doesn’t change just because you find out more.”
So, I completely forgot how much I love Dutch angles. After watching this film, I felt like I was back at USC, sitting in the Norris Theater and watching a bunch of art films with harsh lighting and the it-was-crooked-on-purpose frames that then we all tried to copy in our own films (which were often filled with scenes that were crooked on accident but now we were armed with the vocabulary to pretend that wasn’t the case.)
Writing “I love Dutch angles” not only makes me a pretentious film nerd, it also happens to be the name of my next indie band. Stay tuned for our EP, “Expressionist Tuesdays.”
Aside from opening this article with jokes about Dutch angles, I also have to do the Obligatory Thing Where I Mention This Film Won an Oscar for Best Cinematography. I have to wash my mouth out with soap whenever I mention awards because we all know they Don’t Really Matter and Are A Popularity Contest, but this film truly had some spectacular cinematography so, y’know. Another reason to watch it despite the fact I have never seen the Oscars or Emmys other than clips my friends send me and I roll my eyes at statues. (I say this having a photo of me winning an award on the homepage of this website.)
Graham Greene is a legend, as I’m sure you’re probably aware. He was an acclaimed novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and also was an MI-6 agent who slept with over 50 prostitutes while traveling the world. My first question if he came back to life and I could have dinner with him would be a line of inquiry into what time management hacks he ascribes to. Do you think he used the Pomodoro method?
He developed the novella version of the Third Man off of this single sentence:
“I had paid my last farewell to Harry a week ago, when his coffin was lowered into the frozen February ground, so that it was with incredulity that I saw him pass by, without a sign of recognition, amongst a host of strangers in the Strand.”-Graham Greene, The Third Man
Greene is also close to my heart because he wrote the novella of this first before writing the screenplay. If you know me, you know that I love making things harder on myself and am actually currently in the middle of writing a novella as well as a pilot for the same story at the same time (stupid, I know) so I can identify with the struggle.
My favorite part of old spy films usually end up being the elements and scenes of whimsy that lighten a high-stakes storyline. In The Third Man, there are two that I love: the ferris wheel scene and the improbable chase scene.
I say “improbable” because the scene begins with Anna and Martins running from a child who calls Martins a murderer in front of a mob that turns angry (as mobs are wont to do.) Then, this child somehow is able to keep up with Anna and Martins and run faster than all the adults. Somebody get this dude to the Olympic trials, pronto.
The ferris wheel (or, Wiener Riesenrad as this particular ferris wheel is called) scene is fantastic because of the tension and how casually Lime (played by Orson Welles) turns on a dime: threatening our hero one moment, then when realizing that others know he faked his own death and the jig is up, reveals his amorality with flippant comments about how he doesn’t care about those he’s harmed. It’s so beautifully shot and reminds me why I will never ride a ferris wheel. Not because I have a fear of heights (okay, maybe I do) but because you never know which one of your friends has faked their death and is caught up in a drug trafficking scheme. (I live in LA, okay?)
I thought Anna’s character could have had a bit more to do in the film other than the role of “mourning actress girlfriend,” but that’s also coming from a place of wanting all the female characters I see on-screen to kick ass, take names, and murder a whole bunch of people. If I had a therapist, the first order of business would be to address my limited definition of “strong female characters.”
As someone who usually complains about how older films don’t hold up or don’t compute with my technology-addled millennial brain, I really do love this film.
Go see it.