Home History ‘The Third Man’: An Unflinchingly Look at the Unsettling Truths of War

‘The Third Man’: An Unflinchingly Look at the Unsettling Truths of War

by Enochadmin

World Conflict II resulted in Europe on Could 8, 1945. However for a lot of the continent, together with its thousands and thousands of displaced individuals and people attempting to rebuild their lives in ruined cities, it might be years earlier than peace returned. Launched in 1949, The Third Man takes place in a postwar Vienna ravaged by Allied bombing raids that destroyed 20 p.c of town and left 270,000 residents homeless. (Director Carol Reed insisted that the movie be shot on location, and viewers can see for themselves the hills of rubble.) Like Berlin, town is occupied by 4 Allied powers: the People, British, Soviets, and French. And with continual shortages of the whole lot from meals to medication, it’s the heyday of the black market, during which everybody appears to take part a little bit—and a few quite a bit.

Into town arrives Holly Martins (actor Joseph Cotten), a hack American novelist who has acquired an invite from an outdated school chum, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), to return work with him in Vienna. (The character of the work isn’t made clear.) Problems come up when Holly learns that his good friend Harry is useless, killed in a latest site visitors accident. Including to his troubles is British navy policeman Main Calloway (Trevor Howard), who curtly informs Holly that loss of life was “the most effective factor that ever occurred” to Harry, and that it was a destiny befitting a black marketeer who was additionally a assassin. Outraged, Holly decides to clear Harry’s identify and destroy Calloway’s repute.

Everybody discourages Holly’s efforts to study extra about Harry’s loss of life—particularly Harry’s associates in Vienna, who present accounts that don’t fairly jibe and likewise omit a key element that Holly quickly learns from Harry’s onetime porter: that along with the 2 males these associates say carried off Harry’s physique, there was additionally “a 3rd man” concerned. The porter is mysteriously murdered after this reveal.

The movie is almost full earlier than we study the identification of the third man (and take into account studying no additional till you’ve seen the movie your self, which amongst many critics is taken into account to be among the best ever made). After Calloway decides to exhume Harry’s coffin to confirm his “site visitors accident” loss of life, the physique seems to be that of a lacking medical orderly, not Harry Lime. In actual fact, Harry himself killed the person mendacity within the coffin and is alive and effectively, evading authorities within the metropolis’s Soviet sector.

By this time Holly is aware of why Main Calloway considers loss of life the most effective factor that ever “occurred” to Harry. Harry has made a fortune promoting penicillin on the black market, diluting it in order that it’s worse than ineffective, and is thereby answerable for the demise of numerous hospital sufferers. “Males with gangrened legs, girls in childbirth,” Main Calloway informs Holly proper earlier than the movie’s large twist. “And there have been youngsters, too. They used a few of this diluted penicillin in opposition to meningitis. The fortunate youngsters died. The unfortunate ones went off their heads…. That was the racket Harry Lime organized.”

In one of many film’s best-known scenes, Holly and Harry meet in a gondola of the Riesenrad, the well-known Ferris wheel on the entrance to Vienna’s Prater amusement park. Harry is confident, silky, and unrepentant. Gesturing towards the pedestrians far under, he asks Holly, “Would you actually really feel any pity if a kind of dots stopped shifting endlessly? If I supplied you 20,000 kilos for each dot that stopped, would you actually, outdated man, inform me to maintain my cash, or would you calculate what number of dots you may afford to spare?”

On condition that the film’s viewers has already considered laborers exhausting at work atop town’s ubiquitous mounds of rubble, it isn’t exhausting to acknowledge that not lengthy earlier than, those self same “dots” had been the targets of Allied bombers. “No person thinks by way of human beings,” Harry continues, making considerably the identical level. “Governments don’t. Why ought to we? They speak concerning the individuals and the proletariat; I speak concerning the suckers and the mugs. It’s the identical factor.”

However is it? We the viewers don’t need to suppose so. We don’t need to share Harry’s chilling cynicism. Holly doesn’t share it, and Calloway decidedly doesn’t as effectively. The Third Man’s genius, nevertheless, is that it doesn’t completely allow us to off the hook. It doesn’t ask us to sympathize with Harry, although Holly can not escape a way of sorrow as soon as his wayward good friend receives his simply deserts on the movie’s finish. But it surely conveys a way that Harry isn’t completely flawed concerning the world we inhabit. The wickedness of battle would be the essence of humanity.

this text first appeared in world battle II journal

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