Revisiting the The Third Man – The Best Film of the 1940’s

“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. “

More so than any other decade in the brief history of film, the 1940’s showed that with great tribulation came great inspiration.

Behold the following cinematic masterpieces created amidst a world at war:  Casablanca, Citizen Kane, The Grapes of Wrath, Bicycle Thieves, Double Indemnity, Shadow of a Doubt.

In any given year in any given decade any one of these films could easily top anyone’s list.  Some of them are routinely bantered about as the greatest film of all time.

And then there is…THE GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME.

THE THIRD MAN.

If the 2000’s were emblematic of my generation, and the 1970’s belonged to the generation of my parents…then the 1940’s were where my grandparents’ generation left their indelible mark:  the decade of the Greatest Generation that clawed their way out of the Great Depression to rise triumphant out of the calamity of World War II.  Film mirrored this struggle with tales that showed the human condition is made up of trouble every day.  We saw some of the greatest book to film adaptations ever with David Lean’s Oliver Twist and John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath.  Speaking of wrath, Carl Theodor Dreyer delivered his bewitching Day of Wrath, while Hitchcock produced the film closest to his heart and mine, Shadow of a Doubt.  Clouzot was going tete-a-tete with Hitch across the pond in his native France with the allegorical Le Corbeau and the wildly entertaining police procedural Quai des Orfevres while the Italians were rising from the ashes with their neo-realism movement marked by De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and Rossellini’s Rome Open City.

And beyond briefly mentioning, I haven’t even touched on Casablanca and Citizen Kane, two films deserving of their own full write-ups and tributes.   Yet even those films don’t hold a candle to Carol Reed’s descent into GreeneLand and ascent into film history. Continue reading

24: The Clock Stops Here

Monday, May 24th 2010 at 8PM EST Fox will air the two-hour series finale of the most groundbreaking network television show of the past decade.  The ticking clock, which at times seemed eternal, will stop once and for all on Jack Bauer and 24.  It’s time to look back and share your favorite 24 memories as The Schleicher Spin bids a bittersweet and fond farewell to an old favorite.

Take yourself back, if you will, to the fall of 2001.  Fox had a daring idea to create an action-thriller that took place in real-time over the course of an entire day where each one hour episode would be one hour in the crisis-filled life of counter-terrorism guru Jack Bauer.  The premier was delayed, however, when the ultimate act of terrorism occurred in real life on 9/11.  Wanting to remain sympathetic to a mourning populace still in a state of shock, Fox chose not to air the first episode until November.  And thus the most groundbreaking network television show since Twin Peaks debuted quietly under subdued hoopla with a sequence featuring an uber-hot terrorist (played by Mia Kirshner, whose character would become the greatest reoccurring villain on the series) casually leaping from an airplane in mid-flight and setting off a bomb that would kill everyone onboard.  It was a sobering moment of fiction that eerily mirrored an even more imaginative and horrific act of mass murder still too fresh on people’s minds.  And it was this moment that set off a spiraling series of events that would shape the television landscape and American pop-culture psyche for the next decade. 

24 plowed on from there with feverish intensity…and it caught on eventually with all its split-screen formatting, cell-phone dialing, satellite re-tasking, bomb defusing, and cliffhanging fun.  Jack Bauer would live another day…and another…and another…as the series went on ad-infinitum for what has seemed like an eternity.  Continue reading

GreeneLand on Film

Fans of British novelist Graham Greene are said to live in GreeneLand, a place where I take up a happy residency.

While film buffs will always remember Greene for penning the screenplay to one of the greatest movies ever made, The Third Man, it becomes easy to overlook the myriad of film adaptations that sprang so effortlessly from his novels at the time of their publication and later. In fact, it was a recent mini-Greene-to-film-Renaissance that first introduced me to the man who would become my favorite writer. I would’ve never turned to his short stories and novels had it not been for the most recent film adaptations of The End of the Affair and The Quiet American. Many of the earlier film adaptations are unfairly forgotten or simply hard to find and deserve to be brought to light for classic film buffs and faithful GreeneLand residents alike.

The following is a ranking of the Graham Greene book to film adaptations I have seen. Continue reading

Barack Obama in Greeneland

This tale of a whiskey-priest running from fascists in 1930s Mexico is among mine and Obamas favorite novels.

This tale of a whiskey-priest running from fascists in 1930's Mexico is among my and Obama's favorite novels.

 

So Mr. Obama was sworn in as our 44th President earlier today.

At first, I wasn’t blown away by his speech, but that was until I came home and found an email from my mother stating she read somewhere that among Obama’s favorite books was The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.  This is what makes the speech so brilliant.  It wasn’t designed for instant applause but for deep thought and as an invitation to learn more.  It wasn’t just a stump-speech, but a grand design for the policies which will follow and a call to arms for Americans to be that change they want to see in the world.

It seems Barack lives in Greeneland, which should make pragmatists rejoice.  Listening back to the endless loops and sound-bites from the speech, I was astounded by how Greene-esque his worldview might be.  Just the fact that he acknowledges or is aware of such a worldview is a refreshing change of pace from the crypto-fascism of the previous White House regime.  What a wonderful thing it is to have a President who has such a great command of language and who knows how to invoke literature and history and create themes and motifs.  Obama is like the frickin’ Graham Greene of politicians.  And how awesome is it that he has read and loves Greene, especially since Greene was so political in his writing.  This points to Obama being even more practical and pragmatic than we thought, which will be great since Bush was stupidly obsessed with fairytales and jihads which crippled our nation and prevented us from succeeding in the real world. 

Graham Greene was always writing about the real world.  His books always spoke to the times and always had characters who crashed and burned when they got too wrapped up in their own heads and internal moral battles and fantasies.  The real world always kept moving in Greeneland and always survived while those foolish characters more often than not perished.  We need a President now more than ever firmly planted in the real world.   Obama’s over-riding theme of, and I am grotesquely paraphrasing here, “the world sucks right now, but slowly and surely we’re gonna overcome it as long as we keep our heads about us and everyone steps up their A-game” really was Greene-esque.  Bush would’ve left it all to God’s hands and prayed about it–he would’ve died in Greeneland by the end of the novel.  Let’s hope Obama inspires us to continue marching on.  Mankind’s innate will to survive can overcome anything and accomplish everything. 

And it seemed like he was speaking not only to those out in the real world wishing to do us harm, those terrorists, those fascists, but also to those who have had their heads stuck in the sand, those Bushes, those mortgage companies, those regulators, those uninvolved…when he said so simply and so firmly…

YOU CAN NOT OUTLAST US.  WE WILL DEFEAT YOU.

Let’s not forget, Graham Greene was fiercely religious, but he often found it difficult to reconcile that with the real world.  This manifested itself in his protagonists who often were blinded by a crisis of faith and rendered impotent against the rising tides of war and change in the real world.  Many felt the British and worldly Greene was staunchly anti-American in his views, so it’s difficult to know how he would’ve thought about our current state of affairs.  Always the skeptic, Greene might’ve been wary of Obama…but as one of Greene’s Catholic nuns might’ve said in some third-world hell on earth in one of his stories, “God answers the prayers of those who move their feet.”

With Obama stepping into the White House, it’s time to move our feet, America.

________________________________________________________

Click here to visit Greeneland .

 

Throngs of people today visited Greeneland with Barack Obama lighting the way.
Throngs of people today visited Greeneland with Barack Obama lighting the way.

Written by David H. Schleicher

Living in GreeneLand

For the past three years I’ve been living in GreeneLand.  For those who have never visited, it’s sometimes hard to explain my love for the place.  Friends and family know I’m always reading two things: Graham Greene and something else.  I’m currently reading The Quiet American, which in 1955 was the first major work to warn of entanglement in the Vietnam conflict.  If I were asked to pick any person living or dead to have a one-on-one conversation with, I would chose to share a bottle of scotch with Graham Greene.  He was in his prime during the WWII era and died in 1991, but his works are just as relevant today as they were when first published.  He’s the rare author who is just as popular with readers as he is with his peers and aspiring writers, renowned for his commercial and critical success, and he’s among the most influential and widely read English language novelists of the 20th century.  As far as I’m concerned, he’s also the best. Continue reading

A Review of Carol Reed’s “The Third Man”

CAPTION:  In 1949, this Valli was located in GreeneLand.

CAPTION:  In the best of film noir, a viewer can actually feel the dampness and breathe in the darkness.

The Trouble with Harry Lime, 1 April 2008
10/10
Author:
David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

I initially felt a fool for not having seen The Third Man earlier. However, in retrospect, having now read most of Graham Greene’s major works, and having received some keen insight into the back-story of producer Alexander Korda through Kati Marton’s book The Great Escape, I feel I was able to enjoy The Third Man even more for the staggering masterpiece that it is.

As a European/American co-production bankrolled by two legendary hands-on producers, David O. Selznick and Alexander Korda, The Third Man was masterfully crafted by director Carol Reed from a screenplay by British novelist Graham Greene. The film served as a pinnacle of the film noir movement and is a prime example of master filmmakers working with an iconic writer and utilizing an amazing cast and crew to create a masterwork representing professionals across the field operating at the top of their game.

Fans of Greene’s novels need not be disappointed as the screenplay crackles with all that signature cynicism and sharp witted dialogue. Carol Reed’s crooked camera angles, moody use of shadowing and external locations (Vienna, partially bombed out, wet and Gothic, never looked more looming and haunting) and crisp editing are the perfect visual realizations of Greene’s provocative wordplay and often saturnine view of the world. Reed’s brief opening montage and voice-over introducing us to the black market in Vienna is also shockingly modern, as it is that energetic quick-cut editing that has influenced directors like Scorsese to film entire motion pictures in just such a style. Also making the film decidedly timeless is the zither music score of Anton Karas, a bizarre accompaniment to the dark story that serves as a brilliant contradiction to what is being seen on screen.

The story of The Third Man slides along like smooth gin down the back of one’s throat as characters, plot and mood meander and brood along cobblestone streets and slither down dark alleys in an intoxicated state. Heavy drinking hack writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten, doing an excellent Americanized riff on Graham Greene himself) arrives in post WWII occupied Vienna to meet up with his old pal Harry Lime (Orson Welles) only to find that Lime is reportedly dead, the police (headed by a perfectly cold Trevor Howard) don’t seem to care, and Lime’s charming broken-hearted mistress (Alida Valli, perfect as another Greene archetype) has been left behind. Of course, Martins can’t leave well enough alone as conspiracy, murder, unrequited romance, and political intrigue ensue. Welles benefits greatly from being talked about for most of the film and appearing mostly in shadows spare for two scenes: the famous ferris wheel speech, and a climatic chase beneath the streets of Vienna through Gothic sewers. His top hap, dark suit, and crooked smile are the stuff of film legend.

The side characters, however, are what make The Third Man such a rich, rewarding experience. We’re treated to small glimpses into the mindsets of varying people ranging from a British officer obsessed with American Western dime-store novels (of which Martins claims his fame) to an Austrian landlady eternally wrapped in a quilt going on and on in her foreign tongue as international police constantly raid her building and harass her tenants. The brilliance is that one needs no subtitles to understand her frustration. These added layers of character and thoughtful detail, hallmarks of Greene, set The Third Man in a class above the rest of film noir from the late 1940’s era.

Make no mistake, The Third Man is arguably one of the most finely crafted films ever made. One’s preference towards noir and Greene’s world-view will shape how much one actually enjoys the film. For the sheer fact it has held up so well over the decades and has clearly influenced so many great films that came after it, its repeated rankings as one of the greatest motion pictures ever made can not be denied. With a good stiff drink in hand, and Graham Greene’s collection dog-eared on my bookshelf, The Third Man is undoubtedly now one of my favorite films. Reed’s closing shot of a tree-lined street along a cemetery and Joseph Cotten leaning against a car smoking a cigarette while Alida Valli walks right past him with that zither music score playing is one that has left an indelible mark on my memory and enriched my love of film as art.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0041959/usercomments-308

CAPTION:  On the outside Joseph Cotten is as cool as cucumber, but on the inside, the hopeless romantic screams at Alida Valli, “Don’t walk away!”