“The Third Man”

30 Aug

Do you immediately hear the zither music when you read that title? If so, you can look forward to some interesting trivia (as well as one person’s reminiscences of a long relationship with the film).

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can discover a quintessential film about life in Vienna right after the war (WWII, as one must specify in this city which has so much history).

Ah, “The Third Man”. Black and white. Based on the book (do we really believe it was a novel?) by Graham Greene. Directed by Carol Reed. Produced by David O. Selznick. Starring (a still young and relatively slender) Orson Welles as the elusive Harry Lime. Starring still more the city of Vienna c. 1947–“bombed about a bit,” as the English narrator tells us in the beginning. World premier: 65 years ago, on 31 August 1949.

My mother showed it to me when it was clear that I was moving here. Above all, she wanted me to experience the landlady played by Hedwig Bleibtreu because “you might end up with just such a landlady”. (In broadest Viennese dialect she said things like, “Das ist ein anständiges Haus. Hier hat sogar früher ein Metternich verkehrt” Translation: “This is a respectable house. In the olden days, even a Metternich [member of an old aristocratic family] came to visit.”)

My mother had forgotten, though, a treasured line (one of my favorites) from another great Austrian actor, Paul Hörbinger. He played the concierge in the house where Harry Lime lived.  When tired of and scared by questions about Harry Lime’s death, he says he won’t answer any more and adds very gruffly indeed, “Und jetzt gehen Sie. Sonst verliere ich meinen Wiener Charme.” (“And now leave–otherwise I’ll forget my Viennese charm.”) Even writing it down like this makes me laugh.

There are far too many such moments too relate here, and I don’t want to ruin any surprises for those who haven’t experienced it yet. If you are interested in Vienna, I simply encourage you to see it. If you’re in Vienna, you can catch it in the late show on weekends at the Burg Kino. For the time being, I’ll simply pass on some facts that were printed in today’s Kurier.

Part of what people remember best are the music (by great good fortune done by a zither player, Anton Karas, at the last minute when the budget was more or less exhausted) and the chase scenes through the sewer system of Vienna. To this day, you can take “Third Man” walking tours of Vienna including, indeed, a look underneath the commendably clean streets of the city.

First bit of trivia, over 100,000 people have already taken that tour. I’m assuming the tour does not cover all 2,400 kilometers of that system, especially since only 25 meters were used for filming. This year Tom Cruise, who just finished filming in Vienna, took it.

“The Third Man” won the Academy Award(R) for “Best black-and-white picture” and was nominated for two others. Apparently in 2012, film critics named it the “Best British Film of All Time”.

That may have made worthwhile to Reed and Selznick that they apparently only slept two hours per night for the seven weeks they were filming on location. The Kurier reports that they kept themselves awake by taking a drug called dexedrine, better known as speed(!).

The unfortunate Anna Schmidt (Harry Lime’s paramour) was played by Alida Valli, an actress ironically descended from  an old Austro-Italian aristocratic family, possibly as important as the Metternichs ;-). She died in Rome in 2006 at the age of 84.

Five years ago was the first talk of a re-make, which supposedly would star Leonardo DiCaprio as Harry Lime and Tobey Maguire as Lime’s faithful friend Holly Martins. I’m not a fan of re-makes, but I think those two would be well cast, at least. Don’t know what they’ll do about the City of Vienna, though. Most of the bombed out bits have been re-built in the last 65 years.

The famous music was #1 on the U.S. charts for weeks in 1950. The next Austrian artist to achieve this feat was Falco in 1986 with “Rock Me Amadeus”.

To give you a bit of a taste, here is the opening scene, with fantastic running commentary from Major Calloway, the devastatingly attractive if unattainable British narrator, played by Trevor Howard:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fja9kwTl_jU

For people who have already seen the film, here is the unforgettable cuckoo clock speech:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS-JcaPFzp4

With thanks to Bernhard Praschl of the Kurier, who wrote the article from which most of these tidbits were drawn.

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One Response to ““The Third Man””

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  1. Visitors | ecbinvienna - May 14, 2015

    […] from the center, turning off to go down to the Freyung. After a quick detour to Am Hof (because of “The Third Man”) we headed out Schottengasse to Schottentor. I pointed out Palais Ephrussi because of our mutual […]

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