Review: The Third Man

The Third Man

I’m some way behind, not only in watching films from The List, but also reviewing them!

So, next up is The Third Man, a film I’ve always wanted to see. Dark, noir, spies, death, intrigue, what’s not to like! Roger Ebert said that ‘The Third Man is like the exhausted aftermath of Casablanca’, and I totally agree with him. The tone of post-war intrigue fits perfectly into this world.

However, before I laud this film, there is an area where I must disagree with Ebert; in fact with pretty much every reviewer of The Third Man apparently. A strong stylistic choice for the film was to score it for the zither. According to a November 1949 Time magazine article, director Reed wanted music appropriate for post-War Vienna, but not waltzes and thought that the ‘jangling melancholy’ of the zither was perfect.

I hated it. Particularly during tense scenes, it distracted me more than amplifying the mood. I ended up being pulled out of the scenes entirely at times and it made me resentful, this is a film I wanted to remain immersed in. As beloved as the music choice was at the time, I do wonder how a modern audience would react to a similar musical choice for a movie.

But The Third Man is not just about the music and it was beyond strong in its visual narrative. The harsh lighting and distorted ‘Dutch angle’ camera angles, though unpopular with critics at the time, massively add to the mood of the scenes, especially the Escher-esque subterranean finale.

The web of relationships between the characters adds to the tapestry, keeping the viewer intrigued, building up the puzzle a piece at the time.

But when we’re talking about characters, there’s no getting around one simple fact: It’s all about Harry Lime. He’s the antagonist of the movie, but despite his crimes, we like him. We like him a lot. Orson Welles’ mysterious charmer was so popular, there was a spin-off radio show. It wasn’t based Joseph Cotten’s protagonist, but The Lives of Harry Lime.

I think The Third Man will stand the test of time as a film that needs to be seen, not just for a place it held in the history of film, but for its stylistic influences and also a story that still works now. With or without the zither…

Review: Breathless (1960)

Breathless Movie Poster

I’m a little behind on my goal of watching one of the Top 50 Films every week, but I’m battling on. This week it was Godard’s landmark movie Breathless. As ever, spoilers below!

It was landmark in that it was one of the earliest and brightest lights of La Nouvelle Vague, or French New Wave, cinema. Their style was short, sharp, cheap, real, immediate and purposefully imperfect and Breathless exhibited all that.

I’d like to start with the title. In the English-speaking world we know this film as Breathless, but the original French title is À bout de souffle, better translated as Out of Breath. Bizarrely, the translation on Amazon Instant Video was The End of The Tether, and even Rotten Tomatoes suggest the translated title may be By A Tether

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Review: Vertigo

vertigo posterNext up on my list goal of watching the 50 top movies of all time was Vertigo. Vertigo is quite difficult to review for a few reasons. Firstly, while this film is seen as one of the best films ever made and Hitchcock is lauded as a master, I’ve found his films troublesome to say the least. But secondly, Vertigo lends itself so much to analysis that there’s almost too much film to review!

There’s the obvious theme of obsession, almost autobiographical from a director notoriously scared of women. There’s the clear link to Basic Instinct that has been pointed out to me. Finally there was the frankly game-changing revelation by a friend about the film’s hearkening to the past; how all the characters, bar Judy, want the world to revert to how it once was, especially emphasised by the character of the bookshop owner.

But something else struck me as I mulled on Vertigo:

While I’m not sure it was intended that way, I see the Judy/Madeleine dynamic as one mirroring celebrity culture. The public has a voracious obsession with the public face, the hyper-real persona of the celebrity in question; female celebrities perhaps more so than men. This public image is invested in, revered, polished and sold, often hiding something quite different and possibly scared underneath. And when the facade cracks, the audience howls their dismay and seeks to tear down both the simulacra and the original underneath.

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Review: Singin’ in the Rain

I’m still persevering on my goal to watch all of The Top 50 Movies of All Time, and one of them was Singin’ in the Rain.

A musical, known to me only because of its eponymous main song, I was dreading this one a bit. But Singin’ in the Rain is witty and fun, a post Second World War commentary on post First World War Hollywood.

And it turns out the most memorable musical number is actually Donald O’Connor’s ‘Make ’em laugh’, since re-enacted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Saturday Night Live, and by the cast of Glee. While Kelly’s singing and dancing might be superior, O’Connor’s athletic physical comedy makes it a better scene overall, in my opinion.

There’s a great meta-narrative about the lie and showmanship of
Hollywood glamour and celebrity, and the final shot of the poster of
the in-movie actors starring in the in-movie Singin’ in the Rain was a
clever and unexpected move.

While the ‘modern’ inset movie-within-a-movie, the ‘Gotta dance’ segment, seemed brash and tacked on, this was seemingly a symptom of the fact that the songs were chosen first, then a story woven around them. Overall the film was very much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I’m glad I saw it.

The Top 50 Movies of All Time

I love two things: Movies and spreadsheets. So I found a way of combining my two great loves: I took several Top X Movies lists, added them to a spreadsheet, weighting their scores depending on source, and came up with a combined top 50. There were some surprising entries, such as the heavy presence of Toy Story, and some of my favourites didn’t make the top 50. In fact The Big Sleep merely made rank 285. In theory I should have abandoned the list upon witnessing this injustice, but instead, I present it here below the cut for your amusement.

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