The League of Shadows. Set amid the devastation of post-war Vienna, The Third Man is a twisted take on the noir thriller — a black-and-white canvas for some very grey morality.
I suppose it was inevitable. You start making shadowy films and perhaps you give the camera a bit of a tilt. And I’ll be, that looks pretty damn cool. But soon you crave more — the tough streets aren’t tough enough; the light and dark still seem too grey; and that woozy angle, well, it feels more like a gentle lean. So you escalate — like a cinematic arms race: your Maltese Falcons become your Big Sleeps become your Out of the Pasts. But where does it end?
Apparently in Vienna.
Director Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1948) may not traffic in tough guy patois, but it is in many respects the ultimate in film noir. Who needs the mean streets when you have literally bombed out boulevards? Still too nice? — then we’ll take to the sewers. Shadows for atmosphere? — bah, make them dominate entire city blocks. And is there ever a need for the camera to be level? Written for the screen by acclaimed author Graham Greene, The Third Man is almost hallucinatory in its paranoia and intrigue. The film follows the inept sleuthing of Holly Martins — a failed novelist and walking personification of the ugly American — as he tries to clear the name of his friend Harry Lime. As twisting and turning as its cinematography, The Third Man is often cited as the best British film of all time. Continue reading
Faith, hope, and charity. Tim Holt stars as the spoiled sociopath George Minafer in Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, a film many believe to have been decimated by studio tinkering behind the director’s back.
Poor Orson. With his first film (Citizen Kane), Orson Welles knocked it out of the park, but only really in the eyes of later film scholars and enthusiasts. At the time of its release in 1941, Kane was a failure at the box office and actually booed at the Academy Awards (although it did pick up a screenwriting Oscar). So the pressure was on for Welles to deliver a hit with his second film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). It was not to be. The Magnificent Ambersons follows the decaying fortunes of the Amberson family from Victorian elites to forgotten relics in the 20th century. The journey is largely chronicled through the story of Amberson scion George Minafer, a vicious, entitled lout with a pretty serious mother fixation. George clings tenaciously to the former glory of the Amberson name while courting Lucy, the daughter of an inventor and automobile entrepreneur who happens to be in love with George’s mother. Though gorgeously and meticulously shot, the dark drama went over terribly with preview audiences. While Welles was overseas on a project, the studio ruthlessly cut about 50 minutes from the film and tacked on a happy ending, essentially destroying the original vision of the movie. Sadly, only this truncated version remains today, and it became the first of many occasions where the genius behind Citizen Kane would see his films slashed or undermined by studio hacks. (88 min.) Continue reading
Bet you five you’re not alive if you don’t know his name… Orson Welles (left) and Joseph Cotten star in Citizen Kane, a portrait of the life and times of a towering newspaper magnate. For 50 years the film topped the Sight & Sound poll and remains one of cinema’s greatest achievements.
By the time he was 25 years old, Orson Welles was already acknowledged as a theatrical genius and radio drama innovator. When Hollywood came calling, Welles was given an unprecedented deal for a first time filmmaker in the days of the studio system — complete creative control over all aspects of production. At the age of 26, he directed, co-wrote, and played the title role in Citizen Kane (1941), generally considered one of the best movies ever made — if not the best. Loosely based around the life of yellow journalism tycoon William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane tells the story of the life and death of Charles Foster Kane, a fabulously wealthy businessman and newspaper publisher who never finds fulfillment in his riches. More specifically, the movie follows an attempt by a reporter to decipher the meaning of Kane’s cryptic dying word: “Rosebud”. Citizen Kane freely jumps back and forth through time, abandoning narrative convention as it examines Kane’s life through interviews with former friends, lovers, and associates. And it looks gorgeous as it does so, deploying extreme camera angles, brilliant use of light and shadow, and deep focus photography to chart an elaborate course through the big, complex life of a big, complex man. (119 min.) Continue reading