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The Third Man

When Ned  Sherrin  presented Loose Ends it was groundbreaking for the the rather twee radio 4. One part of the programme was devoted to “the authentication of tall tales”. Such authentication would make a programme in itself for the cinema as so many such tales have grown. One of the most celebrated is that in Casablanca Ilsa Lund played by Ingrid Bergman never said “Play it again Sam”;  she said “Play it again” and “play it Sam”. It is said Jimmy Cagney never called anyone “You dirty rat”.

Many such myths gathered around The Third Man and in an interview with the associate director Guy Hamilton, now in his nineties, in the Financial Times a few were exposed. Guy Hamilton went on to direct four early and very good Bond movies notably Goldfinger. He was associate to Carol Reed in the direction of a film that many, including me, regard as Britain’s best post war movie. They first worked together on Fallen Idol, which I reviewed recently. Carol Reed asked Greene if he had any thing suitable and he mentioned The Third Man set in post-war Vienna. It had a constant atmosphere of seedy corruption exemplified by the final scene in the sewers.

It made a fortune for Anton Karas whose zither rendition of the theme became an international hit selling over 40 million records. I always understood, and this was confirmed by the tour guide last November who retraced the steps of the film in Vienna, that the film unit were chilling out in a inn in the woods  outside Vienna where Karas busked. In the interview Hamilton said Reed was at a posh party where only German was spoken and fell into conversation with Karas who was providing music. He was invited to record in the Hotel Astoria where Reed stayed and the rest is history. Reed wanted the London Phiharmonic for the final sewer scene but settled on the single instrument of the zither. When Harry Lime eventually appears in a portico and the cat nestles at his feet the theme is played to great effect .

Hamilton was interesting on Orson Welles whom he said was troublesome. He only came for 6 weeks and was difficult from the start. Welles was never a Hollywood man. In those days and maybe still the directors were Alex Ferguson-like, brooking no insubordination however talented the actor. Greene did not care for him either. When Welles was holding forth on a yacht on the Riviera in the South of France on his friendship with Sarah Bernhardt, Greene thought he was  lying and commandeered  a dinghy to Antibes to the public library to research further but could not disprove him. Although the film is well know for its depiction of Vienna, most of the shooting and scenes took place in Shepperton studios. Welles was sometimes depicted by Hamilton as his body double.

Another myth is that Welles improvised the film’s most famous line in which he attributes the creativity in the Renaissance arts to the dark intrigues of the Borgias to which he compares Switzerland’s 500 years of  peace and only producing the cuckoo clock. It’s generally thought the painter James Whistler invented the line.

Such insights into a classic are interesting, worthwhile even. No one knew the ending of Casablanca whilst it was being filmed. In The Long Goodbye the director asked Raymond Chandler who in his novel had killed the butler. Chandler replied  he did not know. None of the cast in Singing in the Rain thoughts it would ever be a success. Indubitably The Third  Man is and I can scarcely wait for the new more polished cut of the film which comes out in June 26 on DVDs and in the cinemas. It deserves it .





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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts