Charles Drazin’s In Search of The Third Man is an excellent study of Carol Reed and Graham Greene’s classic film. You get history, analysis, anecdote and context.
Frederick Baker’s documentary SHADOWING THE THIRD MAN is kind of a shocking mess. The clips are projected on statues, making them impossible to see, and there’s no insight provided into why the film is important, admired, interesting…
The only reason for lumping both pieces together here is because they both make an allegation about the film’s shooting which I think is manifestly untrue.
For years, the story had been known that Orson Welles had been reluctant to venture into Vienna’s sewers to shoot the film’s climactic chase. Carol Reed reported that Welles was persuaded to appear in one shot, and then, gaining confidence, had consented to a few more angles, swiftly captured by Reed and his crew, most of them variations on a basic set-up.
But in his 1999 book, Drazin alleges that ALL of Welles’ shots in the sewer chase were in fact achieved later, at Shepperton Studios. His sole source seems to be his interview with the film’s able assistant director Guy Hamilton (later himself the director of movies such as THE COLDITZ STORY and GOLDFINGER). But why trust Hamilton’s fifty-year-old memories versus Reed’s accounts, given closer to the time of shooting?
Drazin suggests that Reed was embroidering his account to give journalists what they wanted to hear, but could not the same be true of Hamilton? But there’s no reason to assume Hamilton isn’t being honest – if, as Drazin explains, the movie was shot with several units, working all hours, with Reed hurrying from unit to unity on a diet of Benzedrine, was Guy Hamilton actually present for every shot taken?
In any case, it’s unnecessary to choose sides based on whose story we like best, since all we need to do is LOOK AT THE FILM.
Here’s Welles hiding in what LOOKS like a very large sewer: too big to be a sound-stage, in my opinion. Of course the background COULD be a rear-projection trick…
Except that Welles turns and runs off into the distance. Reed then uses various parts of this shot showing Welles becoming gradually smaller. It COULD be a stand-in (Guy Hamilton doubled for Welles in many long-shots) in these shots, except we know it isn’t because of the angles shown above.
A short while later we get this shot — which looks very much as if the camera has just moved forward three feet, with Welles repositioned, creating a second set-up out of the first.
Later again, Welles pauses in the midst of a vast (and suspiciously similar) tunnel, paralysed by anxiety as the sounds of his approaching pursuers echo from an infinity of archways. There’s a long-shot, which could be Hamilton, Welles, or just about anybody, then this medium shot:
The background COULD have been rear-projected in the studio, but it’s awfully convincing. And it would have been fairly swift work to adapt the previous set-up by moving the camera out from the wall by ten feet or so…
Most of the other shots that can definitely be identified as Welles and not Hamilton happen around this area:
There are several levels, with a cataract of sewerage in the foreground, and the textures are very convincing, but nevertheless, THIS might very well be a Shepperton Studios set designed by Vincent Korda. Welles certainly spends a lot of time running around this area. I haven’t been on the Third Man Tour of Vienna’s sewers so I can’t say if this spot exists there, but even if it does, I guess it could have been duplicated on a sound stage.
The final sequence, which includes this stunning shot, seems to have been achieved entirely using beautifully textured studio sets in England.
SO: just by looking at the film, we can see that Reed’s earlier account — Welles agreed to one shot, then allowed for some variations to be filmed — is probably quite correct.
I’m glad to get this version of events out there. One controversy remains:
In interview with Peter Bogdanovitch in This Is Orson Welles, Welles claimed to have suggested this shot. Other accounts suggest that the fingers are Carol Reed’s own. Both stories COULD be true, but it seems unlikely…
My money’s on Reed.