Drazin doubts.

 Welles wells up

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.

sewer thing

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…

flushed away

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.

the turd man

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:

Lime light

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:

drain people

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.

tunnel of light

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:

Grate expectations

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.

12 Responses to “Drazin doubts.”

  1. Always good to see discussion on The Third Man, without doubt my favourite film. Ever. I sort of agree about the Shadowing… documentary, though I think I was so pleased to see something new about the film at the time that I forgave the lack of critical analysis and focussed on the images.

    I quite liked the idea of having the film projected on the city itself, as I mentioned in a post on one of my blogs, http://adventuresinprimetime.wordpress.com/2007/05/29/the-third-man-dvd-review/ – hope you don’t mind the link.

    I’d love to do that tour of Vienna sometime, though people do look at me oddly when I mention I’m keen to visit the sewers.

    And you mentioned David Wingrove in another post. Oddly, it was his film course where I first wrote that Third Man DVD. Great guy.

    Good luck with the blog, it’s a fine read. Check out my other blog at http://www.itsonitsgone.com for one-off film screenings in Edinburgh – sorry that’s another plug, feel free to edit!


  2. No problem, I’ll check out your links!

    Saw Third Man in Vienna, which was a treat. The German-speakers were laughing like mad at the landlady’s dialogue. We went up the big wheel, but Fiona was terrified and I got nervous too! It was good, although you can’t open the doors the way Lime does in the film!

    There’s some more discussion of TTM in our Cinema Euphoria section. Speaking of which — would you like to nominate something?

  3. The sewer finale like everything else in the film is obviously a combination of location shots and studio sets. It’s all Movie Magic, folks.

  4. What’s weird is that Drazin is so willing to accept Guy Hamilton’s account, when even Hamilton isn’t that sure. He says “I think I’m right in saying Welles did only one shot in Vienna,” and from this Drazin spins his whole new version of events in the sewer.

    I guess he was tempted by the thrill of being able to say, “At last, the truth is revealed!”

  5. The Viennese are quite proud of their Sewer System. It’s a popular tour.
    Local legend has it that there were no Rats in the Sewer before the 3rd Man shoot , so the crew had to bring their own and they’ve never managed to get them under control again since.

  6. I’m not sure we even SEE any rats in the movie, and if we do, whether they’re in location of studio shots. Might have to be my next project.

    Herzog tells amazing stories about his ratwork in Nosferatu, buying thousands of white lab rats and dying them brown, then releasing them in the streets with catchers positioned at every escap point, including some in boats. “We never lost a single rat.”

  7. Will check out Euphoria over the weekend.

    Two other major favourites of mine are Breaker Morant and The Hill.

    In both films the endings are memorable, the death of the two men holding hands in the distance while The Hill is shocking as you watch everything unravel for Connery. See http://adventuresinprimetime.wordpress.com/2007/02/11/sean-connery-in-the-hill/ for my take on the latter.

  8. I love The Hill. Lumet’s British phase, with that, A Deadly Affair, and The Offence, is a terrific burst of energy from a reliable but sometimes unexciting director. When he clicks, he REALLY clicks. Ossie Morris, who shot The Hill, deserves to be recognised as one of our best ever cameramen — check his CV and goggle.

  9. Cheers, I’ll nab Deadly Affair on DVD, not seen it before. The Offence has stayed with me since seeing it on TV a few (10??) years ago on telly. Looking forward to his new film, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead at the Filmhouse soon.

  10. Deadly Affair is based on the first of John LeCarre’s George Smiley books, but the character’s name has been changed (not dignified enough?) It’s pretty terrific though, with another fine dramatic turn from Roy Kinnear, who was always very effective in straight parts. (I like him when he’s funny too!)

  11. One is reminded of the famous incident surrounding the Patrick Troughton Doctor Who episode “The Web of Fear.” Permission was denied to film in the Underground, and the tunnel sets the BBC cobbled together were so effective that they got a very stern phone call for “trespassing.”

  12. The same thing happened with Sternberg’s Morrocco. The king was furious that somebody had filmed in his country without asking him, but the whole movie was shot in California.

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