Archive for In Search of The Third Man

Dr Winkle’s noises

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2013 by dcairns

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THE THIRD MAN — a very well-known film, very well-documented (Charles Drazin’s In Search of The Third Man is recommended)… or so you would think…

IMG 1692 from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Via Randall William Cook this little iPhone movie, filmed off his TV, showing an old VHS release of Carol Reed’s masterpiece. Note when Dr Winkle is describing the fatal “accident,” the sudden screech of breaks which punctuates his account and creates a frisson of danger just at the tale’s climax.

The tape also is notable for containing five minutes of exit music running over a black screen after the film has ended, something not even Criterion included in their disc.

Well, this sound effect seems to be absent from every DVD of the movie. What happened to it? It’s so effective, one can’t imagine anybody deliberately removing it. And further evidence is given by a later Reed movie, FOLLOW ME (aka THE PUBLIC EYE), which re-uses the device to equally thrilling effect, suggesting that Reed was particularly pleased with it.

Note the whine of the elevator starting bang on cue as Topol is about to refer to the fatal fall — it actually helps motivate the camera movement in on the actors, adds to the intensity of the mood, and echoes in our subconscious when Topol refers to his colleague’s mishap. Note also that the elevator never actually moves: NOT a blunder, but rather proof that the filmmakers were willing to pursue a good idea even though it doesn’t make literal sense. A testimony to their skill. Oh, and the editor of the film is Anne V. Coates, who cut LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (containing the world’s best edit), THE ELEPHANT MAN, OUT OF SIGHT…

I hope next time we see THE THIRD MAN, this crucial little FX flourish has been restored.

Two more semi-random but related points.

Mr. Cook points out that the slightly artificial dog whimper sound dubbed onto Dr Winkle’s chihuahua (or whatever the hell it is) is actually a baby wolf noise previously heard in Alexander Korda’s production of THE JUNGLE BOOK.

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I enjoy Topol’s white raincoat with matching cap and briefcase, and am reminded of Eleanor Bron’s all-pink outfit in HELP! with pink turban and pink handgun. Both films were designed by the great Julie Harris. Colour co-ordinated effects in Richard Lester’s films may be discussed again soon…

Sidearm snookery

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 6, 2011 by dcairns

Did a class on editing — with the general purpose of getting students excited about the possibilities. And in the interests of making economical, environmentally-friendly use of my brain, I’ll recycle some of the thoughts here.

THE THIRD MAN offered an opportunity to examine a classic moment — Harry Lime’s first appearance — for defects and merits and weirdnesses — we noted the lack of sync on much of what Joseph Cotten says, including an extreme longshot where his arm movements as he yells to the figure in the doorway are noticeably unrelated to the words he utters. Remarkably, one can spot a sync problem even from a great distance when the lips themselves are not perceptible. A recent screening of THE SMALL BACK ROOM caused me to notice how often this kind of thing crops up in old movies. Even though the films were made for screening ONLY on big cinema screens, they were edited on little moviolas and sync wasn’t always looked after except in close shots. I’m all in favour of bodging things to get the best dramatic effect, but most of the sloppiness here didn’t seem essential to the scene, and would no doubt have been tidied away in a modern film. Unless the film is DIE HARD 4, which has the most appalling shooting and cutting of dialogue I’ve ever seen in a studio release.

But of more interest is what Orson Welles called “hanky panky and sidearm snookery” — magic trickster illusionism and time/space abuse, carried out for clear dramatic effect and narrative clarity. Apart from the fact that THE THIR MAN constructs its own dream Vienna out of ecstatic fragments, folding streets together like the architects of INCEPTION, and retouching geography by transplanting fake statuary to decorate bare foregrounds (a truck full of plaster fountains and cherubs shadowed the unit assiduously), there’s the vigorous bending of the laws of physics in this scene —

Cotten shouts at the figure in the doorway (played by assistant director Guy Hamilton, later of GOLDFINGER fame) —

An awakened neighbour starts yelling. Their window lights up —

And a few frames later, the light hits the face of the figure in the doorway, now revealed to be Orson Welles…

Well, light is quite slow, isn’t it? 299,792,458 m/s. Takes a good while to get from one place to another. If a window lit up, it would take a moment before the rays hit the face of a man standing in the street…

Not really, of course. A forgivable, indeed commendable, distortion of the laws of the universe allows us to clearly recognize both the source of the light and its effect. If we’d missed the few frames before the light struck Orson’s beamish countenance, or the moment where he lit up like a luminous balloon, we’d miss the magic.

Arguably naughtier still is the next trick. Cotten expresses appropriate surprise at his friend’s resurrection, a modest tracking shot enlarges Orson’s smirk, then Cotten starts across the street towards his friend. A vehicle, passing from out of nowhere, interrupts his progress, and by the time he reaches the doorway, which proves to be bricked up, Welles has vanished into the night, satchelfoot reverberations of slapping feet and an elongated shadow pointing to the direction of his flight.

The passing truck is intended to allow time for Welles to make a realistic getaway, and Carol Reed cuts in a deliberately confusing manner to another lopsided angle as it cuts across our path. So we believe that OW had the chance to slip away. But studying the sequence, it’s clear that the doorway where our quarry is lurking is never out of sight, so there is absolutely NO WAY he could slip away without being clocked. A less nervy director might have cut to a close shot favouring Cotten as he reels back from the oncoming truck, allowing a second or so for the doorway to be offscreen, which would make Welles’s getaway accountable. But Reed’s version is preferable, I think, since it TRICKS us into thinking we’ve seen something just about possible, while preserving the FEEL of a ghostly manifestation, incorporating, disincorporating, teleporting. Phantasmal and fantastic.

UK ~

The Third Man [DVD] [1949]

The Third Man (Studio Canal Collection) [Blu-ray] [1949]

In Search of the Third Man

USA ~

The Third Man (StudioCanal Collection) [Blu-ray]

In Search of The Third Man (Limelight)

Happy Birthday, JD

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on October 8, 2008 by dcairns

The mighty Charles Drazin, kindly overlooking my mild criticism of his marvellous book In Search of the Third Man (DO buy it), dropped me a line to point out that Julien Duvivier is 112 today, or would be if he was alive. I should really have got my act together and written something on LA FIN DU JOUR to coincide with this anniversary, but I didn’t. This will have to do until I get things sorted.

Jean-Pierre Leaud with Julien Duvivier during the making of BOULEVARD (which seems to be impossible to see, damnit). Although Truffaut and his crowd disparaged many of Duvivier’s generation, that didn’t stop FT’s young star collaborating with JD for his second leading role. In fact, arguably Duvivier’s beautiful POIL DE CAROTTE prefigures the concerns of Truffaut and Leaud’s LES QUATRE CENTS COUPS.

Photo via If Charlie Parker was a Gunslinger, There’d be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats.

I actually still want to give away more copies of LA FIN DU JOUR, for some crazy reason, so if anybody can think of a way of publicising THE GREAT DUVIVIER GIVEAWAY some more, make a suggestion, or just get out and promote it.