Sunday, March 16, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: The Third Man

The Story:  Vienna is a divided city and the only things passing through its borders unstopped are the crime and corruption that know no bounds, and its sewers below which serve as an escape route, and a metaphor. In this classic scene Holly Martins confronts his past, and wrestles with a moral dilemma. It's often called "The cuckoo clock scene" for Orson Welles' famous ad-libbed retort of Holly's moral outrage, ignoring the rest of the conversation, as Martins confronts his sociopathic friend on the pre-text of taking the moral high ground, when all he wants is to save the woman he loves. Of course, the argument comes around. Of course, it's staged on a ferris wheel. Damned clever, these writers...

I've been on the Wiener Reisenrad, the 212 ft. ferris wheel that figures in this scene (although, obviously for convenience, this was filmed in a studio with rear projection). I was at a wedding in Vienna and it seemed sacrilegious to be "in town," love movies, and not do a pilgrimage to the place where this scene (and ones from Letter from an Unknown Woman, The Living Daylights and Before Sunrise, no doubt in tribute) at the Prader amusement park was filmed. 

As it was built in 1897, the rest of the party was a bit reluctant to join me, but I took a short walk to the grounds and bought a ticket. Old, wooden, and a bit decrepit, what you don't see is the way it shakes as it circles about, causing each car to sway a bit uncomfortably, and the timbers groan and creak as it circles pulling your gondola to the highest point to present a vast panorama of Vienna, a view so breath-taking that you forget the trepidation with which you got there. That seems more than appropriate for this to be the setting of this scene.

The Set-Up: Pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) has been invited by his old crony Harry Lime* (Orson Welles) to visit him in war-torn (literally, into three military zones) Vienna, Austria. When he gets there, Harry is dead, with suggestions that he was a piratical black marketer selling watered down penicillin to hospitals. Holly, wanting to clear Lime's good name, starts to dig for answers but the more he uncovers, the worse the impression he gets of his old friend. One night, he is sure he sees Harry in a doorway--Harry is alive--and he makes it known to the Underworld that he demands to see Lime or he'll go to the police and expose the whole shipping syndicate. The meeting place--the Prater Wheel. Holly Martins wanders off to see a ghost of the man he once knew, in the most private and precarious of places. 



MARTINS seated on parapet of "Chairoplane" at deserted fair ground, the big wheel behind him. He gets up and starts to walk round the "Chairoplane" stand.

LONG SHOT - MERRY-GO-ROUND It is still and nobody near it.

LONG SHOT - MARTINS standing CR of the "Chairoplane" stand, the big wheel behind him in b.g. He walks forward into MED. CLOSE SHOT, looking off.

LONG SHOT - MERRY-GO-ROUND and deserted fair ground, with Harry Lime seen in far b.g. walking downstage - from Martins' eye line.

MED. CLOSE SHOT - MARTINS looking off.

MED. LONG SHOT - HARRY moving downstage, looking off, smiling for Martins - he exits. Music stops.

HARRY walks downstage to Martins. He walks round him and stops, facing Martins.
HARRY: Hello, old man. How are you?
MARTINS: Hello, Harry.
HARRY: Well, well, they seem to've been giving you quite some busy time.
MARTINS: Listen...
MARTINS: I want to talk to you.
HARRY: Talk to me?...Of course...Come on...

HARRY taking off his coat, followed by Martins. The girl attendant of the wheel enters b.g.

HARRY: Kids used to ride this thing a lot in the old days. They haven't got the money nowadays, poor little devils.

Harry gets the tickets from her.

GIRL: Zwei steck.
HARRY: Geht in ordung.

They enter the carriage of the wheel.

GIRL: Vielen danke.

Girl attendant closes the door and starts the wheel in motion.

MARTINS: Listen, Harry - I didn't believe that...
HARRY: It's good to see you, Holly.
MARTINS: I was at your funeral.

HARRY: It was pretty smart, wasn't it? Oh, the same old indigestion. (takes a tablet) Holly...these are the only things that help - these tablets. These are the last. Can't get them anywhere in Europe any more.
MARTINS: Do you know what's happened to your girl?
HARRY: Hmm. MARTINS: She's been arrested.
HARRY: Tough...tough...Don't worry, old man, they won't hurt her.
MARTINS: They are handing her over to the Russians.
HARRY: What can I do, old man? I'm dead, aren't I?
MARTINS: You can help her.
HARRY: Holly...

HARRY: ...exactly who did you tell about me? Hmm?
MARTINS: I told the police.
HARRY: Unwise, Holly...
MARTINS: And - Anna...
HARRY: Did the police believe you?
MARTINS: You don't care anything at all about Anna, do you?
He laughs.
HARRY: Well, I've got quite a lot on my mind.
MARTINS: You wouldn't do anything.
HARRY: What do you want me to do?
MARTINS (overlap): You can get somebody else...
HARRY: Be reasonable. Give myself up?
MARTINS: Why not?

HARRY: "'Tis a far far better thing that I do," the old limelight, the fall of the curtain?... Holly, you and I aren't heroes, the world doesn't make any heroes...
MARTINS (overlapping): You have contacts.
HARRY: Outside of your stories...I've got to be careful. I'm only safe in the Russian Zone... I'm only safe here as long as they can use me...
MARTINS: As long as they can use you?
HARRY: I wish I could get rid of this thing.
MARTINS: Oh, so that's how they found out about Anna...
MARTINS: You told them, didn't you?
HARRY: Don't try to be a policeman, old man.
MARTINS: What did you expect me to be - part of your...
HARRY: Part? You can have any part you want, so long as you don't
interfere...I have never cut you out of anything yet.
MARTINS: I remember when they raided the gambling joint - you knew a safe way out...
HARRY: Sure...
MARTINS: Yes, safe for you...not safe for me.
HARRY: Old man - you never should have gone to the police. You know you ought to leave this thing alone.
MARTINS: Have you ever seen any of your victims?
HARRY: Do you know, I never feel comfortable on these sort of
He opens the door of the carriage.
HARRY: Don't be melodramatic. Look down there...
LONG SHOT from Martins' eye line of the fair ground far below and the people now on it.
HARRY: Would you feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000 for every dot that stopped - would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money?
HARRY: Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?... Free of Income Tax, old of Income Tax. It's the only way to save money nowadays.
MARTINS: Lot of good your money will do you in jail.
HARRY: That jail is in another zone...
HARRY: There's no proof against me, beside you.
MARTINS: I should be pretty easy to get rid of.
HARRY: Pretty easy...
MARTINS: I wouldn't be too sure.
HARRY: I carry a gun...I don't think they'd look for a bullet wound after you'd hit that ground...
MARTINS: They dug up your coffin.
HARRY: And found Harbin? Hmm, pity.
HARRY: Oh, Holly, what fools we are, talking to each other this way... As though I would do anything to you - or you to me.
Harry closes the door of the carriage.
HARRY: You're just a little mixed up about things in general. Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don't, so why should we? They talk about the people, and the Proletariat...
Harry: I talk about the suckers and the mugs... It's the same thing.
Harry: They have their five-year plan, and so have I.
MARTINS: You used to believe in God.
HARRY: I still do believe in God, old man... I believe in God and Mercy and all that... The dead are happier dead. They don't miss much here...
Harry's hand in picture - he has drawn on the steamed-up window a heart with an arrow through it. He is writing the word ANNA above it. HARRY ...poor devils.

HARRY: What do you believe in? Well, if you ever get Anna out of this mess, be kind to her.
He opens the door and Martins starts to go through.
HARRY: You'll find she's worth it.
MARTINS leaves the carriage of the big wheel, followed by Harry.

HARRY: I wish I had asked you to bring me some of these tablets from home... Holly, I would like to cut you in, old man. Nobody left in Vienna I can really trust - and we have always done everything together. When you make up your mind, send me a message... I'll meet you any place, any time.
Harry: And when we do meet, old man, it is you I want to see, not the police. Remember that, won't you?...
Martin moves away but Harry backs up and bars his way on the steps. Music starts.
HARRY: Don't be so gloomy...After all, it's not that awful. Remember what the fellow said - in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michaelangelo - Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Renaissance...In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce?...
Harry: The cuckoo clock. So long, Holly.
He exits quickly. MARTINS leaning on the rail, looking down thoughtfully. LONG SHOT - MERRY-GO-ROUND - a small boy going round on it.
(Harry enters from f.g., looks back - then continues on upstage, toward the merry-go- round. Music stops.)

The Third Man

Words by Graham Greene, Alexander Korda, Carol Reed, and Orson Welles

Pictures by Robert Krasker and Carol Reed

The Third Man is available on DVD from The Criterion Collection.

* In this day of turning villains like Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter into pop icons it should be noted that Harry Lime also became something of a pop fixture, despite being a sociopathic crippler of children. Welles played him so ingratiatingly that the character went on to star in a series of radio dramas starring (and sometimes written by) Welles, and a television series starring Michael Rennie, Lime being reformed from a callous black marketeer to a soldier of fortune.

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