Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Third Man and Vienna

The Third Man is a cruel tale, not least because the Romantic anti-hero at its centre, Harry Lime, is a far more interesting and more colourful character than his good but undistinguished friend Holly Martins. In a way it is much the same as Graham Greene's other famous tale of beguiling criminality of that era, Brighton Rock, where the hapless reporter Kolly Kibber bears little comparison to the sadistic baby-faced Pinkie Smith. The Third Man is increasingly cruel for Lime's opening narration, delivered from beyond the grave, without a hint of regret and remorse, which sets his poor friend Martins up for an adventure of heartbreaking deception.

Walking around Vienna looking for the various locations of the film, one is struck at how close most of them are to one another; other than the trip out to the Zentralfriedhof (or Central Cemetery) for the two funerals and to the Ferris Wheel on the Prater Stern, the scene of Lime's famous 'cuckoo clock' speech, most of the action takes place in the Innere Stadt. Martins first arrives at Lime's apartment at 5, Josefsplatz, right beside the Spanish Riding School. The building is a neo-classical edifice called the Palais Pallavicini, dating from 1784, the portal of which is flanked by four enormous caryatids. As can be seen in the picture above, the door looks a bit unimpressive at the moment, having been temporarily replaced by a piece of plywood. That Lime should have landed such impressive digs in post-war Vienna is proof of the success of his black-market racketeering, though one imagines that the location was chosen by director Carol Reed as much for its ease of filming as for its impressiveness. The equestrian statue on the square in front is the location for Lime's putative death.

Just around the corner is the Hotel Sacher, behind the Staatsoper, where the Allied command was then stationed, and where Martins meets Trevor Howard's cynical and brusque Captain Calloway, who endeavours to open his eyes to the seamier side of Lime's character. Then a little further north on Nieurmarkt is the café terrace where Martins meets Kurtz, the Romanian confrère of Lime, who says that he may be identified by his 'holding a copy of your [Martin's] book'.

When Lime is chased down by the Military Police in the final reel, he descends into the sewers through a kiosk on Am Hof, which is about half a kilometer west of this; Lime's run through the sewers is not a long one, as he surfaces - or attempts to do so - on Minoritenplatzen, where his fingers slip from the bars of a man-hole grille, as he dies. I have to point out though in extremely nerdy fashion that the grilles on the square today are a lot thicker than the ones that Lime's fingers slip from. It's one of those things you can't help noticing. Thanks to this link for the information.