CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Great Cinematic Speeches - The Third Man

In a continuing combined effort with Damian over at Windmills of My Mind, I present the next great cinematic speech, and one which I love over almost every other.

Note: SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven't seen The Third Man, watch it right now, and then you can read this. The movie is too good to be spoiled. Please go watch the movie. Even if you have seen it before. Watch it again.

I love The Third Man, from Anton Karas' zither score to Robert Krasker's gorgeous cinematography. It is a film that borders on perfect for me, and one of the absolute highlights of the movie is the first real interaction between Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) and Harry Lime (Orson Welles). It's a scene that perfectly captures the interaction between two friends whose friendship has soured.

There are some things worth noting before even considering the dialogue. First, look at the clothing that Holly and Harry wear and how they wear it. Holly wears his overcoat over his arms, severely limiting his motion. Harry wears his overcoat over his jacket, freeing his arms for greater movement. This is indicative of their own abilities to move within society. Harry can do anything he wants because he doesn't have a normal moral compass. He is completely free of the rules placed on people by society. Holly, on the other hand, finds himself bound by his conscience. Note how in the final scene, Holly wears his overcoat over his jacket. He has rid himself of his conscience in killing Harry, so he now wears his overcoat like Harry did.

Second, note how Holly's physical gestures are so much more emphatic than Harry's. Holly shows his feelings for Harry immediately by refusing to embrace him at the amusement park. Then, when on the ferris wheel, Holly grabs at the door when he asks talks about how easy it will be for Harry to get rid of him. Though he talks in a gruff, reserved manner, his fear is apparent through the need to hold onto the door. It's this little touch that reveals so much more about the character of Holly Martins than dialogue can.

The amazing thing about the interaction here is that though Martins stands on the moral high ground, caring about the law and Anna, yet we don't think of him. We think of Harry Lime and cukoo clocks. Harry Lime is extremely verbose and extremely charismatic. His scenes manage to effectively combine the menace in his voice with his moral justification. Audiences remember Harry's thoughts on the dots on the ground, yet his "You never should have gone to the police" goes practically unnoticed. But this piece is about the speech, so let's have it.

The speech is nothing more than an attempt to justify his actions. Unlike a psychopath like Hans Beckert in M (as covered by Damian here), Harry Lime takes responsibility for his actions. He never denies that what he is doing is wrong. However, he attempts to make himself a sympathetic figure by comparing himself to governments. If a government has no scruples, why should a man? His argument is convincing, but it cannot remove the fact that he does create victims. He can try to distance himself from seeing the real impact that he has, but it is an undeniable fact that he is a cancer on society. And so we get this.

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Blogger Damian said...

Great film, great scene, great character in Harry Lime and great actor in Orson Welles.

When I first saw The Third Man I remember loving that speech about all the little "dots," but I also remember wondering if that were the same ferris wheel that appeared in the Vienna sequence of Dalton's first Bond movie The Living Daylights (my favorite film for a period of for several years). If so, was it a cinematic homage? Well, as it turns out, it was not only the same ferris wheel but John Glen, the director of Living Daylights and four other Bond movies, actually worked on the Third Man. So, that answered that question.

8:52 PM


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