And ‘zing’ went the strings of her heart
The Third Man, Britain’s finest film noir, celebrated its 70th anniversary this year and a restored version of it was recently screened by the British Film Institute in UK cinemas.
The viewing was preceded by an introduction to the zither and the soundtrack for which the film is renowned (by Cornelia Mayer) and was followed by a Q&A with Angela Allen, the only surviving member of the film crew, and Hossein Amini, a modern-day screenwriter. (You can read about ‘behind the scenes’ here.)
Mayer and Allen were amusing, informative and entertaining. Amini was less so, often commenting on the basis of assumptions rather than fact, only to be shot down by Allen (or, in the words of Max Boyce, “I know ‘cos I was there”). Amini unintionally irritated me by referring to film noirs instead of films noir; in my view an unforgiveable mistake from a man of the movies!
The film showcases the blackmarket and air of gloom in post-war Vienna and, unlike earlier DVD releases or TV showings, the restored version of the film is pin-sharp and the narrative can be heard clearly above the background music; in fact the audio is superb.
Allen clearly held one of the principal actors, Orson Welles, in contempt. His late appearance meant that distant shots were often of a stand-in rather than Welles. His refusal to venture into the city’s sewers more than once also meant that a stand-in had to be used (not so much a third man as a turd man😂) and any close-ups from the sewer scenes were shot in a reconstructed stage set in London. (Actually, the sewers at the point of filming were not foul-water sewers, so there was no stench; it was more like an underground river).
Allen gave us snippets – the famous scene from street level of the mortally wounded Harry Lime’s fingers reaching up through a grate to escape the sewer was of the director, Carol Reed’s, digits and not those of Welles – and was authoritative in saying that Welles was not there for most of the filming, let alone effectively directing much of it as he once claimed.
Alida Valli as the lovelorn Anna, once touted as the new Ingrid Bergman, shows in her performance just why that claim was made. Wikipedia tells us that she gave up that epithet by rejecting Holywood and focusing her career in her native Italy. (BTW her full name was Baroness Alida Maria Laura Altenberger von Marckenstein-Frauenberg!) Joseph Cotten as Holly “I haven’t got a sensible name” Martins and Trevor Howard as Major “it’s Calloway-not-Callaghan” are perfect for their rôles and Welles as Harry Lime clearly performed better than he behaved.
Here’s the limerick (based on one of the most famous final scenes in all of filmdom)
Anna’s grief raced hither and thither
Now Harry was no longer with her
So she made Holly gawk
At her funereal walk
To the sad parting notes of a zither.
… and in case you want an alternative ending, here’s the one that I originally penned that inspired this post’s header, but later rejected:
As her heartstrings were plucked like a zither.
I referenced The Third Man in an earlier post, and make no excuse for once more including a still from the final scene and my comment that accompanied it:
… or watch here as Anna walks out of Holly’s life:
Postscript: The Third Man completes a trilogy of classic films noir that I’ve seen on the big screen thus year: a special Valentine’s Day screening of Casablanca, Gilda at Aberdeen’s Granite Noir festival and now The Third Man. A good year for the classics!