Movie Club: 'The Third Man'

I think I was about 14 years old when I first saw "The Third Man" on television, at night, all alone in my room in Los Angeles. It took me deep inside a place and time--postwar Vienna--that I couldn't shake and under no circumstances wanted to shake. It transformed the way I looked at the world.

I'm sure you know it can be dangerous to revisit one's favorite movies from childhood. In the harsher light of adulthood, their sterling virtues can evaporate like mirages. But the thing about Carol Reed's 1949 "The Third Man" was that no matter how many times I saw it over the years its magic never failed. Its sophisticated, world-weary glamour never lost its allure. The movie only got richer as my own experiences got richer. I kept discovering dark new delights, and the classic moments remained every bit as classic.

I hate being asked what my favorite movie of all time is. It's too hard. There's too many to choose from. But when push comes to shove, I always name "The Third Man." And so when the idea of starting a monthly movie club came up, it seemed the inevitable place to start. I can only envy the viewer who gets to encounter Reed's movie for the first time. Who gets to experience all the elements that have made it a classic: Graham Greene's superbly stylish screenplay; Reed's taut, suspenseful, atmospheric direction; Anton Karas's immortal and unique zither score; the indelible noir images of Robert Krasker's award-winning black-and-white cinematography, and the unforgettable performances of Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard and Orson Welles. Welles doesn't have that much screen time, but this may be his most iconic role.

"The Third Man," I hope you'll agree, gives unending pleasure.

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