Today’s still places us in a small oasis–away from the high-octane intrigue of Vienna at large. Holly takes a few minutes to reminisce during a brief cigarette break. The action will of course pick up again soon, but for this brief respite we are allowed into a more intimate moment in Anna’s apartment. Holly helps Anna rehearse for a new stage role (I had almost forgotten she was an actor, since she seems to be a full-time sleuth) and the two reminisce about clever old Harry. Harry is the man that brought this unlikely pair together, but it is Anna’s erstwhile feelings for him that are keeping them apart. This very evening (in screen time) Holly and Anna will make the trek to talk to Harry’s porter for a third time, but as we know, he has already been murdered. Somehow, though, this pleasant evening in makes us forget the murder of an innocent man that these two are about to stumble upon. While Holly lights his cigarette, we viewers are given a reprieve from the suspense, and somehow allowed to relax ourselves, as if that nicotine is pumping through the camera, the printer, the projector, and then reflecting gently off the screen onto our enthralled faces.
In a film about an American drunk wandering through Vienna while intoxicated, pretending to be a detective, we haven’t seen too much of Holly actually imbibing. Aside from his drunken row with the british cops way back in Still Dots #9, Holly has stayed on the wagon. Still, something in his demeanor has caused critics the world over to think of Holly as a drunk (Ebert classifies him as an “alcoholic author of pulp Westerns”). But really, what is Holly to do? Dumped in a city where he knows no one at all, jobless and penniless (aside from the monopoly money he’s been fed by the British authorities) Holly has to cope with the fact that his best friend has died. And beyond that, he really doesn’t have much else to do. Speaking no German, French, Russian, or Czech, Holly is left to his own devices which seem to be wooing Anna, hunting the conspiracy behind Harry’s killing, and drinking.
It is in this first category that Holly is currently engaged. His tact is charming if misguided, but here is a brief sample of their tête-à-tête:
Holly: When he was fourteen, he taught me the three card trick. That’s growing up fast.
Anna: He never grew up. The world grew up round him that’s all . . . and buried him.
Holly: Anna, you’ll fall in love again.
Anna: Can’t you see I don’t want to. I don’t ever want to.
This dialogue is tinged with more than a hint of melodrama, but that is to be expected in the circumstances. What is striking about this dialogue, though, is how quick-witted it is without feeling quippy. Anna’s descriptive imagery is sharp, and it flows off their tongues quickly, bantering back and forth like it’s nothing. A lot of studio pictures of the 1940’s had a tendency to be chock full of clever and witty repartee, but The Third Man achieves the same level of wit without the stagey performance that came along with such films. Holly and Anna deliver these lines with a solemn, soulful disposition which lends credence to their intelligence as well as their emotional depth.
Films like His Girl Friday had hours of sharp dialogue, but the performance–though very impressive–lacks the social and class consciousness that weighs the words of Holly and Anna. In the same review I quoted above, Ebert called The Third Man the “exhausted aftermath of Casablanca” since the characters both live in the aftermath of war, but The Third Man‘s heroes are not “bathed in the hope of victory.” But in these tender, distinctly non-noir moments, the back and forth between Holly and Anna is reminiscent of the exhausted aftermath of 40’s Hollywood. Maybe years of unfulfilling marriages and jobs would leave Walter Burns and Hildy Johnson as low as Holly and Anna.
Over the absolute length of one year — two times per week — Still Dots will grab a frame every 62 seconds of Carol Reed’s The Third Man. This project will run until December 2012, when we finish at second 6324. For a complete archive of the project, click here. For an introduction to the project, click here.