The second issue of The Detective is now available from Amazon. Tomorrow, Issue #1 of The Detective will be offered free on Amazon so please take advantage of this offer if you are able…. The Detective Issue #2
A celebrated British noir charting post-war European malaise, Carol Reed’s The Third Man is widely regarded as the finest British film ever made.
The film centres on Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) a writer of pulp westerns who arrives in Vienna to meet his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) only to discover that Lime has been killed in an accident. Martins investigates the death and is assisted (and hampered) by Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), the head of British forces, and Anna (Alida Valli), Lime’s mistress. The screenplay was written by Graham Greene who regarded the film as a ‘comedy-thriller’, though the themes of suspicion and betrayal, which chimed in well with McCarthyism, offer few laughs. Instead we are left with a classic that captured the pessimism of a post Auschwitz and post Hiroshima world.
In 1948 the Cold War was fought with goods and not guns a fact highlighted by Lime’s penicillin scam, a scam that places Lime on the Devil’s shoulder.
Harry Lime is memorably played by Orson Welles in one of his iconic screen roles. In fact, Welles appears in only ten percent of the film – he arrives late, then steals the show. A myth has developed that Welles wrote Harry Lime’s dialogue, though that credit must go to Graham Greene. However, Welles did contribute the famous cuckoo clock speech, an improvised passage and a highlight of the film. The speech: “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed – but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”
The Third Man was shot on location in Vienna, and you could argue that the bomb damaged city is the film’s greatest character. Director Carol Reed filmed many shots at a slight angle making great use of the night-time shadows cast by the big spot lamps. The angle of filming and the use of shadows are the stylistic fingerprint of The Third Man.
Another distinctive feature of the film is Anton Karas’ zither soundtrack, a truly original score that dominated the music charts when the film was released in 1949.
As well as the screenplay, Graham Greene also wrote a novella. The novella is true to the film, except in the ending where Graham Greene opts for a ‘traditional’ scene with Holly and Anna walking off arm in arm. However, Carol Reed thought that ending unrealistic and instead he provided cinema-goers with the classic scene of Anna walking past Holly.
The first choice to play Holly Martins was Carey Grant, while Noel Coward and Robert Mitchum were considered for the role of Harry Lime. It has also been suggested that Lime’s character was based on Kim Philby, the infamous British double agent and one-time colleague of Graham Greene in the British Secret Intelligence Service.
There are two versions of The Third Man, a British version and an American version. The British version runs for eleven minutes longer than the American version, which was re-edited by producer David O. Selznick.
Sometimes in collaborative artistic work all the elements come together to produce a classic, and that is true of The Third Man. The blend of acting, writing and directing has rarely been matched and certainly not surpassed. The best British film of all time? If you know of a better one, please tell me!
The film Tiger Bay is special to me because Tiger Bay is the setting for my Samantha Smith novels.
Filmed during the winter of 1958-59, Tiger Bay stars Hayley Mills in her first screen role, her father, John, the ‘German James Dean’, Horst Buchholz, as a Polish sailor, Korchinsky and a host of fine character actors. Originally a novel, the screenplay was adapted by John Hawkesworth and Shelly Smith and the film was directed by J. Lee Thompson.
From the start, J. Lee Thompson wanted John Mills in the film and so he arrived at the actor’s house to discuss the role. There, he saw Hayley Mills acting out TV commercials in the garden. Sensing that she would be ideal for the project, the director organized a screen test for Hayley Mills. The young girl, twelve at the time, shone during the screen test and was offered the part. However, there was one problem – in the novel the child was a boy, so John Hawkesworth and Shelley Smith had to adapt the role to suit Hayley Mills and in doing so they created Gillie, a ten-year-old tomboy.
The film opens with Korchinsky returning from sea. He is furious to discover that his lover has left him for another man. An argument ensues followed by a crime of passion when Korchinsky shoots his lover. The crime is witnessed by Gillie who steals the murder weapon.
From that moment on Tiger Bay develops over two interweaving strands. In the first strand Korchinsky abducts Gillie while in the second strand Inspector Graham (John Mills) attempts to uncover the murderer and then find Gillie.
In a key scene in the film Korchinsky considers pushing Gillie from a transporter bridge into the water. However, he is not a murderer at heart and even though this action would ensure his salvation, he cannot bring himself to do it. A friendship then develops between Gillie and Korchinsky. She dreams of becoming a sailor while he seeks to escape to sea.
Filmed in the late 1950s, a time of innocence compared with today, the relationship between Korchinsky and Gillie is a natural one with no undercurrent of sexual tension. They are two lost souls and their friendship is both believable and touching.
At the dénouement of the film Korchinsky has to decide between freedom and saving Gillie. He is set to escape on a ship, only to discover that she has stowed away, soon to fall into the sea. Korchinsky’s decision brings 102 minutes of quality filmmaking to a satisfying conclusion.
Loudoun Square, a prime location in the film, Tiger Bay, c1958
Tiger Bay was filmed in the Tiger Bay district of Cardiff, in the Welsh mountains and at Talybont along the River Usk. The location scenes were filmed first, then the scenes in the studio. As well as excellent entertainment, Tiger Bay also stands as a wonderful social document, capturing life as it was in the 1950s along with the prevailing attitudes of the time.
Hayley Mills, and the cast as a whole, is outstanding and although Tiger Bay was intended to be a one-off for her, her performance attracted the attention of the Disney studios. A year later she was filming Pollyanna for Disney and a successful film and stage career was launched.
If you enjoy quality storytelling and beautifully filmed and directed movies, then I urge you to watch Tiger Bay.