Previous Top Ten By Year: 1949 Posts:
Top Ten By Year: 1949 – Poll Results
100 Images from the Films of 1949
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1949: A Love Letter
#10. The Queen of Spades (UK/Dickinson)
#9. Rendezvous in July (Becker)/Au royaume des cieux (Duvivier) (France)
#8. Too Late for Tears (US / Haskin)
#7. The Heiress (US / Wyler)
#6. The Set-Up (US / Wise)
#5. Caught (US / Ophüls)
#4. The Passionate Friends (UK / Lean)
#3. Puce Moment (US / Anger)
For those unaware of my Top Ten By Year project:
The majority of my viewing habits have been dictated by this project since September of 2013. Jumping to a different decade each time, I choose comparatively weaker years for me re: quantity of films seen/quantity of films loved. I use list-making as a way to see more films and revisit others in a structured and project-drive way. I was sick of spending too much time trying to decide what to watch, or watching films just to cross them off another dumb canon list. I wanted to engage. I wanted films to be enhanced by others, by looking at a specific moment in time. I wanted something that led me to seeing or revisiting things I might not have gotten to otherwise. Lastly, my lists are based on personal favorites, not any weird notion of an objective best.
This is the first year I’ll be doing separate posts for each film. #9 will go up Monday. After that, one will go up each day until the end. Then I’ll post them all together so they are gathered in one place. There are a lot of films I loved that did not make the cut. In particular, Flamingo Road, Such a Pretty Little Beach, On the Town, Inspirace, The Reckless Moment, Reign of Terror, The Rocking Horse Winner, and Samson and Delilah are all films I thought at one point would be on here. Of all of these, Flamingo Road was a sure thing until it wasn’t at the very last minute. Please go watch it.
#2. The Third Man (UK / Reed) (rewatch)
How corny and obvious to say, but it’s true; every time you watch The Third Man you think “Wow, people made this and now we have it and it’s a thing that exists, how beautiful is that?” It humbles you, bringing you back to the basics of discovery. Every time you watch it’s hard to leave it. The sum of its particulars transcend genre or any other label it might be tempting to assign it. Its time and place feel far too specific for noir; noir is The City, a monolith of shady affairs and shadier alleyways. But this is the post-war Vienna film, belonging only to itself.
Because The Third Man doesn’t quite feel like anything else. Anton Karas’s jaunty and iconic zither score is gleefully intrusive, forcing the film to pace itself off a merry-go-round bemusement. The music keeps everything in brisk forward motion, nudging its characters to move along now everyone, move along (Reed completely forgoes the score in the sewers, opting for echoes and trudging footsteps). This is made clear in the opening off-the-cuff narration, which runs down an expository list of black markets and post-war zone layouts against footage that insists on hopping away every other second.
The unorthodox soundtrack joins forces with the canted angles; World War II has knocked the Earth off its axis. The Third Man reflects that by adopting a cocked camera, a permanently raised eyebrow. Question everything but do it with a twinkle in your eye, that’s the spirit of this film. Repartee is currency while shifty characters commingle with shifty characters and everyone knows more than you do. This vision of Allied-occupied post-war Vienna is an alienating place of sectors and disparities. It’s overrun and the frames are often packed in. But the streets are empty. This labyrinth of ruined decadence. The milky-glow of the cobblestones and crumbled angles (courtesy of Robert Krasker who, no big deal, gifts us with arguably the most beautiful black-and-white film ever made) make up a city in the process of picking up its pieces but not yet able to put itself back together again.
When I think of Holly Martins, I hear Dennis Hopper in action masterpiece Speed, exclaiming to Keanu: “You’ve got blinders on to the world!” This penniless dimestore novelist has a case of the chronic misreads. He enters into a world he isn’t part of to see the best friend he’s barely been in touch with for “some sort, I don’t know, some sort of job” the narrator tells us. And yet he is positive that old chum Harry Lime couldn’t possibly be mixed up in nefarious dealings. He has assigned himself the role of Hero, Major Calloway the Villain, Anna the Love Interest, and Harry the Wrong Man. The only problem is that not one of these matches reality, and that is the hard lesson that awaits him. Graham Greene’s all-timer script denigrates Martins without making a joke of him. We simply wait for him to catch up with us. Joseph Cotten makes Holly’s lowkey haplessness and buffoonery (“a parrot bit me”) satisfyingly human.
Meanwhile, Harry Lime’s iconic entrance is even better when you register that he never even meant to be seen and had seamlessly pivoted into the moment for the theatrics. It’s a moment so perfect that it manages to stand out even in this film (hell, there’s even a kitten!). There’s nothing new to say about Orson Welles’s Harry Lime (or, let’s face it, The Third Man) except to reiterate that I’ve never seen a man make ego more appealing. The effect of seeing him onscreen is that he is so obviously up to no good, but his accelerated charm is so completely infectious that he becomes a one-man obstacle course towards activating the moral self. He becomes inconcievably larger-than-life because every scene, every conversation in the film is about this unseen (supposedly dead!) man. Then he shows up long enough to make a series of viciously flippant remarks about the value of human life before skedaddling off (the urge to shout “no, wait, don’t go, you just got here!” is strong), and all you think is how much you love this guy despite the things coming out of his mouth. I had forgotten about the chipper “ok byeeee” nature of Harry Lime’s exit (“So long Holly!”) immediately following the cuckoo clock speech. It’s in sync with the way he delivers all his lines, his baritone rumble spinning out its own rhythm so that you can’t tell where sentences end or begin.
Lastly, there is Anna (Alida Valli). Convention dictates that Anna is a woman of many secrets. But she isn’t; there are some fake passports but that’s about it. She simply loves Harry. Even though he has left her in the lurch, she is committed to staying loyal to him no matter what she learns. There is no affair. She simply cannot return Holly’s love. The Third Man ends with Anna’s forthright walk through the autumnal street; past Holly, past us. Through two funerals, she shuns the living through her loyalty to the dead. And then there’s Holly, alone but newly aware, left to realign himself with a world off its axis.