The Third Man: Historical Realities of Film Noir

Topics: Film noir, World War II, The Third Man Pages: 6 (2094 words) Published: September 6, 2012
The Third Man:|
Historical Realities of Film Noir|
Mykhail Chambers|


Throughout history, time has shown the world that its various art forms are influenced by the current events of the era. The world of cinema is no exception to this statement, for some of history’s greatest films have been inspired by the happenings of man. Whether it is political struggle, social strife, a cultural movement, or cultural unrest, cinema has found ways to manipulate our history as a species into a form of entertainment. The period after The Second World War was a time of suffering and hard times. A time when crime was on the rise and quite possibly one of the only ways to survive. In Carol Reed’s storied classic, The Third Man, Reed explores these ideas and uses various aspects of film noir combined with parts of other styles to convey the harsh realities of life after the war in Vienna.

World War Two ranged from 1939 to 1945. During this same time, crime movies began to garner popularity. Famous Hollywood genres of the era included the gangster film and the western – both of which encorperates elements of crime that Americans found so amusing. Interestingly enough, the genre known as film noir was neglected by Americans during this same time period. Film noir has long been around well before WWII yet it took longer to catch on in the United States due to the fact that not enough American filmmakers were inclined to explore this art form. Film noir had more hype overseas and was relatively new in the United States. French film helped to build American interest in film noir; and by the late 1940s film noir reached the peak of its popularity in Hollywood. Convenient enough, The Third Man was produced during this same time period. Carol Reed takes full advantage of the arsenal of film noir elements in his film and accurately displays a war torn environment. The Third Man seems to utilize aspects of film noir and documentary film in an effort to display avid realism. Reed pays close attention to detail by his use of on location shooting to reflect the constant dangers of the setting.

The Third Man takes place in a post WWII Vienna – a time when Austria was still recovering from the war. It emphasizes and cleverly takes a few shots at the governmental structure by highlighting the social, economic, and moral corruptions of all individuals during the time. Carol Reed uses a combination of expressionistic and documentary style in his filming to over emphasize the realism of the situation. Most of the scenes show a sort of war torn, no-man’s land old battle field environment. One of the memorable parts of the movie is the opening sequence in which Reed takes a page from the book of Soviet Montage by showing a series of images of the harsh realities of the setting. During the sequence, viewers see images of the black market or underground trade, starving citizens, military patrol squads, and the breakdown of the four boarder occupant zones. The historical relevance of this hit very accurate on the mark. After the war, Austria was occupied by the various allies from 1945 until 1955. In 1943, the allies agreed that Austria would be treated as an independent country. Until Austria could be sorted out, the nation was divided into four occupational zones: US, UK, Soviet Union, and France. Vienna was similarly subdivided with the central district administered jointly by the Allied Control Panel (this meaning that representatives from all four zones worked here at this central location). The significance of the four zones comes up quite frequently throughout the film and serves as a constant reminder of the instability in the country. The viewer never loses sight of the fact that there are always soldiers present. There is always a sense of “being watched” employed. Reed adds emphasis to this idea by utilizing close ups and awkward camera angles to create the feeling as though the viewer were right on...
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