Dark City

Or perhaps we should say Orson Welles. Appearing without makeup, Welles makes one of the most dramatic star entrances in the history of movies. From that moment, The Third Man belongs to him. Disrupting Reed's schema by transforming the villain into an ambiguously charismatic figure, Welles rewrote his dialogue and largely directed his performance, most effectively in the scene where Lime meets Martins at the foot of the Ferris wheel in the empty Prater amusement park. Reed had already adopted a Welles-inflected expressionism for Odd Man Out. But it was due to Welles's elaboration of what might have been just a cameo that Reed extended The Third Man's underground sequences and added an additional chase (including the shot, credit taken by Welles, where Lime's fingers flutter through the sewer grate).

Harry Lime turned out to be Welles's most celebrated movie performance after Charles Foster Kane. Indeed, the ruthless Lime is an alternative Kane—similarly worshiped and betrayed by Joseph Cotten. André Bazin would suggest that this role made Welles into a myth. Certainly, The Third Manprovided Welles with his last radio persona—in the early '50s he starred in a BBC series based on the movie—and his most romantic embodiment. Not for nothing is The Third Man theme echoed by the player piano in Touch of Evil.

Welles as Harry Lime, a mixture of heedless cynicism and doomed megalomania
Rialto Pictures
Welles as Harry Lime, a mixture of heedless cynicism and doomed megalomania

Details

The Third Man
Directed by Carol Reed
Written by Graham Greene
A Rialto Pictures release
At Film Forum
Opens May 7

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Holly Martins may not have been a viable metaphor for America. But, in his mixture of overripe charm and Übermensch rhetoric, heedless cynicism and doomed megalomania, Welles's Harry Lime was both the dark spirit of a haunted metropolis and the shadow of the actor's future self.

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