Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Third Man -- the final scene

I mentioned in an earlier post that Carol Reed's film The Third Man is famous for a number of reasons, and one of them is the final shot of the film.
What happens in this shot has, I think, already been mentioned.  Anna Schmidt (played by Alida Valli) has just seen her lover Harry Lime buried -- for good this time.  She leaves the cemetery and makes her way down a long dreary road.  Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) passes her in a jeep driven by Major Calloway.  Martins persuades Calloway to drop him off, and then he walks back to meet Anna.  When she reaches him he tries to find the right word to say, but she ignores him and walks straight past.
Charles Drazin tells us how this scene came to be shot the way it was.  The camera was set up and Alida Valli was taken some way down the road.  But Carol Reed wanted her further away, so Guy Hamilton, the assistant director, picked her up in the jeep and drove her to the very end of the road.  Then he drove back to the camera and director.  When the director was ready, Hamilton waved to the actress, who was now a dot in the far distance, and she began to move. 
As she walked -- and walked, and walked -- Hamilton and Reed discussed how the film should end, and whether they should show the final credits over this shot, and so forth.  So the actress was filmed walking pretty much for ever. 
The director and his assistant joked about the fact that, in those days, it was usual to play the national anthem at the end of a film, and most people bolted for the door as soon as it appeared that a film was over.  Would people stay and watch this scene, the two men wondered. 
Gradually, it seems to have dawned on Reed that, if he used this enormously long walk, more or less in full, with Kara's amazing zither music to accompany it, it would make a powerful and moving end to the film.
Which, of course, it did.
At any rate, it made a powerful and moving ending as far as anyone with any intelligence is concerned.  At the age of sixteen I had a fierce argument with a contemporary (not a bright lad) who argued that the ending was 'stupid' and ruined the film.  I told him that it was the best part of the whole thing.  I was right, of course.
However, it has to be admitted that the ending was a bit subtle and highbrow for the average punter.  It required, perhaps, an intelligent European to appreciate it properly, and I don't suppose Selznick liked it much.  But the zither music, if nothing else, held the audience's attention worldwide.
In about 1960 I saw a showing of this film in the Arts Cinema in Cambridge.  As Anna Schmidt began her final walk up that long avenue, the projectionist decided that the film was over.  He began (a) to draw the curtains across the screen, and (b) to put the house lights on.  There was very nearly a riot.  In my view the audience would have been fully justified in dragging him outside and hanging him from the nearest lamp post.
It remains only for us to draw together a few final thoughts about this remarkable film.


WPW said...

It takes the courage of anonymity to make that kind of remark. Almost certainly a fan of Transfomers. For what it is worth I quite agree with you about the ending of The Thurd Man - i think it is the best ending of any film, ever.

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Anonymous said...

I agree that the final scene is masterful, but the intense language you use is not helpful in endearing the movie to others. The Third Man is a masterpiece of cinema. There are precious few such movies. It is worthy of praise, not of silly remarks.

scurvy1000 said...

Does anybody knows where this scene was shot?

Anonymous said...

A magic moment of beautiful synchronicity.