Carol Reed on directing Orson Welles in THE THIRD MAN
THE THIRD MAN (1949) Presented by ALEXANDER KORDA and DAVID O. SELZNICK. Produced & Directed by CAROL REED. Screenplay by GRAHAM GREENE. Associate Producer: HUGH PERCEVAL. Assistant Director: GUY HAMILTON. Unit Production Manager: T. S. LYNDON-HAYNES. Lighting Cameraman: ROBERT KRASKER. Art Director: VINCENT KORDA. Zither Music arranged and played by ANTON KARAS. Film Editor: OSWALD HAFENRICHTER. Make-up: GEORGE FROST. Wardrobe Supervisor: IVY BAKER. Second Unit Photography: JOHN WILCOX and STAN PAVEY. Set Dresser: DARIO SIMONI. Camera Operators: EDWARD SCAIFE and DENYS COOP. Austrian Advisor: ELIZABETH MONTAGU. Sound Supervisor: JOHN COX. Sound Editor: JACK DRAKE.
CAST: Joseph Cotten (Holly Martins); Alida Valli (Anna Schmidt); Orson Welles (Harry Lime); Trevor Howard (Major Galloway); Bernard Lee (Sgt. Paine); Ernst Deutsch (Baron Kurtz); Erich Ponto (Dr. Winkel); Siegfried Breuer (Popesco); Wilfrid Hyde-White (Crabbin); Paul Hoerbiger (Porter); Annie Rosar (Porter’s wife); Hedwig Bleibtreu (Anna's Landlady); Frederick Schreicker (Hansl's Father); Herbert Halbik (Hansl); Jenny Werner (Winkel's Maid); Nelly Arno (Kurtz' Mother); Alexis Chesnakov (Col. Brodsky); Leo Bieber (Barman at the Casanova); Geoffrey Keen (British MP); Otto Schusser (Stand-in for Orson Welles).
The superb new Criterion edition of The Third Man, to quote from their press release, features a “luminous new transfer of the film, with digitally restored image and sound.” And, indeed, this transfer is an absolute joy, sparkling like diamonds, which assistant director Guy Hamilton might quip, “are forever.” It certainly surpasses all previous versions of the film that have been available. A note from Martin Bigham, which follows the Carol Reed interview, below, explains why: The original nitrate negative was found at Pinewood studios and used to make new prints in 1996, at London’s Soho laboratories, who are specialists in the lost art of black and white printing.
This version, of course, is the original 104-minute “director’s cut” distributed by British Lion in Europe, before David O. Selznick got hold of the film and shortened it by 11 minutes for it’s 1950 U.S. release. Among the new extras on the two-disc set, are the exemplary 30-minute documentary, The Third Man’s Vienna, by Brigitte Timmermann. This is a concise, and accurate look at the film that features some marvelous footage of Welles arriving in Vienna by train from Rome, just as Carol Reed remembers in the following interview. Quite notably, Welles is already dressed as Harry Lime as he disembarks from the train, giving more ammunition to those who would like to imagine that he directed the film, which of course he didn’t. But this telling clue offers evidence that there is little doubt Welles certainly influenced it. My own theory is, that any director who wanted to have Welles act in their film (as Reed did) would be most willing to listen to his suggestions, which Welles obviously would make. That Carol Reed felt this way is bourn out in the following interview. To me, any director who admired Welles films (and who didn’t?), it would seem they would have to be inspired by having the man who made The Magnificent Ambersons and Citizen Kane on their set. Obvioiusly Welles could cause problems, but it seems more likely his presence could also serve to inspire a directors own creative juices to flow more freely.
So it's not really that surprising to see Welles-inspired shots in The Third Man, Jane Eyre and The Prince of Foxes. After all, isn’t Citizen Kane supposed to be the film that inspired more people to become film directors than any other movie? Therefore, it seems to me, any director having Welles acting in their film would be prone to pay homage to Welles style of directing.
Unfortunately, the second new documentary on the disc, Frederick Baker’s Shadowing The Third Man, is an overlong and sometimes quite inaccurate rehash of the footage and interviews Timmermann had already found and used earlier. However, there is still plenty of interesting material, it's just that you have to separate the wheat from the chafe. The excellent idea of visiting present day Vienna to show us the locations that were shot by Reed in 1948, is unfortunately spoiled by Baker's projecting the original film over the locations, thereby distracting us from enjoying a clear view of either the settings themselves or the film clips. This novelty might have been nice for five minutes, but over 90 minutes becomes incredibly tedious. However, what is even worse is that the film can’t decide on what is truth or fiction. It opens with a clip of Welles talking about his contributions to The Third Man, as he states he didn’t direct any of the movie, but did contribute to the writing of Harry Lime’s dialogue. The narrator (John Hurt) then declares that Welles claim to have written any of his role to be fiction. Yet, later in the film, Welles is credited for writing the single most memorable speech in the film, Harry Lime’s observations on the Borgias and Cuckoo clocks. The film also claims that Welles objected to shooting in the cold and damp sewers of Vienna, which meant that most of his footage had to be shot later at the studio in London. This is reinforced by the memories of Guy Hamilton, but is directly contradicted not only by Carol Reed’s own comments, but by the evidence of the film itself. It's ovbious that Welles did have a double in many shots, put just as obviously, he was actually running through the sewers of Vienna for 90% of the climax. Adding fuel to the fire is Steven Soderberg and Tony Gilroy’s new commentary track which also contradicts many of the claims in the Baker documentary. Who do you believe? It appears we have come full circle back to Citizen Kane. Everybody has there own memory of what “really” happened. Who is telling the real truth is up to the viewer.
On a final note, I must comment on what I regard as Criterion's sub-standard graphics. They may produce beautiful looking DVDs, which is admittedly the most important thing, but they seem to have no sense of graphic or design style in regards to the actual DVD packaging. What is the point of providing silver toned images that do no justice the the reproduction of the gorgeous black and white stills? Why are the two DVD's housed in see through cases that show us a pure black background instead of stills? I could have easily have provided Criterion with beautiful original artwork from both the British and American posters and lobby cards for The Third Man (as I did on Mr. Arkadin), that would have been far more attractive than the design they have come up with. And can anyone please explain to me how you can make a 30-page booklet on what most people regard as Orson Welles most famous film, that doesn’t feature one shot of Welles?
I guess they figure the stills of Valli, Trevor Howard and Joesph Cotten they have used will produce more sales than any images of Orson Welles might.
If only David O. Selznick where alive to write them a long memo chiding them for their marketing shortcomings.
Excerpts from the interview with Carol Reed in the book Encountering Directors by Charles Thomas Samuels (1972)
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: You've said that much of the excellence of The Third Man is due to location shooting. If you had your choice, would you shoot everything on location?
CAROL REED: Yes. I suffered a lot of opposition going to Vienna with The Third Man. In those days, one didn't take actors on location. But here's an example of the way finance does dominate the business. If you've got five weeks on location, you know you've got to get all your shots in that period. We had a day and a night unit. The actors we used at night didn't work in the day and vice versa. We worked from eight p.m. to five a.m. then went .to bed, got up at ten a.m. worked with the day unit until four, and then went back to bed until eight. That way we got double the work done in the same time. It's a bit of a rush, but it's better to rush than not get it all and have to match things in the studio.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Despite your expressed admiration for producers, you've often acted in that role yourself. Why?
CAROL REED: Because on those particular pictures I didn't need a producer, the money was set. But a producer can be very valuable. …I've never had problems with producers except when they've tried to rush me. Some producers are inclined to do that even when they know you're not behind because they hope to earn some time in case you fall back. When they do that to me, it has the reverse effect.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: How much supervision do you give your editor?
CAROL REED: I edit as I go along—during the lunch break. I never take lunch in the studio; I don't like to sit down or see anyone else sitting down. I feel more lively when I stand. I go into the cutting room at one every day to see the previous day's rushes. Then each Saturday I work with the editor (if we're not shooting) so that the final cut only takes two days after shooting's done.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Your editing is very brisk.
CAROL REED: David Lean told me I cut too much.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: He cuts too little. Tell me, why did you use Robert Bearing to edit so many of your films?
CAROL REED: I had no control. He was chief editor for all films made at Gainsborough. I didn't get on with him.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Could he change your work?
CAROL REED: It was such a different business then. Bob Bearing was inclined to resent directors. Very often I wasn't even invited to see the editing. But a director must work with his editor. Directing is conveying to actors what you had in mind while working with the author. After that, the editor must understand not only what you did on the floor, but what the author had in mind—a man the editor's never even met.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Let's move from technique to content for a minute. Although several of your films are outstanding, they rarely move outside traditional practices—except one in particular. You like unhappy endings (that's why I find The Fallen Idol case puzzling). Is this a conscious rebellion against commercial formulas?
CAROL REED: You must always do as you like, gambling on the possibility that what you like is also commercial. I used to be very much criticized for ending my films unhappily. At one time, it was thought that every picture must end with an embrace so that the audience could go out happy, but I don't think that's what it did. A picture should end as it has to. I don't think anything in life ends "right." The ending of The Fallen Idol is only partly happy. After all, the boy is now finished with the butler, although he used to adore him. In The Third Man, Graham Greene wanted Joseph Cotten to overtake Valli in that car; then the film would finish with the couple walking down the road. I insisted that she pass him by. David Selznick had some money in the film (I think it took care of Cotten and Orson Welles' valet). I must say he was very nice and appreciative about the picture as soon as he saw it, but he said, "Jesus, couldn't we make a shot where the girl gets together with the fella?" "It was in the original script," I said, "But we chucked it out. I'm not sure if it was a good idea." But I mean, the whole point with the Valli character in that film is that she'd experienced a fatal love — and then along comes this silly American!
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Whose idea was it to cast Orson Welles as Harry Lime?
CAROL REED: Mine. I was having dinner one night with Orson. I'd just gotten the synopsis from Graham Greene, which I thought was all right, so I told Orson that there was a wonderful part in it for him. He asked to read it, but I said, "Look, the script's not ready yet, but I'm sure you'll like it even though you don't come on until halfway through." "I'd much rather come in two-thirds of the way through," he replied. After a week, I got Greene's treatment, which I accepted. By this time David Selznick wanted me to do Tess of the D’ Urbervilles, which I wasn't very keen on. He had a script, which we both thought was pretty bad, so I asked him to have work done to it and meanwhile let me go ahead with The Third Man, since it was something we could knock off quickly. I said I wanted Orson and Cotten, who I knew was under contract to Selznick, as was Valli. "Cotten and Valli you can have," he said, "but you can't have Orson." I asked why, knowing very well that Orson wasn't under contract to him and that he preferred me to use someone who was. Besides that, I think Orson one day had made a pass at Jennifer or something. Selznick was very strong on Noel Coward's playing Harry, but of course that would have been disastrous. It went on and on. When I started the film, Selznick was still going on about Noel. Alexander Korda, the producer, didn't care, however, so in the end I got Orson.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: What was Welles like to work with?
CAROL REED: Wonderful! Marvelous!
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: He didn't try to direct himself?
CAROL REED: He was difficult only about the starting date, telling me how busy he was with this and that. So I said, "Look, we're going on location five weeks. Any week—give us two days' notice—we'll be ready for you. And give me one week out of seven in the studio." He kept to it. He came straight off the train in Vienna one morning, and we did his first shot by nine o'clock. "Jeez," he said, "this is the way to make pictures!" He walked across the Prater, said two lines to Cotten, and then I said. "Go back to the hotel, have breakfast; we're going into the sewers, and we'll send for you." "Great! Wonderful!" He comes down into the sewers and says, "Carol, I can't play this part!" "What's the matter?" "I can't do it. I can’t work in a sewer. I come from California! My throat! I'm so cold!" I said, "Look. Orson, in the time it's taking us to talk about this, you can do the shot. All you do is stand there, look off and see some police after you, turn, and run away." "Carol," he said, "Look, get someone else to play this. I cannot work under such conditions. "Orson, Orson, we're lit for you. Just stand there." "All right, but do it quick!" Then he looks off, turns away, and runs off into the sewers. Then all of a sudden I hear a voice shouting. "Don't cut the cameras! Don't cut the cameras! I'm coming back." He runs back, through the whole river, stands underneath a cascade over his head (this out of camera range, mind you!) and does all sorts of things, so that he came away absolutely dripping. "How was that?" he asks. "Wonderful Marvelous!" I said. "Okay. I'll be back at the hotel. Call me when you need me." With Orson you know, everything has to be a drama. But there were no arguments of any sort at all.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: He improvised that scene! But surely not the famous hand coming through the grate!
CAROL REED: That was my hand; I did it on location before he arrived because I knew that Harry must try to escape the sewers. The shot immediately preceding that was done with Orson in the studio, because in Vienna there isn't any staircase leading directly up to a drain. …and the censors objected to Cotten shooting Harry Lime (since it was a mercy killing). That’s why Trevor Howard now shouts from off-camera, “If you see him, shoot.” Cotten isn’t killing a friend, you see, he’s only following orders.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Who was responsible for the marvelous business in the introduction of Harry: the great idea of his being exposed by the cat?
CAROL REED: Oh, God, so many cats! That was all improvised.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: How?
CAROL REED: I do happen to remember this. I was worried about finding Harry in that doorway; I didn't want Cotten just to pass by and see him because then the audience wouldn't know who the man in the doorway was. When Cotten brings Valli flowers, I placed a cat on her bed that Cotten tries to get to play with the string around the gift. But the cat just turns and jumps off.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Much as Valli won't respond.
CAROL REED: Exactly. Then the cat jumps through the window. Whilst Cotten had been trying to get the cat to play, I had him say, "Bad-tempered cat." Then I worked in the line for Valli: "He only liked Harry." We next look out the window, see a man come down the street, and watch him enter a doorway. So far as we know, it might be anyone. But by going over to him and playing with his shoelaces, the cat establishes that it's Harry.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Here's the director as author!
CAROL REED: It was a little trick, you know. But we used so many cats: one in Vienna, running down the street; another in the studio on the bed; another to play with the lace... What was difficult was to get the cat to walk up to it.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: How did you do that?
CAROL REED: Sardines! But how you bring it all back! The problem then was to get the cat to look up at Harry.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Let me search your instinct here. The devil is often shown accompanied by or in the shape of a cat. Is that what suggested this moment to you?
CAROL REED: No. I just liked the idea of a cat loving a villain—the charm of the man! Furthermore, I wanted Cotten to shout at Harry, although not knowing what the audience knew: who was in the doorway.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Another brilliant decision in the film is the zither music. How did you decide on Anton Karas?
CAROL REED: When we were on location, I used to store props in a studio outside the city. Whilst the boys were unloading, I'd go to a store to get carafes of wine for them. Nearby there was a tiny beer and sausage restaurant, with a courtyard in which this fellow played a zither for coins. I'd never heard a zither before, thought it was attractive, and wondered whether we could use a single instrument throughout the film, especially since the zither is so typical of Vienna. I got Karas to come back to my hotel one night, where he played for about twenty minutes. I then brought a recording of that back to the studio to see if the music fought against the dialogue—as some did—but a good deal of it worked well. Karas then came to London to live in that little cottage adjoining this house, which we used to own in those days. I had a moviola with a dupe of the film so we could match his playing against portions of the action. One night he asked me to come back and listen to a new tune he'd done, what came to be called "The Third Man Theme." "Why haven't you played that before?" I said. "I haven't played it for fifteen years," he answered, "because when you play in a cafe', nobody stops to listen; music is just background for talk and drinking and shouting. This tune takes a lot out of your fingers. I prefer playing 'Wien, Wien,' the sort of thing one can play all night while eating sausages at the same time." It turned out he'd composed the tune himself but had nearly forgotten it. What's driven other zither players mad (they can never figure out how it's done) is that he played the tune, then, with an earphone rerecorded it, adding thirds. In the ordinary way, no zither player could do it.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Apart from the pleasantness of the music, there is the precise matching of musical phrases or chords and dialogue or action throughout the film. Did you tell Karas where things should go?
CAROL REED: Yes. For example, in the cat scene, I asked Karas to play a few sort of walking notes while the cat crossed the street and then, as it looked at Harry's shoe, ascending chords, which break into "The Third Man Theme" when it finally sees Harry and we hold on the cat's little face. That's the advantage of working with a single instrument. Usually, I talk to my composer, saying, "You know, we should have something amusing there, something romantic here." Then after three or four weeks, he comes to me, plays the piano and says, "Here's what the drums are going to do," and then. "The strings are doing this." It doesn't mean a bloody thing to me. I just cross my fingers but don't know until we get to the first recording session, when it's too late to change.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Another notable feature of The Third Man, although one is already conscious of it in Odd Man Out, is your penchant for off-angle shots. Was that a conscious effect?
CAROL REED: I hope its not noticed by someone who's less familiar with pictures than you are. I intend it to make the audience uncomfortable.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: So they’d think, "I don't know why, but this view of things is off."
CAROL REED: Exactly.
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: But you didn't use those shots before Odd Man Out, did you?
CAROL REED: I don't think so. I used it so much in The Third Man, however, that I remember William Wyler, after seeing the film, made me the gift of a spirit level. "Carol," he said, "next time you make a picture, just put it on top of the camera, will you!"
CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: But from all the possible devices for disorienting the spectator, why did you choose this one?
CAROL REED: I shot most of the film with a wide-angle lens that distorted the buildings and emphasized the wet cobblestone streets (it cost a good deal to hose them down constantly)... But the angle of vision was just to suggest that something crooked was going on, I don't think it's a very good idea. I haven't used it much since—only when I need to shoot someone standing behind another person who’s sitting and I don’t want to cut off his head.
THE RESTORATION In a vault at the legendary Pinewood studios, just outside of London, rests the original nitrate picture negative and corresponding nitrate optical sound track negative, of one of the most famous films of all time: The Third Man.
In 1996, at London’s Soho laboratories — specialists in film restoration and the lost art of black & white printing — a safety fine grain was produced from these original nitrate elements. The nitrate was in surprisingly good condition in terms of its having had no nitrate decomposition whatsoever, but as often happens with vintage films that have had a successful lifetime, it had been scratched in some sections. In the past, the care and attention given to original elements that is common practice today was rarely adhered to — it wasn’t uncommon for release prints to be made right off the camera negative.
The nitrate negative was cleaned and then a safety fine grain produced via wet gate printing, so many of the flaws disappeared, or were lessened. In 1999, Canal+, who had subsequently acquired the library that contained The Third Man, recognized the tremendous importance and value of the title and made available the budget to make a brand new internegative from the 1996 safety fine grain. In addition, a completely re-mastered sound negative was produced. This was made by making a sound print (after cleaning via wet gate method) at the best possible density from the nitrate sound negative. Then, from the new sound master positive, a new optical sound negative was manufactured to match the new internegative.
At this point, the first 35mm check print was produced (on b & w film stock). This enabled various gradings to be checked and also highlighted some loose synch that occurred in reel two. Necessary corrections to both grade and synch were made, until all technicians at Soho Images were satisfied they hade made the best negative, track and print possible from the original elements.
Martin Bigham is the managing director of the London-based CineServe, which supervises the maintenance of several important film libraries.