Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jason goes to Noir City--Opening Night

Last Friday, I was back in my favorite city in the world. But this year, it's much more than a city, it's international, celebrating the fact that it's a bitter little world.

Opening night took both Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles around the world.

JOURNEY INTO FEAR (1943): Orson Welles last picture for RKO (and one that the meddling by the studio turned into what Czar of Noir Eddie Muller described as a "mangled" effort by Welles) takes us to Turkey, through the adventure of American engineer Howard Graham (Cotten.) He's there to sell arms to the Turkish Navy, but some people have other plans for him. He narrowly escapes an assassins bullet during a nightclub magic show, and sets off into the titular journey (into fear...and to a different city to reunite with his wife) with strange characters and a thrilling climax on the ledge of a building. While definitely abbreviated, it's still a fun, tight little thriller. And Orson Welles dressed up as a Turkish colonel--that's quite a site.

THE THIRD MAN (1949): And then, an absolute classic set in post-war Vienna. Cotten plays Holly Martins, a pulp writer down on his luck invited to Vienna at the behest of his friend Harry Lime. Only when he gets there, he learns that Lime was just killed in--struck by a car accidentally. Not satisfied with the official story (that Lime was a no good crook responsible for many deaths, the world is better without him, and it was an accident anyway) Martins goes on his own investigation. He finds inconsistencies with the stories--in particular an alleged "third man" who helped Lime to the side of the road before he died. Well, not to give anything away (although honestly, this movie is now 65 years old, why haven't you seen it yet?) but the reveal of Orson Welles' character is perhaps the greatest reveal of a character in the history of cinema (the only thing I can think that rivals it is the shark in JAWS.) And his "cuckoo clock" soliloquy is pretty epic. And the chases through the intricate sewers of Vienna (where they still do location tours) is a brilliant use of space. Oh, and I can't end this without mentioning the amazing zither score by Anton Karas. I can't even describe why it works--it seems too happy for a noir film. But there's something so foreign about it that it captures this feeling of Holly Martins being a man out of place--in a Vienna where everybody else is dancing to the music but he doesn't know how to...yet.

Total Running Time: 172 minutes
My Total Minutes: 347,867
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