Close Up

21 January 2018: Take Two: The Third Man / Confidential Report


The Third Man

Carol Reed
1949 | 104 min | B/W | Digital

“Only making his startling entrance an hour into the film, Orson Welles leaves a disconcertingly vivid imprint upon yet another work destined to echo endlessly throughout cinema and popular culture. Though not directed by Welles, his presence and influence loom in every dark corner, oblique angle and long shadow. Frequent Welles collaborator Joseph Cotten also materializes in a degraded, divided postwar Vienna to find his friend has just died and left behind a beautiful, tormented lover as well as a strange game of conspiracy, romance and ethics – all enigmatically underscored by Anton Karas’ famous theme. With a charming wink, every detail within the film’s tricky maze of alternating darks and lights seems precisely and subtly posed to tease, provoke and puzzle until the final unsettling question mark. Featuring many who were directly affected by the confusing horrors of World War II, the production’s fortuitous assembly of artists – including writer Grahame Greene and director Carol Reed – had to battle the studio over every artistic decision every step of the way. And what did that produce? The Third Man.” – Harvard Film Archive

Confidential Report
Orson Welles
1955 | 98 min | B/W | Digital

“A detective story without a solution, a film with several versions but no agreed-upon definitive cut, a widely held misfire that was once hailed by Cahiers du Cinema as one of the best films ever made – the paradoxes at the heart of the Welles’ Mr. Arkadin (A.K.A. Confidential Report) are strange and bountiful, rivaling even The Magnificent Ambersons atop the director’s most fantastic fiascos. It’s a legacy of mystery mirrored by the content of the film, which follows the daunting effort of hired American detective Guy Van Stratten to compile a report on the past of amnesiac international tycoon Gregory Arkadin (Welles). Pressing on through an atmosphere of Cold War obfuscation, Van Stratten confronts an endless array of gonzo European bit players only to witness Arkadin’s history growing increasingly convoluted and elusive. Compounding Van Stratten’s confused outsider perspective, Welles encumbers the surface of the film with distorted perspectives, menacing chiaroscuro and hysterically overloaded sets captured in excessive clarity. The net result is a behemoth – despite its relatively short runtime – whose vertiginous surplus of narrative, visual and auditory information cannot be rationally parsed in one sitting.” – Harvard Film Archive

Part of our Orson Welles retrospective