Peer Reviewed

Exclusive to M/m Print Plus

The Statues Still Stood: The Third Man and Third Spaces

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
— But who is that on the other side of you?

—T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922)[1]

Both blind and mute, often weathered by the sun, by wind and rain, by snow that drips or slides off in a kind of despair, statues on their own can tell us little except that time passes. Typically, we barely notice them, as they form the decorative backdrop to the drama of a place.[2] Elevated on pedestals and mostly commemorating decorated generals, heroes whose feats have largely been forgotten, celebrated artists, or characters from mythology, they form a population that habitually occupies a visual field that exists just out of sight—beyond, I would suggest, the dichotomy of the visible and the invisible. Often hovering in the nagging blind spots of vision, like the third figure in the lines from Eliot’s The Waste Land, statues can dart into and out of our awareness. “When I count,” notes the speaker in Eliot’s poem, “there are only you and I together / But when I look ahead up the white road / There is always another one walking beside you / Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded / I do not know whether a man or a woman” (ll. 360–64). The 1949 film The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed and written by Graham Greene, attempts the tricky undertaking of bringing into not-quite-focus the statue’s dual status as both there and not there, counted yet uncountable, using this unsettled and unsettling status to press an intangible third space upon the viewer’s awareness. As I will suggest, the relation of the camera to statues in this film is part of the drama of place that The Third Man stages. Looming over the visual consciousness of the film, statues, even (or especially) when not directly pictured, seem to compel the camera to look at them, to acknowledge the public spaces that they would expose.

Statues have long been taken up as objects of sustained contemplation, by scholars ranging from Johann Winckelmann to Gottfried Lessing, Kenneth Gross to Michel Serres. A number of inter-arts critics, building on this work, have explored the role of statuary within various films.[3] Little attention, however, has been paid to the significance of statues in The Third Man. I will show how attending to these at times elusive and at other times obtrusive figures in this celebrated noir (the title of which seems inspired by Eliot’s querulous lines) can complicate our understanding of the film as well as the ethical terrain of film noir.[4] It can also help illuminate The Third Man’s particularly late-modernist aesthetic—that is, its odd fusion of tones and modes, as well as its investment in what I see as a vital element of many works of the period: a “dream of rest,” imagined here as a respite from the burdens of citizenship and public life. As we shall see, the third space that the film does not quite bring to light allows for a mode of engagement that is exasperating and playful, and that carries the potential for amusement, surprise, relief, as well as great melancholy and menace.

The Shelter of Blind Spots

The Third Man has been widely accepted as both a pinnacle of British film noir and one of the most successful international thrillers, celebrated for its renowned cast—including Orson Welles as Harry Lime—and for its remarkable cinematography, which “produce[s] an unstable, vertiginous setting in which nothing is what it appears to be.”[5] In it, the streets and underground tunnels of postwar Vienna are shadowy and shadowed by deeper darknesses, with the realities of war mutely legible in piles of rubble. As in most noirs, our sightlines (and along with this, our knowledge) are limited; in this case, they are as limited as those of the protagonist, Holly Martins, played by Joseph Cotten, who arrives in Vienna to work with Lime, his childhood friend and idol, only to be told that his friend is “quite dead,” killed in an accident that comes to seem more and more suspect. As Holly clumsily investigates the “accident” and falls, in his boyish way, for Lime’s girlfriend Anna, he—and the viewer along with him—runs the risk of being caught unawares by what lies in the blind spots of the film.[6] If Lime’s death was not in fact an accident, who, then, was responsible? Who was the mysterious third man who helped carry Lime’s body at the site of his supposed death, and why does he refuse to come forward? Who might be interested in keeping the truth hidden and in silencing those, such as the old porter, who speak up or look too closely?

Fig. 1.  Chasing Shadows, The Third Man (1949). 

As most readers and viewers understand intuitively, blind spots present the possibility of great danger in noir, as in thrillers more generally.[7] Something potentially harmful—whether a hand unexpectedly grabbing a shoulder from behind, a loaded gun pressed silently against a temple, or a piece of information emerging into to the light of day—can take a character (as well as the reader or viewer) by surprise when he or she is most vulnerable. The protagonist must navigate within a murky realm where both violence and vital information lie outside of his field of vision and where blindness can be fatal. Some characters, such as Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely (1940), handle their blindness with a hardboiled nonchalance (in Edward Dmytryk’s 1944 film adaptation, entitled Murder, My Sweet, we watch as Marlowe casually responds to police interrogation with his eyes bandaged); however, such nonchalance is not the norm, and the power of thrillers to provoke both anxiety and shock lies to a large extent in their complex negotiation of different visibilities.[8] As readers and spectators we are often put on edge by the epistemological imbalance of dramatic irony—that is, in our painful anticipation, on the characters’ behalf, of unexpected sightlines opening up and coming into play. This unease—even paranoia—about what lies outside the frame is particularly heightened in works of film noir, due to what Andrew Spicer describes as the “fog or mist [that] obscures the action,” as well as chiaroscuro lighting that creates “hidden and threatening spaces” (Film Noir, 4). To discover and illuminate what has hitherto been hidden—to take things out of the protagonist or viewer’s blind spots—is the ultimate payoff and teleological goal of noir. Even in works where the protagonist is on the run, falsely accused, as in the classic Hitchcock scenario, safety is not, or not only, to be found in discovering shelter from a relentless, panoptic visibility. In the famous scene in North by Northwest (1959) when Cary Grant’s character is being pursued by the swooping crop-dusting airplane, his attempt to find somewhere safe to hide works in tandem with the more common and overarching goal of enacting the reverse movement, whereby all potential blind spots are finally eradicated. Resolution, safety, and power essentially lie in the light of knowledge and truth.[9]

To a certain extent The Third Man follows this convention. However, halfway through the film, when Holly and the viewer learn the truth about Harry Lime—that he in fact faked his death to escape prosecution for his illegal penicillin racket—the film shifts gears. It changes from a quest to illuminate the truth (in the moment of discovery, we see Lime spot-lit with a roguish grin on his face) to an ethical questioning of whether or not Holly should or will betray his friend for the greater good. And once Holly has the chance to hear his friend’s philosophy, while the Ferris wheel famously turns, what is outside the frame gathers force as the ghosts and victims that press for Lime’s capture. They remain unseen, although ignorance is no longer an option. Yet even before this turning point, as several critics have noted, it is evident that The Third Man differs in a number of respects from traditional Hollywood noir.[10] This collaboration between Reed and Greene blends humor with suspense, and has been compared to earlier “comic thrillers” such as Reed’s own Night Train to Munich (1940). And as Judith Adamson interestingly argues in Graham Greene and Cinema, the viewer is more “protected in this fairy tale” than in other works of its genre. The film, she claims, has a “leisurely and somewhat sentimental Viennese tempo,” with its violence and disappearances “kept at arm’s length,” controlled by being off screen, and with the famous musical score (Anton Karas’s zither playing) “continually fight[ing] back the reality of postwar Vienna.”[11] Indeed, Greene himself insisted that in The Third Man he and Reed had “no desire to move people’s political emotions; we wanted to entertain them, to frighten them a little, to make them laugh.”[12] This impulse to protect or shield the viewer is key to understanding the film’s aesthetic commitments and maneuvers.

Throughout The Third Man the dynamic interplay between the camera and statuary presents one visual register upon which the film’s ethical nuances are played out. Rather than a straightforward movement to expose and illuminate what has been hidden, Reed and Greene also maintain blind spots as a potential shelter. Reed, as one of the “great directors of city-experience,” according to Rob White, emphasizes “disorientation and alarm” in film after film, with “traps all about and an ambush . . . always expected.”[13] Often an ambush does come, if the hero’s “purposefulness is forgotten or made impossible by injury, delirium, grief or obsession” (46). We see this in The Third Man, with the final trap set for Lime, and with knowledge and danger constantly hovering in a potential state; yet statues, along with a host of voiceless victims, also occupy this threshold space between what is on screen and off screen, visible and invisible, known and not known.[14] The film’s blind spots thus work to generate a sense of claustrophobia and breathless anticipation, as well as functioning as temporary shelters, creating a nagging awareness of what might be watching from the shadows.

Blind Witnesses

The Third Man is a film about ruin—both the ruin of postwar Vienna and a ruined man. Within this destruction, statues help take the measure of the damage done to a city that has been bombed in the war. Part of the film’s documentary aesthetic involves recording the presence of statues, which constitute part of its aboveground topography, later set against the underground sewers where Lime meets his end. These statues are not used dramatically, nor do they have the potential to come to life. As the film unfolds, the city’s population of bronze, stone, and plaster moves from operating within the work’s documentary mode to becoming part of its late-modernist aesthetic—part of its play with sightlines and visibility. As various statues move into or remain outside the frame of the screen, our perspective is potentially deepened; our visual field is potentially widened as they mark the site of something else, insistently needling us with the sense of something more: a comic hauntedness that while harrowing offers at the same time a surprising opportunity for relief.

In the opening shots of The Third Man we are shown an image of Vienna that is followed in quick succession by three wintery images of statues in the city.[15]  The intricate details and striking postures of the statues invite the eye and one’s attention to linger, yet the montage is cut so quickly that we only have time to register each image before we are pulled along to the next, not only through the speed of the cutting but also by the quick, nonchalant voice of the narrator (that of Reed himself in the British release), commenting on how he never knew the “old Vienna before the war, with its Strauss music, its glamour and easy charm.”[16] The rhythm of the editing does not allow one to pause or to become absorbed in the delicacy of Strauss’s stone bow resting lightly on the strings of his violin; or to pay attention to the three human figures that seem to push out in relief from part of an archway beneath the instrument’s delicate scroll; or to fully note the folds of the chiseled robes of the statues standing on the rooftop overlooking the city—one of them, in profile, winged and commanding a chariot pulled by horses—all wearing mantles and head-coverings of snow; or to dwell on the severe, imposing figure of Beethoven sitting atop a column with small putti and a classical figure grouped at its base, also draped in snow, and set against a backdrop of buildings as well as a network of branches as fine as the spreading cracks in a sheet of ice. These three views of statuary figures, public and commemorative, standing in for the “old Vienna,” which has become a city of monuments, are followed by visual evidence of, and speedy commentary on, the thriving black market in the new postwar order, quickly leading to a shot of a corpse (an amateur unable to “stay the course”) floating in the river near a sinking boat, amid ice not cracked, but instead broken into menacing shards (fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Statues in Vienna, The Third Man (1949). 

We are also shown the damage to the city caused by bombing, the destruction no worse, the narrator almost blithely remarks, than that undergone by other European cities, as well as shots that illustrate the four-power occupation of Vienna by the British, American, French, and Russian military forces. This entire opening sequence quickly establishes the context for the story that will follow, plunging the viewer in (as opposed to the gradual build-up originally mapped out in the screenplay of The Third Man) with disorienting and “shocking swiftness,” offering a parallel to Holly Martins’s confusion upon arriving in an unfamiliar city by train, expecting to find his friend, Harry Lime, only to be directed to his funeral (Adamson, Graham Greene and Cinema, 60).

While these images form a necessary part of the “background” to the “fairy tale”—this “strange, rather sad story” that we will be told, as Greene puts it in his prose treatment of The Third Man—there is a tension evident in the film between the quick narrative drive forward and a kind of lingering vision in which objects recorded by the camera become subjects in themselves, with a powerful and essentially cinematic sense of their independent physical reality, to use Siegfried Kracauer’s terms (11, 13).[17] Had the camera lingered longer, that is, we might suddenly be struck by the density and weight of the statues, or be enticed by what Gross calls the “lure of the statue,” which lies in its being “so resolutely external, so materially present in the world, so opaque and impenetrable,” “[e]xposed to the same light, weather, and space as human persons” (The Dream of the Moving Statue, 32). Indeed, at various moments the film presses us to linger, bringing the background into the foreground, or alternatively, it refuses to let us pause, keeping the background in the shadows—in each instance, however, nudging our attention with the sense of something more just within or beyond our sightline. We are aggravated with the awareness of unseen figures occupying a third space; often, this takes the form of a statue that marks the site of a visual surplus invested with a particular aesthetic and political weight.

At the center of The Third Man is an absent statue as well as the elusive figure of Harry Lime. Indeed, the two are intimately connected. According to Lime’s good friend, Baron Kurtz, and other witnesses to the so-called accident that killed Lime, the body, after being struck by a vehicle driven by his own driver, is carried to the statue of Emperor Joseph II, and it is here that Lime utters his last requests (for his friends to look after Holly and Anna) and breathes his last breath. This statue is repeatedly mentioned and becomes a kind of landmark—it was there, right over there, that the body was dragged; it was there that he lay—a sentiment later echoed in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), with Madeleine’s eerie, “There I was born, and there I died.”[18] Yet, oddly, we never see this statue, and the film seems to go out of its way to hide it from our view. In a photograph taken of Reed and the crew assembled in the Josefsplatz to film the entrance to Lime’s apartment building, the statue looms large—an imperial caped figure on a prancing horse atop a substantial pedestal inset with bronze bas-relief figures.[19] It would have been a simple matter to include this imposing statue in any of the scenes filmed outside of the apartment, when Holly, alone and then accompanied by Anna, attempt to investigate the matter. On a very pragmatic level, showing the looming statue would have demanded attention and detracted somewhat from the flow of the narrative. In the light of day, or even cast in evening shadows, the prancing statue might have seemed gaudy or overpowering, directing the eye up and away rather than to the ground. It might, that is, have invited the eye to linger, which is precisely what Lime and his associates don’t want, and it is as if the camera were on their side.

The insinuating and skittish Kurtz takes Holly right to the base of the statue when walking him through the events of the accident. Acting as a guide, Kurtz points out important spots and narrates the sequence of events as the two figures walk towards, across, and away from the camera. Yet their eyes and our attention remain stubbornly focused downwards, to the ground, to the spot where Harry supposedly last lay (fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Examining the Scene of the Accident, The Third Man (1949).

We see the pedestal of the Joseph statue, with the steps leading up to it, but the stone blends into the background, and the figure itself remains outside of the frame. Later that same evening, after this tour has taken place, the porter of Lime’s building narrates the events that he partially witnessed from his perspective by the window, standing with Holly and looking down into the now-darkened street. Searching for the right English words, he explains, in a stuttering staccato, that the body was carried to “the other side of the Josef . . . the Josef . . . Emperor Josef . . . statue” (fig. 4). Holly looks out the window at the spot where the porter is pointing, yet what he and we see is a narrow street between buildings, with no trace of the statue we would expect to find there.[20]  

Fig. 4. The Josef Statue, The Third Man (1949). 

In both cases, the statue’s presence is explicitly called attention to, while the statue itself remains oddly unavailable to sight. However, this absence easily goes unnoticed, and is unremarked by Holly. In occupying a space that is always just beyond our sightline, the elusive statue produces an unsettling effect, as does the porter’s insistence that there was a “third man” at the scene of the accident who helped carry the body and then refused to give evidence. These two presences signal different perspectives, potential narratives that are detectable yet untraceable.

Roland Barthes, discussing André Bazin in Camera Lucida, has noted that our awareness of what is off screen, continuing, we suppose, its existence beyond the frame, is part of the power of cinema: it is “a power which at first glance the Photograph does not have.” For the screen “is not a frame but a hideout; the man or woman who emerges from it continues living: a ‘blind field’ constantly doubles our partial vision.”[21] Rather than having an open frame, works of film noir, according to Forster Hirsch, are characteristically closed off from the “flow of life.” There “[s]eems to be no world outside the frame, and there are almost no other people on view besides the principals. These stories of obsession and self-destruction are enacted in a deliberately created vacuum,” a “sealed-off environment of airless rooms, and of threatening, lonely streets.”[22] I would suggest that the third space inhabited by statues in The Third Man constitutes a “blind field” that is neither fully on nor fully off screen, and thus that the frame of the screen is neither fully open nor fully closed. The figures that occupy and move into or out of this third space do not in fact seem to continue a life beyond the frame, nor do they fall completely out of sight and time. Hovering, flickering, present yet absent, placing demands upon the camera even while eluding it, they seem part of a ghostly, unnervingly blank world. For where does a statue exist when it is persistently referred to yet never recorded on the celluloid of the film?

When Anna and Holly return to Lime’s apartment building to speak to the porter, hoping to get more information from him, only to learn that he has been murdered, the shots scissor between the group of onlookers crowding outside the building and the view of Holly and Anna approaching, retreating from, and then being chased by them. The camera stubbornly remains anchored to the right view of the street, first showing the group of neighbors and concerned citizens from behind, and then turning 180 degrees to show the backs of the retreating couple, soon followed by the impish boy who draws attention to them as suspects in the porter’s murder and the crowd who, in their refusal to be passive witnesses to a crime, belie the Romanian Popescu’s assertion that “You’ll never teach these Austrians to be good citizens” (fig. 5). The statue’s invisibility at this point seems almost perverse and at the same time amusingly sly; even though the street is shown from both sides here, the scene’s quick cuts from one perspective to another again places the statue in a blind spot, keeping it persistently out of view.

Fig. 5. Concerned Citizens, The Third Man (1949). 

As I mentioned earlier, this hidden Joseph statue is connected to the absent figure of the “third man” who did not give testimony at the inquest for Lime’s death—the figure whom Holly attempts to discover, only to learn that the elusive figure was Lime himself. With the sudden appearance of Lime, and our discovery that he has faked his death, the statue comes to stand in for the truly enigmatic presence at the scene of the crime: that is, the sixth man (the others are the driver, Popsecu, Kurtz, Dr. Winkel, and Lime), the murdered orderly, Joseph Harbin, whose body is buried instead of Lime’s and whose information passed to the British police about Lime’s penicillin racket helped build up a convincing case against him. Thus, the verbal coincidence of the names “Josef” and “Joseph” becomes striking; there is an eerie echoing of names and unseen bodies. We catch a glimpse of Harbin in a photograph that is first shown to Anna and later projected onto a screen for Holly’s benefit by Major Calloway, the British officer leading the investigation, when he is laying out the case against Lime. The orderly is at this point a missing man, and his projection by means of a magic lantern renders him even more ghostly (fig. 6).

Fig. 6. The Other Joseph, The Third Man (1949). 

We never see more of Joseph, the sixth man, than this; he is fleetingly brought forward, only to be relegated back to the shadows. Even when Calloway and Sergeant Paine, along with other officers, dig up Lime’s coffin and find Harbin buried in Lime’s stead, the camera takes on the perspective of his corpse, positioned within the coffin itself (fig. 7). This move, of course, keeps the focus on the officers’ reactions rather than on the grisly fact of Harbin’s dead body; it also keeps his body just out of sight. Keeping this corpse not simply visible or invisible, but rather occupying a third space, like the statue of Emperor Joseph, is central to the film’s interest in what gets forgotten in the refusal to linger or look beyond the parameters of the frame. The film hints that there is more than we can see, some haunting excess.[23] 

Fig. 7. View from the Grave, The Third Man (1949). 

It is not a mere coincidence—indeed, it is deeply meaningful—that an absent statue marks the site of a missing and disposed-of body, as statues and corpses share a potent connection. According to Michel Serres, as discussed by Gross in The Dream of the Moving Statue, the term statue always already “defines, or exists within, a complex system of concealments and substitutions” (22). The statue indicates that which cannot be looked at directly; what it “stands for, what it both conceals and fixes in place, is the dying, entropic and violable human body”:

It provides an archaic double not so much for the living body as for the cadaver. All statues thus take on the look of a boîte noire, a black box concealing not a soul, not a god or a demon, but a corpse. Or rather, we might say, it conceals what is revealed by the fact of a corpse, our decaying materiality, our being’s entanglement with alien, apparently inhuman processes or substances, our bondage to a lifelessness we inhabit or once inhabited. (21)

The corpse is “for Serres the first object, the form in which we first confront our troubled awareness of things outside us, things fading away or in exile”; the statue is the “second object,” and it “becomes a way of stabilizing our relation with the corpse”:

A consolation and a defense, the statue helps us keep our peace with the living and the dead, helps keep peace between the living and the dead. The statue represents not just a way of making visible what is invisible, making present what is absent; it is as much a laboriously achieved negation. It is a blinding, a burial of something out of sight (even if this is something which, Serres suggests, can never really be seen). (21–22)

If statues negotiate between the realms of the living and the dead, serving both as peace-keepers and as gate-keepers, aiding in the “troubled awareness” of our ever-decaying bodies through their doubling and metaphorical blinding, the absent statue at the center of The Third Man indicates a serious disturbance of the peace. Unlike in Serres’s formulation, this absent statue calls attention less to the fact of Harbin’s corpse and its necessary decay and more to the fullness of a life that we will never know more about.[24] The Joseph statue, fully within public view yet not visible within the film, signposts the dangerous ease with which bodies can be made to disappear—with which a murder can be covered over with the benign, if tragic, face of a public accident. Harbin’s figure seems both present and yet not able to be counted, his life “something fugitive and untold,” to borrow, out of context, the words of P. D. James in her novel The Murder Room (2003).[25] Even the name “Harbin” seems a truncated form of “harbin-ger,” as if announcing the presence of something or someone waiting in the wings. The Joseph statue, echoing his name, refuses to allow the matter to rest fully, marking the site of a disappearance as well as an unassimilated surplus. It seems to demand that the camera turn towards it, to linger in this public space, even while it slyly escapes the camera’s recording lens. Visibility and invisibility, presence and absence, affirmation and negation, life and death, have all become unsettled, and all are in play. Gross explains that for Serres the statue is “a cynosure, the definer of axes of view, centers of attention, and fixities of memory, the anchor of what is volatile, the guardian of what is ready to flee” (The Dream of the Moving Statue, 22). The Third Man explores the ways in which statues, which can and do organize the flow of viewpoints, attention, and memories, do not, or do not any longer, function as cynosures. Instead, they mostly hover in the blind spots of our visual field, unmooring even to volatility the action unfolding on the screen.

A Haunted City

As we are never permitted a glance of the statue next to which the murdered body that shares its name was laid to rest, it is curious which statues we do see in the film. After we, along with Holly, are shocked to discover that Harry Lime is alive, when Lime steps out of the shadows one evening to reveal his amused, spot-lit face, a desperate chase ensues. The stunned Holly pursues his best friend’s shadow and clattering footfalls through the empty cobbled streets, and when the alleyway he is in opens onto a square, he realizes that Lime has disappeared. The camera is already positioned within the square and records Holly’s entrance into it. At the left side of the frame, forming part of the scenery as it were, is a stone fountain adorned with a standing putto that unobtrusively doubles Holly’s figure, both of their heads turned to the right of the frame (the putto gazing down while Holly looks off to the side)(fig. 8).[26] After Holly has looked around, we are given a sequence of shots showing him resting at the fountain while the putto’s face, in profile, seems to gaze at him with a surprisingly warm, observing sympathy. Holly dips his hand into the water to wet his face, and gradually becomes aware of the statue’s “presence,” after which he comically and sourly winces, splashing water on it in a gesture that will later be echoed in the final shot of the film. The camera’s framing of Holly and the putto animates the stone and creates a silent conversation between observer and observed—one that Holly seems wryly to resent and expose as a fiction of proximity and framing.

Fig. 8. Noticing the Putto’s Presence, The Third Man (1949). 

As critics such as Brigitte Peucker and John A. Walker have discussed, the presence of statuary in film can bring forward a filmmaker’s vested interest in discovering the very nature and capabilities of cinema. Within this medium of moving images, statues often facilitate an exploration of stillness and motion, including, more specifically, the relation between still photographs and the coming-to-life of the film as it unreels and is projected onto the screen. The scene with the putto from The Third Man also plays with the fiction of animation at a moment of regenerative promise, in the return of Harry Lime, thought to be dead yet apparently risen again.[27] I would suggest, however, that the scene’s investment lies less in the seeming animation of the inanimate and more in what moves into and out of a viewer’s awareness—what is visible and present yet unseen, in contrast to the not visible yet nevertheless acknowledged Joseph statue. The putto statue, with its soft smile, is not actually visible to Holly until his eyes focus on it and it darts into his awareness, just as the kiosk behind them, located at the juncture of Lime’s vanishing, is there but not (yet) fully seen.

Was Lime actually there, though, or did Holly just imagine he saw him? Surely the statue was a witness, but one that will not and cannot tell. Holly soon returns to the square with a skeptical Calloway and Paine, and again the camera is positioned to record their entrance into the square, this time with the putto and fountain far more prominent at the left of the frame, with the figure’s face once more blank and generic. As Holly turns to his companions, remarking on Lime’s disappearance just there, Calloway and Paine walk towards the camera, with Calloway turning to glance at the putto and then turning away, while Paine walks right up to the fountain, his attention lingering on it, his elbow coming to rest at the edge of it. It is as if the statue has invited him to pause; an invitation that he readily accepts. Paine’s resting at the fountain, looking eventually in the same direction that the putto is gazing in, allows Calloway to also stop there, and as he does so he steps into and occupies the hitherto empty right side of the frame, his expression (and the zither music) indicating a realization that no one else yet shares—namely, that Lime must have disappeared through the nearby kiosk that contains a hidden door leading down into the city’s intricate sewage system (figs. 9). It is now we realize that in the earlier shots of Holly by the fountain, when the putto seemed so comically knowing, the third object within the frame was this unobtrusive kiosk, forming part of the background. Peter William Evans intriguingly links Lime with the putto, which he argues “seems to represent Harry’s spirit, superficially an angel of childish innocence, but inwardly a harbinger of wickedness, mocking the efforts of his pursuers or, as Holly had earlier put it, ‘laughing at fools like us all the time,’ the cunning ruthlessness of the anti-hero expressed as the indomitable wilfulness of the selfish child” (Carol Reed, 100–101). The statue seems to me far more benign than wickedly mocking or cunning, yet if we can indeed read him as a miniature stand-in for the elusive Lime, one smiling presence seems to gesture towards the other, to give the other away. In arresting Paine’s and the viewer’s gaze, the statue enables a pause in the narrative’s forward drive, opening up a space for contemplation, wandering vision, and possibility. This brief rest actually helps enable the revelation of truth, which includes a dawning awareness for both Holly and the audience of the extent of Lime’s selfish, destructive behavior. The statue, while decorative and playful rather than monumental or commemorative, seems again a visual marker of both an absence and a troubling surplus.

Fig. 9. The Putto and the Sewer, The Third Man (1949). 

Capitalizing on irritation, exasperation, and surprise more than any kind of moral outrage, the film, in its tragicomic mode, gestures towards the connection underlying the verbs “to amuse” and “to muse.” Both activities, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, involve an intent gazing and a thoughtful, absorbed looking, with this arresting of attention leading to diversion, delusion or entertainment (with amusement) and to surprise and wonder (with musing). In the film, both actions together hint at a third space that is revealed through shock, violence, and often humor, signaling but not exposing what has been lost. Here, this realm is only present as a nagging conviction—like a ghost limb—about the viciousness of Lime’s activities; it remains outside our full awareness, neither confirmed nor denied. While this does keep the viewer “protected” in a kind of “fairy tale,” it also refuses to make this protected space comfortable or in any way stable. As White notes, the film actively works to keep its viewers uneasy, to promote the feeling of being an outsider in a foreign world; throughout, it “emphasises its limited viewpoint,” never pretending “to have comprehensive knowledge of its Vienna [sic]” (The Third Man, 29).

In fact, to take on a more expansive vision with no hidden blind spots is presented in the film as a more violent and ethically disturbing alternative. We might contrast the film’s visual play with statues with two overhead shots that offer a different kind of perspective on and engagement with the world. After Holly blurts out to Mr. Popescu that the porter has insisted on the presence of a third man at the scene of the accident, we see Popescu, Kurtz, and Dr. Winkel (a collector of small statuettes, his name perhaps a play on Winckelmann) meeting at a bridge with another person.[28] Filmed from above, with the lines of the bridge’s support beams casting long, sharp shadows, the four men seem to be the size of small insects, so that their identities are indecipherable (fig. 10).

Fig. 10. View from Bridge and Ferris Wheel, The Third Man (1949). 

The bridge looks startlingly modern—almost like a streamlined rollercoaster—in the midst of the images of ruin and baroque decadence we have seen previously. Positioning the camera so high up, while it allows the viewer to see more of the scene, is also a technique of concealment and obfuscation. Later, we are given another overview perspective, this time from the box of a Ferris wheel in the famous Prater scene. First shown the crisscrossing lines of the wheel as seen from below, the steel and radiating lines recalling the bridge, we then see the fairgrounds from the position of Lime and Holly in one of the boxes. Lime directs his companion’s attention to the scurrying, insect-like people on the ground and asks whether Holly really wouldn’t extinguish some of them if told that he could get “twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stops,” free of income tax—“Free of income tax, old man” (fig. 11).

Fig. 11. Little Dots, The Third Man (1949).  

This predatory, dehumanizing perspective permits Lime to think and talk in generalities.[29] As he puts it, if the government can talk of the “proletariat” and the “people,” he is free to refer to human beings as “suckers.” Looking from above, from his “Olympian heights” (Evans, Carol Reed, 95), Lime exonerates himself from any sense of guilt, or any admission of the damage he is causing—damage that, as Calloway has told Holly, involves “men with gangrened legs” (veterans, we assume, from the war), “women in childbirth,” and children who either die (the lucky ones) or end up in mental wards. Holly later sees these children close-up at the hospital, although the sight of the suffering children is also kept off screen and thus protected from view. Rather, and similarly to how the camera was positioned in Joseph Harbin’s coffin, the camera hovers just above the children’s beds, tracking Holly’s reaction as he moves from one to the next, and, as Calloway points out one case in particular, the child’s teddy bear keeping watch over the cot. Calloway’s ingenious move of showing Holly the human costs of Lime’s racketeering finally convinces him to help capture and arrest his friend—persuades him that it is his business what Lime does, and that morality trumps loyalty.[30] He decides, that is, to lay aside his personal interests and to be a good citizen instead, agreeing to be what he calls the officers’ “dumb decoy duck” and arrange a meeting with Lime.

Frozen Forms

There is a period of intense anticipation as the gathered forces wait for Lime to appear. The camera pans slowly across a length of street facing a partly bombed building—a site that was quickly shown to us in the opening few minutes of the film as part of the documentary images of Vienna in ruin, which are now returned to and lingered over as part of the stage upon which Lime’s capture will be played out. This panning shot is precisely what Holly sees from his seat by the window as he waits for Lime in the café. The shot, that is, represents his (and our) vigilant looking. It is followed by images of soldiers positioned next to statues as if they too were made of stone, and close-ups of their anonymous faces, still and vigilant as statues except for their shifting eyes and their breath visible in the cold. These shots are intercut with expressionist images of empty cobbled streets, lit with an eerie glow from a light source beyond the frame. Tension mounts further as a shadow appears, looming against a nearby building, with twisting, gaping statues from the Michaelerplatz fountain frozen at the right of the screen, and the alternating shots quicken in pace—a tension that is, however, deflated when we realize that the person casting the shadow isn’t Lime after all, but rather an aged Viennese man selling balloons.[31] The scene seems oddly cluttered with stone figures, adding to the need for vigilance, as the eye might be deceived into mistaking a soldier for a statue, while a statue might provide a place behind which to hide. The complete stillness of the statues also allows motion or change to be more quickly detected.[32] There is a carnivalesque quality to this sequence—even a sense of the grotesque and absurd—as the statues come into the foreground, fully occupying and almost overwhelming this public space (fig 12). 

When Lime finally appears, it is not on the street, but as a tiny figure that emerges in an illuminated gap atop the very building with which the scene began, seen now at a slightly tilted angle. The darkness of Lime’s clothing and the brightness of his face are offset by the two statues he seems to emerge between, the three of them together forming the points of a triangle. After we move in to a medium shot of Lime, we are given a 180-degree pan from his viewpoint, which is also partially from the perspective of the statues that face onto the street, sweeping from the buildings and rubble opposite to a building with a café, zooming into this café where Holly sits waiting for him.[33] 

Fig. 12. Lime Appears, The Third Man (1949).  

Lime, we see, is drawing closer to the realm of statues; the narrative soon leads to Holly shooting his cornered friend out of mercy in the echoing, rushing tunnels of the sewage system, where the water apparently smells sweet—the dénouement that the film has been driving towards all along. The sequence ends with the dramatic and memorable image of Lime’s stiffening fingers fruitlessly reaching through a grate on the street, perhaps recalling Bernini’s sculpture of Daphne fleeing from Apollo, frozen in her metamorphosis from woman to tree, her fingers spread out but with their tips, unlike Lime’s, beginning to sprout flowing leaves (fig. 13).

Fig. 13. Lime's Fingers, The Third Man (1949). 

We hear the fatal shot fired yet are spared the sight of Lime’s death. The film’s sustained play with sightlines and its insistence on keeping some things persistently out of view preserves a space of mystery and power by refusing to bring them into the frame and co-opting them into the narrative. They remain just outside of cinematic time and representation, somehow sheltered, while conjuring up an unspoken sense of violence and loss. The spectator’s and characters’ wandering vision confronts barriers and is rebuffed, but this renders the world of the film less, rather than more, claustrophobic.

Statue Citizenry

Viewed straightforwardly, from the point of view of plot and narrative, The Third Man seems to celebrate the merits, or at least the necessity, of good citizenship, of balancing the interests of the public against individual, private concerns. After the mystery of Lime’s “death” is solved and in the events leading up to his death, we witness what Gillian Rose has described as the “two agonistic lives” that each citizen bears within herself: the push and pull between one’s individual interests and those of the larger community.[34] Although Lime “is a breath of fresh air” in “drab Vienna,” as White suggests, “with its dour, afraid populace and oppressive military presence,” and while his immense charm inspires both love and loyalty, he must nevertheless face a “moral reckoning,” and we must remember “the look in the porter’s eyes—the scared surprise” as he looks at “Harry, come to kill him by cutting his throat” (The Third Man, 64–65). Even if we do not see Lime as completely “rotten to the core”—as a despicable criminal who deserves to be cornered and shot—the fact that he is a narcissist responsible for great misery and death cannot but be acknowledged, and once Holly is certain of this knowledge, he feels compelled to act upon it, despite his deep affection for his friend (Evans, Carol Reed, 94). In doing so, Holly is fulfilling part of the unspoken contract of collective public life, wherein responsibility seems to follow a set sequence: once one sees, one knows, and once one knows one owes it to others to act.

The porter in The Third Man, who initially insists that he “saw nothing” and “said nothing,” shouting, “It’s not my business!,” decides to share what he knows with Holly and dies for that decision.[35] The citizens outside of Lime’s apartment building who chase Holly and Anna through the streets of Vienna because they suspect Holly may have killed the porter, and Holly himself, who after twenty years of friendship reluctantly decides that he must be the one to “tie the noose” around Lime’s neck, all choose to “do the right thing,” to act on what they have seen and know to be true about their shared reality.[36] These decisions contrast with the many times that characters in the film insist that they do not want to get involved, do not want to get into any trouble—a desire that seems to confirm Popescu’s (and others’) implicit accusation that many Austrians saw or at least were aware of the atrocities going on around them during the war, but did nothing. Anna, most significantly, fails as a citizen, choosing to remain unwaveringly loyal to the man she loves. Alongside the film’s affirmation of what it takes to be a responsible citizen, however, the third space that it opens up through its play with blind spots and statues works to unsettle, without fully dismantling, any fixities.

Filmed entirely in public spaces or else in private spaces easily intruded upon by outside visitors, The Third Man presents us with a world where privacy is almost wholly nonexistent. Its blind spots are charged with the associations typically attached to the private sphere, described by Hannah Arendt as offering a “sheltered life” set against the “merciless exposure of the polis” (35). The life of privacy, Arendt asserts, is sheltered, protected, and even sacred; its “darkness” and shadows must be hidden from “the implacable, bright light of the constant presence of others on the public scene” (51). In The Third Man’s respect for rather than exposure of blind spots, in which its statue citizenry hover, the film seems to carve out a protected space that is neither public nor private. In so doing it extends the moral and aesthetic reach of film noir, taking seriously the fantasy—for citizens who, much like statues, have to be in public view and cannot hide from the social, or time, or history—of laying down (at least temporarily) the burdens of citizenship. 

Such a gesture, I argue, speaks to the “dream of rest” at the heart of late modernism.[37] In the period leading up to, during, and after the Second World War—as recently explored by literary critics including Tyrus Miller, Jed Esty, Marina MacKay, and Thomas S. Davis—a desire to find respite from the “shock effects” of modernity and from the exhaustion of war becomes more powerful, more collective, and perhaps more understandable than ever before.[38] The contempt that we see expressed in works of high modernism in particular, but also throughout the Western canon, towards those who desire rest over action becomes dulled, even displaced by a concern for how—not whether—respite is to be achieved. As Greene muses in the preface to his autobiography Ways of Escape (1980), “[S]ometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation.”[39] He goes on to quote a line by W. H. Auden: “Man needs escape as he needs food and deep sleep” (9).[40] Within The Third Man, we find a way of escape in the drama staged between the camera and statuary.[41] The film’s mobile aesthetic opens up a third space that offers at least the possibility of setting aside the demands of citizenship in the face of the horrors of war and the realities of a postwar order.

The statues in The Third Man can irritate and unnerve, hinting at what is overlooked; they can trouble the relation between the living and the dead; they can prompt characters to pause and linger, allowing them to recognize something hitherto unnoticed; and they can move into the foreground, creating a deeper awareness of the gulf between the past and present. Together, they trouble the contract of being in public; that is, they suggest that one might know without seeing, or see without knowing, and thus that witnessing may not necessarily entail a call to action. They intimate that there may be a relief—problematic, fraught, and freeing—from an ethics of responsibility. That which lies in the nagging blind spots of vision, hovering yet never fully there, neither seen nor unseen, public nor private, cannot oblige one to act. With nothing more than a bringing-to-awareness that counters the impoverishment that can come with seeing (and knowing) too much, statues offer us the option to decide what to make of all that they—so often ignored and unregarded—mutely point us towards.[42]

Third Spaces

At the very end of The Third Man, there is a perfect perspective view as Holly stands still, waiting for Anna (who is walking towards the camera) to catch up with him. Although his head moves slightly, his body remains still for a full thirty seconds as if he were becoming a statue himself, the scene carried by the unforgettable zither music. After Anna passes Holly and completely ignores his presence, he lights a cigarette and discards the match in a gesture of exasperation or defeat reminiscent of his earlier splashing of water on the putto statue (fig. 14). Dana Polan, in his audio commentary for the Criterion DVD of The Third Man, notes how the film has up until this point been a fast-paced thriller “taking no time for pause” yet here slows down and goes into “real time” with Anna moving from the background to the foreground.[43] While this is true, and the film almost shifts generic modes here amongst the beautiful trees that line the road to the cemetery, the earlier moments of rest by statues also provide slowed-down moments. These, along with this moment in which Holly appears to be “statuified,” to use Elizabeth Bowen’s term, mark the site of a loss, a haunting at once comic and full of its own pathos.[44]

Fig. 14. Beyond the Frame, The Third Man (1949). 

As Anna exits the frame, calling attention to the immobile presence of the fixed camera, this realm beyond hovers at the edges of our vision with its powerful sense of lost narrative possibility as we realize that the potential love story between her and Holly will never flower.

For Reed and for Greene, what is off screen is not just horror and violence that needs to be kept at arm’s length; it is also foreclosed stories, un-bloomed love, shadowy identities, murmurs of maternal lamentation, and silent, hooded hordes swarming over endless plains.[45] All of these press themselves upon our awareness, at the edges of our vision, while also holding back; they present both a loss as well as a welcome respite from modernism’s heroic drive to see, to know, to act, to strive.[46] What is not caught up by a relentless vision, in a network of streets and underground passageways, in a blasted present or a gleaming vision of the future, is permitted to remain in a potential state, urgent, alive, not fully knowable. Statues in the film serve as the gatekeepers of this indeterminate third space, seeming to (or do they?) nod knowingly, weep, wink, smile, all just beyond our sightline or through a trick of vision. The realities of a world shaken by war (again) do not demand outrage or traumatized silence—as White notes, it is part of the film’s tact to not speak directly of the war, as a “popular thriller is not yet the place for overt symbols, moral polemics or serious commemoration” (The Third Man, 43). However, “there is no hiding from history, even or especially when it does not emerge into the open” (43). In The Third Man history’s devastations are indicated through a nagging, playful, oblique, and unsettling aesthetic that manages to keep statues both within and outside of view.                                                                    


I would like to acknowledge gratefully the feedback that I received from Adrienne Brown, Maria DiBattista, Wendy A. Lee, Susan Stewart, and the anonymous readers of Modernism/modernity on previous versions of this article. Their suggestions were generously given and much appreciated.

[1] T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land, in The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose, ed. Lawrence Rainey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), ll. 359, 365.

[2] Unless, that is, we actively seek them out. The way that statues fail to take center stage, so to speak, in The Third Man may relate to an art-historical shift that took place around the time that the film was produced: that is, a moment when traditional statuary was being denigrated by some as outmoded, unable to speak to the modern world, and when there was a celebration of the “new sculpture,” as discussed by Alex Potts in his introduction to The Modern Sculpture Reader, ed. Jon Wood, David Hulks, and Alex Potts (Leeds: Henry Moore Foundation, 2007), xiii-xxx. Published a few years before The Third Man’s release, Arturo Martini’s “Sculpture Dead Language” described sculpture as an outmoded form, rendered absurd in its failure to adapt to modernity: “Poetry, music, architecture, like ancient languages, have been translated into new idioms, by clinging to life. Only sculpture has remained immobile across the centuries, a courtly language, the language of the liturgy, a symbolic writing, incapable of making its mark on daily acts,” Martini, “Sculpture Dead Language,” in The Modern Sculpture Reader, 165–79, 176.

[3] See Andrew Dudley, ed., with the assistance of Sally Shafto, The Image in Dispute: Art and Cinema in the Age of Photography (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997); Susan Felleman, Real Objects in Unreal Situations: Modern Art in Fiction Films (Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2014); Brigitte Peucker, The Material Image: Art and The Real in Film (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007); John A. Walker, Art and Artists on the Screen (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993). For discussions of statues themselves, see Johann Winckelmann, History of the Art of Antiquity (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2006); Gottfried Lessing, Laocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1984); Kenneth Gross, The Dream of the Moving Statue (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992); Michel Serres, Statues: The Second Book of Foundations, trans. Randolph Burks (London: Bloombury Academic, 2015).

[4] This connection has been suggested previously, in Fred Crawford, Mixing Memory and Desire: The Waste Land and British Novels (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1982); and in Ron Rosenbaum, “Thriller of the Century: The Third Man,” New York Observer, January 17, 2000,

[5] Andrew Spicer, Film Noir (London: Longman, 2002), 5.

[6] Anna is played by Alida Valli.

[7] For the purposes of my discussion, I am referring to the thriller as a larger genre, defined primarily by suspense, which encompasses works of noir. “Noir” is traditionally a very slippery term, and much ink has been spilled in attempts to define it. See, for instance, Andrew Spicer and Helen Hanson, A Companion to Film Noir (Oxford: Blackwell, 2013); Wheeler Winston Dixon, Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009); James Naremore, More than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); Geoff Mayer and Brian McDonnell, Encyclopedia of Film Noir (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007). As Joan Copjec puts it, there is an “uneasy sense that we never adequately defined it [film noir] in the first place. This unease is not new, but has bothered criticism of film noir from the beginning. Even the fundamental question regarding the status of film noir—is it a genre or not, does it exist as a coherent body of films or not?—remains, in many critics’ minds, unsettled”: Copjec, introduction to Shades of Noir: A Reader, ed. Joan Copjec (New York: Verso, 1993), vii-xii, x. Such questions remain unsettled to this day, but the darkness of noir, both literal and figurative, is essentially uncontested. As Dixon notes, “Noir functions as a literal and figurative zone of darkness, a place that must be illuminated so that we can see. In all noir films, darkness surrounds the characters within the narrative, threatening to engulf them at any moment. The frame’s blackness seeps into the faces of the protagonists in these doomed films, etching their features with fear and apprehension” (Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia, 3).

[8] Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, and Anne Shirley, Murder, My Sweet, film, directed by Edward Dmytryk (Hollywood, CA: RKO Pictures, 1944). Jonathan Demme, in The Silence of the Lambs, remarkably and famously plays with sightlines in the scene with night vision goggles. Viewers are made hyperalert as, looking through the goggles of the killer, we can clearly see (tinged with green) a helpless Clarice, stumbling and gasping in the dark, the hands holding her gun shaking terribly, while Buffalo Bill closes in: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, and Todd Levine, The Silence of the Lambs, film, directed by Jonathan Demme (Hollywood, CA: Columbia TriStar Films, 1991).

[9] Clearly, there is a difference here between works of detection and mystery that drive towards a final revelation of truth and more paranoid works such as Orwell’s 1984, where there is a pervasive fear of, and danger in, being watched relentlessly, and where blind spots are actively sought out. See also, Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, and Jessie Royce Landis, North by Northwest, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (Beverly Hills, CA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, 1959).

[10] Peter William Evans, in his study of Carol Reed, calls The Third Man a “near neighbour” to Hollywood film noir: unlike this neighbor, Reed’s film “grounds its narrative not in a domestic city but in the chaotic, shattered continental theatre of war, often viewed through Robert Krasker’s tilted lens, chiaroscuro effects, and low angles that exaggerate the size of monuments and buildings towering over dwarfed citizens”: Evans, Carol Reed (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2005), 94.

[11] Judith Adamson, Graham Greene and Cinema (Norman, OK: Pilgrim Books, 1984), 66–67.

[12] Graham Greene, The Third Man and The Fallen Idol (New York: Penguin, 1976), 11.

[13] Rob White, The Third Man (London: British Film Institute, 2003), 46.

[14] Martin Zirulnik refers to this threshold space as a “third Vienna.”  It is, according to Zirulnik, a Vienna that “exists in the margins of what’s presented on-screen, the one that only just eludes viewing,” the place where “Martins shoots and kills his closest friend,” “where he observes Lime’s victims,” and where Anna Schmidt “is afforded no exit.” “Such impressions of a third Vienna, one that belongs neither to Lime nor to the camera, accumulate at the margins of the screen until reaching their clearest expression in the film’s final gesture.” I agree with this articulation of the film’s third space, and will add that, according to my reading, this is the realm of statues. Far from being “a truly miserable and humorless place,” however, I argue that it is a space of play, respite, as well as ethical engagement; Martin Zirulnik, “A Second View: The Third Man from Eye Level,” Los Angeles Review of Books, November 1, 2015,

[15] The opening sequence changed from screenplay to film: initially it depicted a gradual journey but then becomes a “documentary preface.” The shots of the city were taken by a secondary film unit after Reed returned to England. “The only exception was the documentary preface explaining the four-power occupation of Vienna. It was shot by Hans Schneeberger’s unit after the British crew had returned home. If you look carefully, in these early shots you can see the snow which had finally arrived and is entirely absent from the film proper”; Charles Drazin, In Search of The Third Man, First Limelight ed. (New York: Proscenium Publishers, 2000), 56.

[16] As Rob White notes, in The Third Man, there are “twenty-eight different shots in sixty-six seconds” (The Third Man, 8).

[17] Siegfried Kracauer describes how “film is essentially an extension of photography and therefore shares with this medium a marked affinity for the visible world around us. Films come into their own when they record and reveal physical reality”: Theory of Film (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), xlix.  Further, “Pictures which strike us as intrinsically photographic seem intended to render nature in the raw, nature as it exists independently of us” (18). I would differentiate this impulse to linger from the leisurely tempo described by Adamson.

[18] Like The Third Man, Vertigo also centers on a faked death and the person’s seeming rebirth or regeneration. James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, and Henry Jones, Vertigo, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (Hollywood, CA: Paramount Pictures, 1958).

[19] See Drazin, In Search of the Third Man; the photo is also reproduced in Rob White’s The Third Man.

[20] This interior shot was filmed elsewhere, and not in the actual building (Lime’s apartment) that faces the Josefsplatz. Regardless of the reason for this decision, whether artistic or practical, looking out the window and not seeing what is being gestured to has an unsettling effect.

[21] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 55, 57.

[22] Forster Hirsch, The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1981), 6.

[23] At the end of his preface to the prose treatment of The Third Man, Greene brings in a somber note: “Reality, in fact, was only a background to a fairy tale; none the less the story of the penicillin racket is based on a truth all the more grim because so many of the agents were more innocent than Joseph Harbin. The other day in London a surgeon took two friends to see the film. He was surprised to find them subdued and depressed by a picture he had enjoyed. They then told him that at the end of the war when they were with the Royal Air Force they had themselves sold penicillin in Vienna. The possible consequences of their act had never before occurred to them”: Greene, introduction to The Third Man and The Fallen Idol, (New York: Penguin, 1976), 1-11, 11.

[24] One might discuss this in terms of what Alexander Woloch calls “character-space.”  In discussing a particular episode in The Iliad, Woloch notes that “[w]hile the representation of Achilles’ personhood unfolds gradually, over the course of the narrative, Lykaon’s whole being is squeezed into this one brief episode—he gets both ushered into and pushed out of the Iliad scene. Lykaon’s character-space does not have nearly enough time to unfold, just as his character does not enjoy nearly enough freedom after captivity before he is pushed toward his strange death”; Woloch, The One vs. The Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 8–9. Whereas Woloch describes the fate of minor characters in terms of narrative economy and the inherently social problems of inclusiveness and hierarchy within the realist novel, I argue that the fate of Joseph Harbin in The Third Man raises a fundamentally ethical question that has to do with memory, knowledge, and action.

[25] P. D. James, The Murder Room (New York: Vintage, 2004), 173.

[26] This fountain was not in the square originally; Drazin cites one of the workers on the film, who recalls that this prop “must have come off Bob Dunbar’s truck” during filming (Drazin, In Search of The Third Man, 58).

[27] As Rob White notes, Greene referred to his work as his “risen-from-the-dead story” (The Third Man, 10). Evans, in my view interestingly but rather too harshly, notes of this moment: “Harry’s reappearance is a regeneration of evil, the return in monstrous form not just of perverse desires but of a culture’s imperfectly interred collective wickedness. A mainly nocturnal demon, he emerges from the shadows to stalk his victims, the great betrayer who has sacrificed even his devoted mistress Anna for the price of his own infernal salvation, his wickedness easily accommodated by Orson Welles’s persona” (Evans, Carol Reed, 98–99).

[28] Evans touches upon a “pattern of associations linking statues and some characters” in the film, particularly Dr. Winkel, who possesses an “abundant collection of religious ornaments, statuettes of saints, holy relics, crucifixes and so on, drawing attention to the schism in this household between their owner’s official calling as a healer, and his death-dealing involvement in penicillin racketeering, crimes given silent, ironic commentary through the sacred symbols with which he is surrounded” (Evans, Carol Reed, 100).

[29] White differentiates between the view of Calloway, for whom Vienna is a city that “can be watched, staked out, mapped or photographed,” frozen into a “two-dimensional image or diagram,” and the more three-dimensional view possessed by the fugitive. His city is “in motion and topographic; so the fugitive has an advantage. He can move unpredictably, he can remain hidden, and he can move vertically as well as at ground level, on the look out for hiding-places and eyries above” (White, The Third Man, 48). I would simply add to this that Lime’s view of the city is voracious, moving between the abstract vision as seen from on high, and the territorializing view that almost pulls the camera towards his perspective, whether through a window planter or through a city street.

[30] Indeed, Greene was very interested in the question of loyalty and disloyalty, apologizing to V. S. Pritchett for returning “over and over again to this question of loyalty or disloyalty.”  He goes on, “[B]ut isn’t disloyalty as much the writer’s virtue as loyalty is the soldier’s? For the writer, just as much as the Christian Church, is the defender of the individual. The soldier, the loyal man, stands for the mass internment, the common anonymous grave, but the writer stands for the uneconomic, probably unhealthy, overcrowded little graveyard, with the stone crosses preserving innumerable names”; Greene to V.S. Pritchett, in Why Do I Write?: An Exchange of Views Between Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene and V. S. Pritchett (London: Percival Marshall, 1948), 49.

[31] White notes the allusion being made here to the balloon-seller in Fritz Lang’s M (1931) (The Third Man, 40).

[32] Kracauer, in a section on “nascent motion,” discusses “movement as contrasted with motionlessness”: “In focusing upon this contrast, films strikingly demonstrate that objective movement—any movement, for that matter—is one of their choice subjects” (Theory of Film, 44).

[33] The predatory pan and zoom are associated with Lime: we see them earlier, for instance, when the camera, seemingly of its own volition, departs from Holly’s perspective as he looks outside Anna’s window, and pulls our attention through the window-box of plants and across the street to where a figure (Lime) is walking by, only to duck into a darkened doorway. Zirulnik offers an interesting discussion of the later pan and zoom shot (Lime looking down from atop the building) and the ways in which “this famous set piece, which seems to be about nothing more than it is about visual comprehensiveness, displays a remarkable number of gaps and inconsistencies of vision, which are as difficult to spot . . . as they are precise in their implications” (“A Second View”).

[34] Gillian Rose, Mourning Becomes the Law: Philosophy and Representation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 19–20.

[35] According to Hannah Arendt, “Whoever entered the political realm had first to be ready to risk his life, and too great a love for life obstructed freedom, was a sure sign of slavishness. Courage therefore became the political virtue par excellence, and only those men who possessed it could be admitted to a fellowship that was political in content and purpose and thereby transcended the mere togetherness imposed on all—slaves, barbarians, and Greeks alike—through the urgencies of life. The ‘good life,’ as Aristotle called the life of the citizen, therefore was not merely better, more carefree or nobler than ordinary life, but of an altogether different quality. It was ‘good’ to the extent that by having mastered the necessities of sheer life, by being freed from labor and work, and by overcoming the innate urge of all living creatures for their own survival, it was no longer bound to the biological life process.” The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 36–37.

[36] The most ironic lines in the film might be when the corrupt Popescu notes of Lime that “He had a great sense of duty” (59). 

[37] A phrase Trilling uses in “Emma and the Legend of Jane Austen,” in Beyond Culture: Essays on Literature and  Learning, 28–49 (New York: Viking Press 1965), 48.

[38] See Tyrus Miller’s Late Modernism: Politics, Fiction, and the Arts Between the World Wars (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); Jed Esty’s A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004); Marina MacKay’s Modernism and World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); and Thomas S. Davis’s The Extinct Scene: Late Modernism and Everyday Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).

[39] Graham Greene, Ways of Escape (London: Bodley Head, 1980), 9.

[40] This line appears in Auden’s essay “Psychology and Art To-Day,” in The English Auden: Poems, Essays, and Dramatic Writings, 1927–1939, ed. Edward Mendelson (London: Faber and Faber, 1977), 341.

[41] I argue elsewhere that often this “dream of rest” is explored in the intersection between literary works and the visual arts, including not just statuary but photography and painting as well.

[42] John Durham Peters notes that “[t]here can be a poverty, as well as wealth, in explicitness”; “Beauty’s Veils: The Ambivalent Iconoclasm of Kierkegaard and Benjamin,” in The Image in Dispute, 9–32, 12.

[43] Dana Polan, “Audio Commentary,” in The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed (1949; New York: Criterion Collection, 2007), DVD film.

[44] Elizabeth Bowen, “The Happy Autumn Fields,” in The Demon Lover and Other Stories (London: Jonathan Cape, 1952), 114.

[45] See Eliot, The Waste Land, ll.366–76.  According to Greene, long before writing his treatment for The Third Man, he had scribbled on the flap of an envelope the opening of what would become the film: “I had paid my last farewell to Harry a week ago, when his coffin was lowered into the frozen February ground, so that it was with incredulity that I saw him pass by, without a sign of recognition, among the host of strangers in the Strand”; quoted in Norman Sherry, The Life of Graham Greene (New York: Viking, 1995), 2:241–42. It is as if this “host of strangers,” absent from the film, is made present in a ghostlier form.

[46] See especially Enda Duffy’s The Speed Handbook for a discussion of modernism’s celebration of speed—its “adrenaline aesthetic”—as the “single new pleasure” of modernity, one that takes away the critical distance of aesthetic contemplation in a more immersive and sensory experience; The Speed Handbook: Velocity, Pleasure, Modernism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 3. See also Christopher Reed’s introduction to Bloomsbury Rooms: Modernism, Subculture, and Domesticity, where he discusses the contrast between the masculine heroism of the modernist avant-garde and the celebration of a traditionally feminine domesticity: “Le Corbusier conjures the heroic figures of the ‘healthy and virile’ engineer and the ‘big business men, bankers, and merchants’ for whom ‘economic law reigns supreme, and mathematical exactness is joined to daring and imagination.’ The virility of these latter-day heroes is endangered by ‘unworthy houses,’ however, which, Le Corbusier says, ‘ruin our health and our morale’”; Christopher Reed, introduction to Bloomsbury Rooms: Modernism, Subculture, and Domesticity, ed. Christopher Reed (New York: Bard Center, 2004), 1-17, 2.