A few months ago I rewatched The Third Man. Around the same time I was involved in a lot of discussions on the pros and cons of Film Noir. I started wondering if The Third Man was an example of the genre.
The argument for this is simply the look of the film. It’s hard to think of another movie that is so shadowy and ominous looking. Look at these two shots:
We could easily be in Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles. The palette is gray and grayer. The look feeds the paranoia and confusion of the story. However as the story unravels and the mysteries are solved, we leave L.A. and move firmly into Greenland, the waggish name given to the landscape of the novels of Grahame Green. Great ruminations on morality and guilt ensue. In the end, it is very clear who is evil and who is good…..sort of. That distinction immediately takes it out of the running of being a classic noir.
One of the unfortunate hallmarks of noir is its flagrant misogyny. In The Third Man, however, the moral center, the figure of compassion and pity, the figure of love is Anna, beautifully played by Alida Valli. I read somewhere that the amazing long take at the end of the film when we see Anna approaching from a vanishing point in the distance and finally passing Holly Martins can be considered one of the great scenes of moral rejection in all of cinema. Having such a moral figure, as misguided as she might be, lifts The Third Man out of the morass of conventional film noir.