“The Third Man” & Harsh Lighting: Beyond Tropes

Carol Reed’s The Third Man is a perfect example of the pristine understanding film noir directors had of cinematic technique. Film noir employs the tropes of its genre to create a successful formulaic film. Various other film noir’s that came out in the genre’s heyday use the same formula that allows them to have a choke-hold on success in the movie box office. The narrative appeal of intrigue, mystery, conflict and peril, along with the films having a consistent cast of characters. The Third Man uses the tropes of its genre to its advantage in telling its story of lies, heartbreak, and morally challenging effects of ‘the third man’, Harry Lime (Orson Welles).

img_current_30_118     Taught editing and controlled camera work create a classic addition to the film noir library, with lighting that affirm the character’s ambitions by low-key lighting that cut characters in half with shadow by the hard light. Solidifying it as a demonstration of how technical prowess and proper use of technique makes the difference between a good and bad film. The Third Man relies on the tropes of film noir, which requires the film to be technically flawless in order to make it’s plot stand out more from the countless film noir (ex.The Maltese Falcon, Touch of Evil, The Big Sleep, M, e.t.c.) that were being released during this time.

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The harsh lighting is used to perfection when main character Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) is a victim of mob mentality when a small boy points out that he was in the recently murdered informant’s apartment the previous day. The femme fatale Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli) is also present at the mob and is originally seen as split between light and shadow, shifting into the light as she goes to Holly’s side. The harsh lighting of film noir, especially in The Third Man, demonstrates the fluidity of the line between good and evil. It highlights how people constantly traverse over this moral line between good and bad intentions in their interactions with each other. The Third Man brings this line to the forefront of the character’s actions and interactions with each other, like how Holly and Anna consistently clash on the moral disposition of their shared acquaintance Harry Lime. The two end up on either side of the harsh lighting with Anna’s character figuratively showing her opposite views by being draped in darkness. In direct contrast to Holly who is lit to highlight his concern with the effects of Lime’s crimes. The lighting of the film The Third Man highlights what makes its characters different from the tropes in the film noir canon. It brings attention to Anna’s conflict as she finds out terrible truths about the love of her life, and shows how Holly faces the moral dilemma of being involved with the crime to bring justice to a terrible racketeering scheme. The film noir genre has many classics that demonstrate how technical proficiency is key to a good looking and stand out movie.

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The film noir genre has many classics that demonstrate how technical proficiency is key to a good looking and stand out film. The Third Man effectively uses harsh lighting that brings attention to the characters and how they differ from their prescribed tropes, while also still existing in them to maintain the genre

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