Saturday, 16 March 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1949: Orson Welles in The Third Man

Orson Welles did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Harry Lime in The Third Man.

The Third Man is a fantastic film about a writer Hollis Martins (Joseph Cotton) who comes to Vienna to meet his old friend Harry Lime, but finds himself investigating the apparent death of his old friend.

This is not a case of Welles appearing flashback as Harry as he does not appear until well in the film as Hollis comes closer to finding out that there is something fishy about Lime's "Death". Hollis still thinks Lime is death until someone seems to be following him only revealed to be Harry himself in what has to be one of if not the greatest introductions to a character in film. The setup of the scene is of course brilliant by just how suddenly we see him considering the build up to his appearance before this point. A lot of things have been said about Harry suggesting many things about the man, but this is the first time we actually get a good look at him.

Welles performance as Lime though contributes greatly to just how good his entrance with his perfect reaction to seeing Hollis notice him. His smile is absolutely perfect conveying the charm of Lime beautifully along with his mischievous quality. You don't even Hollis to say Harry Welles shows in this single reaction that this is the Lime everyone was talking about all along. Welles could not be more brilliant in that expression that conveys pretty much the entire outlook of Harry the whole time which is too have a considerably good time the whole time all the while having a very sinister quality that somehow is part of that very same smirk.

Welles actually only has about four scenes with two of them being very short. His second scene is when he is called out to meet Hollis at an amusement park. Welles is amazing in this scene as he welcomes Hollis with open arms as a good friend would. Welles is outstanding as he creates this very particular sort of dynamic in his performance. On one side whenever he is talking about his exploits, despite being very horrendous in nature, he talks about them like he is just a kid having some fun and making some money. He has a great deal of charm, and enthusiasm here that shows perfectly that Lime's amorality is something that he has gotten a great deal of enjoyment from.

The dynamic that Welles makes though is the way he can switch from his friendly demeanor to that of the brutal criminal he is. Welles brings this moments out in a very effective fashion because he shows it is only when he can't contain his true nature when he believes Holly has done something he won't like. He pulls up and down this scale brilliantly from the true friend, to the true threat to every place in between all in a marvelous fashion. His moment where he tells Hollis of his philosophy about the world  his line "Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever" is particularly chilling because of just how relaxed he is about the rather despicable thoughts he holds. 

This leaves only the very end of the film where Lime is cornered and must make his escape through the sewers of Vienna. This is a very physical performance at this time by Welles, and he contributes to the scene greatly by showing that smile leave Lime completely as he slowly gets more and more surrounded by the police. This leads to one final scene with a defeated Lime and Hollis exchanging one more look. This is a great moment for one because Welles so effectively shows Lime's desperation as the police have finally got the best of them, but also he and Cotton show in just this small moment that the two really were friends in the end. Welles's portrayal of Lime's acceptance is actually quite moving thanks to the history he and Cotton suggest in such a short moment. This is a perfect supporting performance by Orson Welles. He honestly could not be better in the role, and he makes Harry Lime one memorable villain. What is so astonishing about his work here is the fact that he does it all with such short amount of time. He makes the most out of each and every one of his moments in the film and has just a tremendous impact.


Michael Patison said...

I agree so completely with literally every point you made, especially about how amazing his impact was in such a short amount of time. Before I saw this for the first time, I had heard about how amazing he was and thought he was probably in the film quite a bit. Then I obviously watched it and saw I was wrong, but it doesn't matter because Welles is so astonishingly good.

I've seen him in this, Touch of Evil, and Citizen Kane, and I have been impressed by all three, though I will say that I find his work in Touch of Evil to be the best, with this performance as a close second.

Michael Patison said...

Recently saw Torch Song Trilogy and Harvey Fierstein and Matthew Broderick both give performances that are worth a watch, leading and supporting respectively. It's a 1988 film.

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