The Anna Schmidt we see before us now is one in transition; the dolled-up blonde fluttering her false eyelashes at the camera is all but gone. Her relatively seamless blonde wig is left as a crumpled rodent-like mass on her vanity and in seconds a closer shot will show Anna removing her large eyelashes, the last vestige of the character she has been performing. But Anna is not only playing a character for the stage; her role in this comedic German play would not be important enough to trouble an impressively skilled actor like our Anna Schmidt. Breezing through the play, seemingly untroubled by a near flub caused by Holly’s interruption, Anna returns to her dressing room with him to perform her continued role. She first, keeping up with appearances, offers Holly tea and then whiskey but when he refuses, she pulls off the figurative eyelash and replies, “Good. I wanted to sell it.” A little residual honesty spills out like the tea left in the kettle sitting behind Anna, but most of the truth in Anna’s life remains hidden. Indeed, most of Anna’s life must be a part of this intricate act because, like many of the figures we meet in The Third Man‘s Vienna, she would have trouble with the police if the truth came out. But as Holly forces way backstage and then into her dressing room, something in his aggressive intimacy calms her and allows her to reveal her true(r) self. Holly bursts in early with:
Holly: You were in love with him, weren’t you?
Anna: I don’t know. How can you know a thing like that afterwards? I don’t know anything anymore except . . . I want to be dead too.
As Anna’s melodramatic response washes over Holly, his eyes drift down to linger on yet another blonde wig, this one poised on a false head. Where do his thoughts wander? He may be wondering whether this dramatic admission is as authentic as the wigs, eyelashes, or the laughing German girl who was on the stage just moments ago. Our vision of Holly so far has been of a naive figure, one who would be easily taken by a pretty girl’s guile, but perhaps we have underestimated him thus far. Maybe Holly, like Anna or Kurtz or Harry, is simply playing a role for his own benefit. As the dopey romantic “scribbler,” a “writer who drinks too much and falls in love with girls,” Holly has become privy to some sensitive information that will help him in the case he is trying to form. Soon Anna will reveal some choice information about Harry’s “accident” but for now it is striking to see this momentary image of Holly in command.
Standing as he is, reflecting on the duality of Anna, we can see visually portrayed the duality of Holly Martens. His reflection in the mirror, through some trick of the light or some trick of the costume jewelery that obscures a part of his face, seems to be less severe, even jovial. Of course it seems impossible, but the Holly in the mirror has the hint of a smirk on the corners of his mouth. Is this the self-satisfied Holly playing his part well–A man who knows that the imaginary cowboy hat is almost visible on the real Holly’s head as he delves into the secret life of Harry Lime? We should be reminded, of course, that not only is Holly playing a role, but so is Joseph Cotten, in the way he has his entire life.
With a burgeoning film career in the 1940’s, a subject Matt delved into in detail in Still Dots #6, Joseph Cotten is perhaps most famously remembered for his role in Citizen Kane. But, while his role did, as Matt put it, “dispense its own brand of sophisticated Americana,” he was inches away from a different role in that film. Here, Joseph Cotten describes the possibility in F for Fake in 1973, that he would have instead starred in Kane. Interesting to note, Cotten doesn’t talk about “portraying” Howard Hughes but instead “impersonating” him. F for Fake is a film about fakes, frauds and liars, which is a part of this word choice, but it also seems that since the beginning of his acting career, Cotten may have harbored a little deceit in his eyes. Whatever the case, it is strange to think how our world would be different had Kane gone with a different tycoon.
How that alternate Citizen Kane would have turned out we will never know, but if we imagine that Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles could have swapped roles, perhaps they could have swapped roles here as well. Cotten’s brooding look would mean something quite different were he the charismatic and morally ambiguous racketeer and Orson Welles’ smile would be less cloying as the naive scribbler looking for his friend’s secrets. In this instant of self-reflection, we might only imagine that Holly is feeling the same way, wishing that he could have only played that other role, both as Anna’s lover and as the notorious playboy of Vienna he is beginning to unearth. Perhaps in his motivation for this scene, Cotten is thinking back himself, to how he could have been the star and not the charming and supportive friend, and wishing that he could have been the one to stage-whisper, “rosebud.”
Over the absolute length of one year — two times per week — Still Dots will grab a frame every 62 seconds of Carol Reed’s The Third Man. This project will run until December 2012, when we finish at second 6324. For a complete archive of the project, click here. For an introduction to the project, click here.