Second #2418, 40:18, Image © Studio Canal
Holly Martins has finally met Mr. Popescu, the mysterious Romanian who was allegedly at the scene of Harry Lime’s death, along with Baron Kurtz and the unknown “Third Man.” (Not to mention Harry’s own driver, behind the wheel of the truck that struck him.) One wonders if Holly is starting to catch on that none of Harry’s “associates” can really be trusted. He greets Baron Kurtz civilly enough at the beginning of this scene, but always seems to eye him with more than a little suspicion (and who can blame him?). He had also been surprisingly antagonistic towards Dr. Winkel in a previous scene, repeating the incorrect pronunciation of his name (wink-el instead of vink-el) numerous times and disparaging his collection of trinkets and artifacts.
Now, perhaps, Holly wants to believe that Harry’s former cohorts are reputable folks but finds it increasingly difficult to do so. His discussion with Popescu turns almost immediately into a no-nonsense interrogation of him, and when Holly doesn’t get the answers that he wants (namely, that Popescu suspects foul play), he takes on an authoritative tough-guy tone. “Who was the third man?!,” demands Holly grimly. Moments later, he accusatorially mentions to Popescu, “Somebody’s lying…”. Holly even asks Popescu about the mysterious Joseph Harbin, suggesting that his allegiances have started to drift away from Harry Lime and his former “colleagues” to Major Calloway and the forces of official law and order.
On Tuesday, Jeremy mentioned how Holly’s “foolish blowhard mouth” is apt to get somebody killed—he’s a privileged American, traipsing cavalierly through a dangerous postwar city that threatens to swallow up everyone else around him (something to which Holly is, of course, completely oblivious). Holly’s brash exceptionalism raises its ugly head during his conversation with Popescu, too. After asking Popescu about the third man, the Romanian evades the question with broken English: after taking a swig of whiskey, he says, “I oughtn’t to drink it. It makes me acid.” (The latter phrase brings to mind the “black bile” that, in archaic times, was thought to cause anger; is Popescu’s solecism a sign of the violence to come?)
Holly, with no consideration of any kind of repercussions for himself or others, proceeds to tell Popescu that it was Harry’s former porter who admitted to seeing the third man in the first place. Popescu deviously replies with the sort of nationalistic cultural stereotyping that seems prevalent in The Third Man‘s fragmented Vienna: “You’ll never teach these Austrians to be good citizens,” Popescu scoffs after learning that the porter decided not to give his testimony to the police. “It was his duty to give the evidence…even though he remembered wrong.” Only moments later, Popescu evades another potentially incriminating question by pointing out cultural differences instead: when Holly says that Baron Kurtz finds it conceivable that Harry was running some kind of criminal racket (a possibility that Popescu rules out immediately), the Romanian blames a sort of Anglo-Saxon insularity for Kurtz’s suspicions. (Turns out Popescu also buys into a certain brand of cultural exceptionalism.) More than a character quirk, Popescu’s willingness to blame cultural discord for unseemly behavior (including that of which he himself is accused) reflects a turbulent postwar Vienna parceled out to an assortment of foreign powers, not to mention the legacy of a devastating global war that ran on jingoism, xenophobia, and genocide. Popescu’s simply modeling his behavior on the way nations and governments conduct their affairs—a tragic psychosocial affliction shared by characters in movies such as Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Milos Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball (1967), and Emir Kusturica’s Underground (1995), for example.
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.