This frame marks a sea change in the character of Major Calloway, a man whose brusque and callous nature has painted him as Holly’s antagonist throughout this film. We have occupied Holly’s gaze for much of this film, seeing Calloway as a suit, a figure that stands for an authoritarian view of society. Calloway has been Holly’s personification of “the man,” even if he is a particularly friendly one, and each time he has insisted that Holly should leave on the morning plane he has only cemented that position more securely. Like the hard-boiled detectives he must have read about, Holly’s interactions with Calloway have been ambivalent. He takes as much information as he can from them, but doesn’t stick to their code. Instead, Holly patterns himself on Marlowe and Spade, operating under his own moral system, one that, though tattered, is unbreachable. As Philip Marlowe once told a cop buddy:
“I’m a romantic, Bernie. I hear voices crying in the night and I go to see what’s the matter. You don’t make a dime that way. . . No percentage in it at all.”
Holly, like Philip Marlowe, cannot be bothered to break his moral code for money. He has stayed in this city licking up the scraps of his literary celebrity for one reason, his own romantic spirit. Whether his blossoming, but unrequited, love for Anna, his devout belief in Harry’s inherent goodness, or his romantic delusion that he is a detective looking for the truth, it is Holly’s romantic nature that keeps him in Vienna. Holly could likely be somewhere else, making a living without a life on the line, but like Marlowe, he is a romantic living in a world that isn’t. In his introduction to F for Fake, Orson Welles quotes the great magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, who said “A magician is just an actor. Just an actor playing a magician.” In that sense, perhaps, a detective is just an actor too, playing a detective. And Holly, a romantic novelist playing a detective, may be even further from reality, living on a moral code that stifles him but not those around him. And he’ll soon come face to face with that realization. For now, though, let’s turn back to the frame itself, one that displays only the corner of Holly’s hat, but is dominated by Calloway looking dreamily off camera right, his open expression surprisingly welcoming when compared to the scowl he has customarily worn throughout this film.
Here, we see Calloway as a truly compassionate figure for the first time. Rather than chastising Holly for sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, as he has at almost every other interaction so far, he admits that he was wrong, and that Holly hasn’t been wrong to keep investigating. “We should have dug deeper than a grave,” he says while identifying the body that has been buried in Harry’s place. This offers us what is perhaps our first chance to switch our perspectives around a bit, and see the story through Calloway’s eyes. Just as Holly can begin to see Calloway’s side of the story, so can we let go of our doubts and understand how this man has seen everything all along. Reflection in eyes has been a long-lasting trope in cinema, from James Bond in Goldfinger(1964) seeing an attacker reflected in a woman’s eye to Agent Cooper of Twin Peaks(1990) seeing a motorcycle, but as we can see the glimmer of humanity in Calloway’s eyes, we can almost see Holly’s image reflected back in them. And, at least to Graham Greene’s original Major Calloway, Holly looked like this:
I made my first note on him for my security police files: “In normal circumstances a cheerful fool. Drinks too much and may cause a little trouble. Whenever a woman passes raises his eyes and makes some comment, but I get the impression that really he’d rather not be bothered. Has never really grown up and perhaps that accounts for why he worshipped Lime” (Greene,The Third Man, Penguin Books, 1949, pg. 13).
Though this Calloway lives in a different world, a literary world where Holly’s name is Rollo, his description seems to hold water when compared to the cheerful fool we can now see reflected in Calloway’s eyes. Our literary Calloway is a much more introspective figure than the harsh paper-pusher we see on the screen. His inner monologue seems much more aware than Holly’s, focusing not on the trivial squabbles of Americans in Vienna, but on the tragedy that is the city itself, which he calls “the smashed dreary city of Vienna.” Somehow this film has managed a remarkable switch in perspective. Although we’ve been saying all along what a fool and blowhard Holly is, we’ve never truly had any alternative to his point of view. Now, all of a sudden, his perspective will pull a full 180. Holly, finally convinced by Calloway to open his eyes and drop his belief in the infinite power of childhood friendship, has begun to entertain the idea that Harry is indeed a criminal, a brigand, maybe even “about the worst racketeer that ever made a dirty living in this city.” And not only that, but our view, which has followed Holly’s eyes to the hard shadows stalking him at every corner, has suddenly pulled out to reveal the whole workings of this dirty city. Normally, a paradigm shift of such monumental scale would necessitate a narrative twist, a tactic which fails almost as often as it succeeds, but what is so remarkable about this film is that Calloway has been telling us this story all along. Now, all of a sudden, we—and Holly—believe it.
Last week, Matt delved into the action going on in this scene, the exhumation of a body, drawing comparisons to the countless bodies exhumed in The X-Files. But while the body is important in this scene, we never see it, except—again—reflected in Calloway’s eyes. We watch him see the body after the coffin is lifted and thrown open. But coffins themselves, even without bodies in them, occupy a terrifying position in horror cinema. Whether a vampire like Nosferatu (1922) or a creature like Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) the coffin has never brought with it good connotations. And like Jonathan Harker in Dracula, it may be even more terrifying to find the coffin empty, and to know that what might have been in it is lurking somewhere unknown, maybe even somewhere close by. Our coffin, empty to our camera eye, carries with it all of the creatures that have occupied coffins in the past, and even when Calloway identifies the body, he knows that somewhere far off, Harry is alive.
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.