Second #4402, 73:22, Image © Studio Canal
At military headquarters, Anna is being ushered up a desolate staircase by a throng of officers as Holly spots her approaching. Anxiously, he tries to break through their protective entourage in order to divulge what she still does not know: Harry Lime is alive. “I’ve just seen a dead man walking!,” Holly says to her incredulously. “I saw him buried, and now I’ve seen him alive!” The uncanny thus raises its monstrous head again, though Holly is aware that there’s no black magic going on here: the corpse inside of Harry’s coffin is actually that of Joseph Harbin, the hospital employee who supplied Harry and his gang with their black-market penicillin. It is at this point that Major Calloway—a character positioned somewhere between grizzled empathy and callous bureaucracy, whom both Holly and the audience still can’t make up their minds about—emerges from his office. Disinterested in Anna’s forged passport, Calloway pulls Anna aside to grill her about Harry Lime’s whereabouts (a poignant interrogation we’ll save for next week).
As a character, Calloway seems at first glance like little more than a narrative cog in the machine: a foil to Holly’s lone investigator, a device to provide information and push the story along. As played by Trevor Howard, though, Calloway comes off as something a little more than this (especially later in the film). A British major stationed in Vienna in 1949, Calloway must certainly have seen action during the war; as such, his stony, world-weary demeanor may be a result of his presumably sobering military stint. For most of the first part of the film, Calloway is too busy deflecting Holly’s petulant criticisms to show much of a human side; but it may be the scene in which he proves Harry’s guilt to Holly (utilizing a wealth of filmstrips, photographs, fingerprints, handwriting samples, and so on) that we get a fleeting yet revealing glimpse of Calloway’s empathy. True, at first Calloway’s buddy-buddy friendliness seems like a ploy to get Holly on his side: he flatters Holly by mentioning his book The Lone Rider of Santa Fe immediately after revealing that Harry is actually a murderer. Yet after Calloway’s parade of evidence, before Holly returns to his hotel for what he presumes to be his last night in Vienna, Calloway offers a surprisingly heartfelt “I’m sorry, Martins.” It is also immediately after Holly’s departure that the Russian MP enters Calloway’s office regarding Anna’s forged passport; Calloway responds with a disheartened, “We’re not really going to pick her up for that, are we?” The Russian officer responds by saying, “What can we do? We have our instructions,” which is echoed by the British officer who tells Anna, right before she’s escorted to military HQ, “Sorry, miss, it’s orders. We can’t go against the protocol.” This “I was only following orders!” mea culpa offers an indirect connection to wartime atrocities, what with the common excuse that German soldiers were only obeying Hitler’s orders. War is thus seen as a bureaucratic system in itself, run not unlike a modern business in which the obedience of subservients is necessary for the enterprise to function.
We’ve briefly discussed the star personae and extracinematic public image of Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, and Alida Valli; it might be time we do so for Trevor Howard as well. One of the most well-known actors in British postwar film, Howard actually got his start on the stage at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art; he even turned down a contract offered by Paramount in 1935, choosing to work on the stage rather than in film (at least initially). After volunteering for (but being turned down by) both the Royal Air Force and the British Army after the start of the war, Howard was called up to the airborne division of the Royal Corps of Signals in 1940; he fought in the Allied invasion of Sicily and parachuted into Nazi-occupied Norway. Stories of Howard’s wartime courage were distributed widely in the press following the start of his film career, but many of these tales were revealed to be fabrications by publicists and studios. (In actuality, Howard was eventually discharged from the army for mental instability and a purportedly “psychopathic personality.”)
Howard began dabbling in film after the war, at which time a role in 1945’s The Way to the Stars led to his breakout performance in David Lean’s Brief Encounter (also 1945). The appeal of international travel nudged him away from theater towards film, and soon came his role as Major Calloway—thus establishing a hard-eged yet shrewd persona for which Howard would soon become semi-typecast. (In the “interesting trivia” category: while shooting The Third Man, Howard, still in his British MP costume, wandered the Russian sector of Vienna and was promptly arrested by Russian soldiers. He was returned to the film’s set as soon as his identity was ascertained.) Throughout his career, Howard worked often with David Lean and stood out in performances (on both stage and screen) ranging from Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew to Ingrid Bergman’s paramour Løvborg in Hedda Gabler to the head of the Kryptonian Council in Superman. From 1947 to 1952 Howard was deemed one of British cinema’s top ten box office draws, a fact which points towards The Third Man‘s big-budget, prestige production status (given Howard’s relatively small role in the film).
For some reason I want to imbue the character of Calloway with a great deal of poignancy and melancholy, perhaps because of Howard’s natural magnetism in the role. If Calloway did experience the traumas of war firsthand (as Howard himself did), how does he feel now, stuck in a postwar Vienna that is still occupied by foreign troops, in which soldiers continue to operate by “only following orders,” in which systematized violence (epitomized by Harry’s black-market criminality) continues after the war, transformed yet unabated? For Calloway, does it simply seem like the cycle of war and inhumanity is repeating itself? Like the soldier Henslowe in John Dos Passos’ novel Three Soldiers, does Calloway think that human existence is defined by “organizations growing and stifling individuals and individuals revolting hopelessly against them, and at last forming new societies to crush the old societies and becoming slaves again in their turn”? Admittedly, there’s little in Howard’s performance to suggest this bleak resignation; Calloway really does seem like a dutiful if world-weary soldier. But I also believe a great deal of sadness can be read in this character’s eyes. Maybe this is why, when he witnesses Holly Martins’ realization that his close friendship with Harry has become frayed by the latter’s inhumane actions, we see Calloway’s heavily-fortified personal armor weaken for the first time, revealing a begrudging empathy for Holly’s sudden reckoning with a cruel, war-ravaged world.
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.