Saturday, November 5, 2016

Black and White Is Beautiful

Thanks to Turner Classic Movies and my DVR, I recently watched two pretty good movies.

The first was from 1948 and director Carol Reed, "The Third Man" starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Trevor Howard, and Alida Valli and was based on a Graham Greene novel.  The movie takes place in post-WW II Vienna when American hack novelist Holly Martens (Cotton) comes to look up his old friend, Harry Lime (Welles).  Only trouble is, Lime is now dead, and Holly sets out to discover what happened to him.

Seems that there was more to Harry's death than meets the eye.  In fact, it seems that there was more to Harry than his pal Holly ever thought, and the more that Holly noses around, the more that the American, British, French, and Russian forces that patrol and monitor the occupied city of Vienna want Holly to get out and on a plane back to America.

The nominal star of this movie is Orson Welles, and he is great in it, from the time he makes his first appearance about an hour into the movie.... a subtly frightening scene on a Ferris wheel, to a speech about a cuckoo clock, and concluding with a chase through the underground sewers of Vienna.  However, the real stars of this movie are the city of Vienna, still ravaged from the bombings of the war and now plagued by black marketeers, the visually stunning black and white scenes that mix shadows and light (cinematographer Robert Krasker won an Oscar for it), and a score that was played by Anton Karas on a zither that as much a "character" in the movie as any actor.  The movie several memorable scenes including the aforementioned Ferris wheel and sewer scenes, and a memorable closing shot with Cotton and Miss Valli.

"The Third Man" is considered an all-time great by many critics and film historians, and I won't argue the point.  Well worth seeing.

The second movie was a 1962 thriller from director Blake Edwards.....

This one stars Lee Remick, Glenn Ford, Ross Martin, and Stephanie Powers. Remick plays a bank teller who is terrorized by bad guy Martin who tells her he has to rob her own bank for him.  If she doesn't, or if she calls the cops, he will kill her or her younger sister (Powers), or both of them, and probably not before having his evil way with them either.   Remick does call in the FBI and Agent John Ripley (Ford) takes on the case of trying to find out who the bad guy is, foil the plot to rob the bank, and, oh yeah, protect Remick and Powers in the process.

The movie essentially becomes a police procedural that highlights the often tedious and difficult work of tracking down an unknown perpetrator.  Like "The Third Man", this movie's black and white filming highlights the grittiness of the story.  It also features a terrific score by Henry Mancini that accentuates the story being told.  And Ross Martin makes the villain, Red Lynch, one of the more evil pieces of work you will ever see on screen.  Since this was made in 1962, you don't see a lot of violence right in front of you, but you know the evil of which Lynch is capable, and you know it could happen at any moment.  The movie's climax also takes place in the then brand new baseball park, Candlestick Park, which is kind of cool for any ball park geeks among you. 

"Experiment in Terror" was a departure for Blake Edwards, who specialized in lighter romances and comedies ("Breakfast at Tiffany's", the Pink Panther movies), but he  certainly delivered the goods in this movie. This movie is not on anyone's All-Time Great Movies list, but it is a good one that fans of thrillers should make a point of seeing.


You may have seen one common thread in both of these movies - both were done in black and white.  I once heard director Peter Bogdanovich say that more movies should be filmed in black and white, as it would lend more credence and character to the story being told.  In thinking of recent movies that I have seen off the top of my head, I believe that the dark and gritty story told in the current "The Girl On The Train" would, in fact, have been better told if it was filmed in black and white.  Certainly, the moods that were created in "The Third Man" and "Experiment in Terror" were due in large part to the black and white photography.  They would probably have still been good movies were they filmed in color, but I don't think that they would have been AS good, and they certainly would not have been better than their B&W incarnations.

I think Bogdanovich was right.  I think that more movies should be made in black and white.

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