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This is the "æsthetic boldness" and "gamble of a remarkable artist" to which Moss rightly referred. What we have then in the final 66 seconds of the film is a shot which clinches an inevitable and necessary outcome yet does so in a way that is utterly unexpected.
They walk together and are finally seen with her hand through his arm, which inspires the narrator (Calloway) to remark, among other things, that Martins had a way with girls. In stark contrast to this happy ending, Reed's film concludes with a remarkable shot lasting over a minute, with Martins leaning against a wagon in the left foreground as Anna approaches from a great distance, getting progressively closer, and - without so much as a glance in his direction - finally walking past him and out of frame.
Martins then lights a cigarette and in exasperation, throws the match to the ground, after which the picture fades to black (Figures 1-10).
As many commentators have pointed out, Harry's two funerals "bookend" the film, establishing a symmetrical relationship between the beginning and end of the story.
And as is well known, that kind of symmetry, in which the story comes full circle, returning to its point of departure, is one of the most effective devices for achieving closure. "A Third Man Cento," Sight and Sound 59, 1 (Winter 1989/90), pp.
The most extreme interpretation of this kind was proposed by Andrew Sarris (1957): Martins attends Lime's funeral, and waits by the side of the road to speak to Lime's mistress. "The Third Man," Monthly Film Bulletin 16, 189 (September 1949), p.
In one of the most memorable endings ever filmed, the girl walks deliberately past Martins, into the camera and beyond while Martins lights a cigarette to conceal his discomfiture. And even more important is the fact that the shot in Figure 15a-g shows Anna getting progressively smaller on the tree-lined road from the cemetery, as the distance between her and the camera increases. This is the exact opposite of what will happen in the final shot (Figures 1-10), when on the same road, she gradually approaches the camera and progressively fills a larger portion of the screen - the two shots, though of different durations (6 and 66 seconds), standing nevertheless in a symmetrical relationship to one another. Reed's use of an uninterrupted take lasting over a minute, filmed with a stationary camera, and allowing the outcome to unfold in so gradual a manner, with Holly simply standing there as Anna completes her foreseeable trajectory, is unlike any other ending ever filmed. "The Third Man: Capturing the Visual Essence of Literary Conception," Literature/Film Quarterly 2, 4 (Autumn 1974), pp. As the shot continues, we keep wondering whether it will actually go on in real time as it had begun, with no cutting, no camera movement, no close shot of Holly, no spoken lines. [...] With a different final sequence, The Third Man would lose much of its intellectual force. Yet, when Martins shoots Lime at the end, he is able to convince himself that he is acting out of the noblest of motives. Having been torn between a personal loyalty to Lime and a moral obligation to help the authorities arrest him, Martins finally allows his social conscience to take precedence over personal considerations, and that - according to Sarris - is what justifies an ending in which Martins is duly punished for his betrayal of Lime: "The point that Reed and Greene make [...] is that moral responsibility is personal rather than social, especially in a world that has gone awry " (p. Other critics, though adopting a more moderate stance, followed Sarris' lead in viewing the ending as in some sense either deserved by Martins or enhancing Lime's status in our eyes. Martins lacks the self-awareness to realize that his mediocrity conditions his sense of outrage at the evil deeds of a superior human force (op. They include Voigt (1974), Adamson and Stratford (1978), Palmer and Riley (1980) and Moss (1987). Moss, for example, characterizes Martins as "a clumsy and misguided idealist whose unworldliness has deadly ramifications for other people" (p. It is his meddling and inability to cope with the complexities of a dangerous world, which result in the deaths of three men: the porter, Sergeant Paine and Harry Lime. While virtually everyone who writes about The Third Man hails the ending as one of the most mesmerizing in the history of the cinema, those commentators who interpret Anna's walking past Martins at the end generally view it as an expression of the filmmakers' negative judgment of Martins. "The Third Man: Pulp Fiction and Art Film," Literature/Film Quarterly 21, 3 (1993), pp. In other words, the ending is seen by a number of commentators as appropriate and satisfying because it is precisely what Martins deserves! That Anna would never accept Holly Martins as her lover has been made abundantly clear to us in the scene in which Holly shows up drunk at her apartment, late at night, and he declares his love for her. I'm just a hack writer who drinks too much and falls in love with girls... As if all that weren't enough, Holly's prospects for even remaining on civil terms with Anna are dramatically worsened when she realizes, on two occasions, that he has been cooperating with Calloway in setting a trap for Harry. First, at the railroad station, at which time she says to Holly: "Look at yourself in the window - they have a name for faces like that." And later, in the café to which Harry is being lured, when the last words she speaks to Holly are: "Honest, sensible, sober Holly Martins. You must feel very proud to be a police informer." And that was before Lime's death.