The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
Has there ever been a film where the music more perfectly suited the action than in Carol Reed's "The Third Man"? The score was performed on a zither by Anton Karas, who was playing in a Vienna beerhouse one night when Reed heard him. The sound is jaunty but without joy, like whistling in the dark. It sets the tone; the action begins like an undergraduate lark and then reveals vicious undertones.
The story begins with a spoken prologue ("I never knew the old Vienna, before the war. . ."). The shattered postwar city has been divided into French, American, British and Russian zones, each with its own cadre of suspicious officials. Into this sinkhole of intrigue falls an American innocent: Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), alcoholic author of pulp Westerns. He has come at the invitation of his college chum Harry Lime. But Lime is being buried when Martins arrives in Vienna.
How did Lime die? That question is the engine that drives the plot, as Martins plunges into the murk that Lime left behind. Calloway (Trevor Howard), the British officer in charge, bluntly says Lime was an evil man, and advises Holly to take the next train home. But Harry had a girl named Anna (Alida Valli), who Holly sees at Lime's grave, and perhaps she has some answers. Certainly Holly has fallen in love with her, although his trusting Yankee heart is no match for her defenses.
"The Third Man" (1949) was made by men who knew the devastation of Europe at first hand. Carol Reed worked for the British Army's wartime documentary unit, and the screenplay was by Graham Greene, who not only wrote about spies but occasionally acted as one. Reed fought with David O. Selznick, his American producer, over every detail of the movie; Selznick wanted to shoot on sets, use an upbeat score and cast Noel Coward as Harry Lime. His film would have been forgotten in a week. Reed defied convention by shooting entirely on location in Vienna, where mountains of rubble stood next to gaping bomb craters, and the ruins of empire supported a desperate black market economy. And he insisted on Karas' zither music ("The Third Man Theme" was one of 1950's biggest hits).