Sunday, 1 November 2009


Excuse the awful puns below - they're courtesy of writer David Thomson, not one of my favourite critics but what the hey... FILM BLOG
Leonardo DiCaprio's Third Man remake is a cuckoo-clock idea
No Orson. No zither. No masterful expressionism. Tobey Maguire instead of Joseph Cotten. Ageless 'pod actors' instead of worry-lined titans. Maybe you shouldn't step in the Turd Man, Leo

Twist of Lime … Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator and Orson Welles in The Third Man

Hold on to something firm and reliable, please this paper has no wish to cause accidents. Some stories hurt. Thus, there is a rumour going around that Leonardo DiCaprio is thinking of playing Harry Lime in a remake of The Third Man with Tobey Maguire as Holly Martins, the Joseph Cotten part.

For the moment, I thought, just concentrate on age to explode this nightmare. Yes, it's true that Orson Welles's Harry Lime was baby-faced in a way that was inescapable if Welles was involved. But Harry Lime, I thought to myself – he's a villain who's gone through the war in the black market; he's a sewer rat in Vienna after the peace; he's a trafficker in diluted penicillin and so he reduces children to madness and death. This man has lived. Whereas, Leonardo DiCaprio is a boy still. We realized that last year in Revolutionary Road, for as he and Kate Winslet were reunited after their hit in Titanic, it was plain to see and feel that she had grown older and sadder, while Leonardo was really no older or wiser than Tom Cruise managed between, say, Risky Business and Mission Impossible. Our actors these days don't age much – and they certainly don't mature. So how is Leonardo (so used to being lovable) going to find the nerve to be Lime without immense stupidity on his side?

That's what I thought. But then I looked it up. In 1948, when Orson made The Third Man, he was thirty-three – DiCaprio is already thirty-five! What better proof could there be of my just-mentioned principle that we are in an age of pod actors, not subject to ordinary human processes like ageing, thinking and worrying? So Leonardo could say, "Come on, I'm ready!"

And Tobey Maguire is thirty-four – so that works!!!! Except that it begins to lose a very important undertone in the original movie: Joe Cotten was 10 years older than Welles, and thus Holly Martins was all the sadder – an older man who had apparently been infatuated with Lime's poisoned charm. It made their relationship all the more poignant in that Martins had to learn to see Lime in the cruel light of day.

So the actors can easily think the casting is great! And maybe you do, too! Am I the only one out of my mind and desperate?

Let me go further: The Third Man relied on black-and-white photography by a master named Robert Krasker; and it grew out of the application of that imagery to the nocturnal streets and underground tunnels of war-torn Vienna. In the minds of its makers – producer Alexander Korda, director Carol Reed, and author Graham Greene – it was a study in the physical and mortal wreckage left by the second world war. It needed the faces of supporting actors who had come close to starving; and it needed the refugee look of the heroine, played by Valli, a woman who had only just survived the war. It needed the brusque Trevor Howard as the policeman, and it needed people like Bernard Lee, Wilfrid Hyde-White and Geoffrey Keen. It needed that music, played on the zither by Anton Karas; it needed the acuity of its several makers, their ability to look at their world and find a story that caught the shabby moment of 1948.

Now maybe some latter-day talents (at the level of Korda, Reed and Greene; Welles, Cotten and Howard) are going to place this new Turd Man in a modern equivalent of Vienna – in Baghdad, say, or New Orleans (some great city that has been given up). Maybe. Or maybe we need an organized early-warning system whereby thousands of us could email Leonardo and say, look, whatever you do, don't go near The Third Man, because we are all of us ready to put a curse on you in which not going to see the Turd Man is just the first step. After that, we get nasty.


Some of those scenes of the underground tunnels were actually shot at Shepperton Studios because Welles wasn't comfortable working in the real thing (though it wouldn't be the last time he would appear in shit), but other than that, Thomson's right. What next? A remake of Stagecoach? Oh, it's been done... Twelve Angry Men? Um... Psycho? Well...


  1. Is that a picture of Paul scuttling past The Bacchus in High Bridge?

  2. Tobey Maguire is still a boy. He may be in his 30s, but he has no weight behind him. Any life experience he has fails to come across on the movie screen. Leo is faring somewhat better. For me, his acting is hit or miss. The Gangs of New York needed much better casting. Leo and Cameron Diaz? That worked out perfectly....