First-rate `Third Man' is topical after 50 years


February 22, 2002|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The Third Man, featuring the writing-directing team of Graham Greene and Carol Reed at its peak, caps the first two months of the Charles Theatre's Saturday revival series with a double-barreled bang. It's as contemporary in thought and feeling as a classic movie can be.

Consider these ingredients: A divided city with a multinational peacekeeping force; a slippery villain who has no pangs of conscience about peddling diluted penicillin; an American who believes in a cowboy code of honor; a Brit who has few illusions about anybody's innocence and articulates how justice should be done.

The place is post-war Vienna, not a city in the Balkans or a border town in Afghanistan; the villain, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), a suave black marketeer, not a religious zealot or political gangster; the American a pulp writer, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten); and the Brit a military man, Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), not George Bush and Tony Blair.

But add camerawork that views everything at a quizzical angle and a tingling melancholy score for a single instrument - the zither - and you've got a movie that is amazingly up-to-the-minute five decades after its premiere. The show starts at noon; admission is $5. Next attraction: Bob le Flambeur, on March 2.

All Altman

Sundance Channel honors Academy Award-nominee Robert Altman in March with airings of several Altman films, including his marvelous update - and wisening-up - of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye (9 p.m. March 14); his grueling collage of Los Angeles life, Short Cuts (9 p.m. March 2, 11:30 p.m. March 10); and his most neglected movie, Vincent and Theo (11 p.m. March 7, 9 p.m. March 10).

In Vincent and Theo, Vincent van Gogh isn't exactly a frustrated genius - he does express himself fully through his art. But he could be called a genius of frustration. Perception and paint aren't sufficient for his radical quest to absorb the world through his skin and imbue it with his spirit. He's doomed to affliction and annihilation.

As van Gogh, Tim Roth has the insight and the talent to show the different speeds of Vincent's unstoppable aesthetic drive; he conveys the alertness and receptivity that make his masterpieces possible. And Paul Rhys brings Vincent's brother Theo a nerve-racked sensitivity that overflows with pathos. Theo's existential calamity is that he's not even the tragic hero of his own life. Vincent is.

`All Arts Festival'

The grand finale to Creative Alliance's "Baltimore Juried All Arts Festival" arrives tomorrow night at 8, at 413 S. Conkling St. It's a program of films and videos chosen by former Sun and current Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday Greenia; Gabe Wardell, the guiding hand behind Cinema Sundays at the Charles; and filmmaker and TV writer Joy Lusco.

Promised highlights include a lead role for a bagel. The honored filmmakers are Skizz Cyzyk, K.L. Burdette, Bill Dewald, Brian Weaver, Christopher Kruplarz, Jill Johnston-Price, Katrina Heiser, Paul Anderson, Erin Davies, Kristen Anchor and Paul Santomenna. For Creative Alliance members, admission is free; it's $5 for everyone else. Call 410-276-1651.

Cinema Sundays

Cinema Sundays showcases the latest and least typical release from the Dogme 95 movement: Lone Scherfig's warm and mellow Italian for Beginners, an ensemble comedy-drama set in Copenhagen. Scherfig reveals unexpected glints of romance and humor in the lives of a half-dozen men and women as they take a night course in Italian, trying to brighten up the Danish winter and their haunted souls. It will be my pleasure to host. Doors open at the Charles at 9:45 a.m.; the movie begins at 10:30. Admission is $15. For information, including reduced admission for members, go to

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