Classic Scene: Ferris Wheel

Ferris Wheel

The Third Man (1949)

Directed by Carol Reed

The Scene: The belief that his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) was dead is what has had Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) navigating the complex and secret-filled world of Post-War Vienna. But Lime is very much alive, and eventually Martins confronts Harry at the famed Ferris wheel, Wiener Riesenrad. Safely in one of the cabin Harry plays it cool with his old friend who has learned about the formerly dead man’s crimes and wants answers. Eventually, Harry calmly discusses the cheapness with which he regards human life as the two men circle around seeing a bird’s eye view of the boardwalk beneath them. They exchange heavy dialogue, complete with nonchalant threats from Lime against his friend and his new love interest Anna. Once the circle around is complete, we have some parting words asking Martins to join in his plot before Harry Lime vanishes once more.

The Breakdown: This film is often cited as British cinema’s greatest contribution to the film noir movement. Director Carol Reed is at the top of his game throughout this movie, in particular his use of unique and imaginative cinematography. With this scene taking place within a 212 ft. structure which remains in constant motion we see through the windows of their ride vehicle the shifting and changing of scenery. It is done in a way which is almost disorienting and gives the audience a sense of unease. Grounding us in this moment are the two actors who play their parts perfectly. For my money Joseph Cotten is does not get the respect he deserves for as good as he was as an actor, but it is his co-star and frequent collaborator Orson Welles who owns this scene. With his famed sense of largess, he dominates his surrounding with a sly and sinister charm, delivering rapid fire grandiose dialogue. Many have claimed The Third Man is the greatest performance of the cinema icon’s career and they have a strong argument to this claim.

Best Bit: Harry Lime’s quick spiel comparing Italy and Switzerland. For all of their warfare and political upheaval over the centuries Italy has given us: the Roman Empire, the Renaissance etc. But Switzerland, a society of brotherly love, they have given us the cuckoo clock.