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Henry Judd

World Politics

A Look at World Politics Through
the Eyes of Two New Films

(27 February 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 9, 27 February 1950, pp. 4–5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is possible on occasion to grasp more of the reality of current “world politics” by examining matters of comparative simplicity which, on the surface, have little bearing on the daily round of press reports, international gatherings, secret negotiations and the rest.

Since the end of the last war, there has developed what Might well be called a new American attitude toward Europe and its people; an attitude which exists not only in those circles of imperialist reaction who deliberately calculate the economic and political exploitation of Europe in American interests, but increasingly among intellectuals and masses.

This is not the place to probe this revised attitude toward Europe at any length, but we should like to illustrate it by citing an example from the movie industry, that most sensitive form of expression for reflecting popular attitudes. We should particularly like to cite this example in contrast with another film, an actual product of that postwar Europe which socialists seek to understand and toward which their thoughts are directed.

The Third Man is the production of a famous English director, but actually – both in conception, acting, story, etc. – it is a product of Hollywood; a characteristic Anglo-American, Anglo-Saxon expression in which Hollywood united with the studios of London to produce the story of a city. The city is Vienna, bombed and partly wrecked by the war, victimized by the black market during its worst days directly following the end of the war. The story, in reality a feeble melodrama, unfolds against the background of the city itself – though it must be remarked that none of the truly attractive and beautiful aspects of this noted architectural center are shown.

It is not our purpose to comment on the picture from any technical or artistic standpoint. Suffice to say that, viewing it as an amateur in such matters, it struck us as entirely dependent upon trickery, contrivance and forced technique. Perhaps the best word is to say bluntly that the film is a phony, from the zither musical background to the artificially contrived scenes of suspense.

A Caricature of Europe

More important is the picture of a people and the portrayal of a city contained in The Third Man. Although Vienna no longer occupies its former intellectual and cultural position – not to mention its merited reputation as a center of progressive and socialist masses who attempted, even if under Social-Democratic leadership; to institute innumerable socially progressive measures in housing, education, child upbringing, etc. – the foul and distorted picture of the city contained in this film is unbearable to those who know the city and its history.

Not an ounce of human sympathy or warmth toward the Viennese people, in their post-war misery, is permitted by the arrogant producers of the film. In fact, the city and its life provide only a convenient backdrop for the absurd melodrama. Its people without exception have the appearance and manners-of gangsters and cutthroats whose entire existence is not infiuenced or shaped by the black market and its effects, but who, rather, consciously and willingly create the black market for their sinister purposes.

True, the “third man” himself is an American, but one gets the impression that these ruthless Viennese doctors, actors and assorted criminals merely made use of him. A charmingly naive Western cowboy and a more sophisticated English officer smash the ring, as gaping Viennese stand by. The Austrians appear solely as police adjuncts to the military government authorities.

In one slanderous scene of a wild taxi ride through,the city at night, a series of Rogues’ Gallery Austrians are shown throwing open windows to stare at the passing cab. Curiously enough, those parts where assembled Viennese tell their tormentors in appropriate Viennese dialect to leave them alone and go home are spoken in German which remains untranslated and inaccessible to audiences.

Pseudo-Vienna and the Real Rome

Much more detail could be given about this vicious and abusive portrayal of a great city still victimized by its occupants. The Third Man is more than another film filled with that worship of violence and brute action now so characteristic of our films.

Of course, it was made primarily for “entertainment” purposes (how that notion has changd!) and we do not suggest that a conscious effort was made to revile a city or people. It is just that the attitude of contempt and superiority toward Europe and its people has now become so widespread and accepted (particularly among Americans), that it finds a quite “natural” and prepared place for expression in such films as this. Europe is a land upon which Anglo-Americans impose their will, and whose demoralized peoples are ready to be bought and sold at any price. Its cities are dehumanized, and its social life an organized gangsterism which, however, requires an Ameriefen’s guiding hand to really make it thrive.

Contrast this with another conception of a European people and their city, contained in the picture The Bicycle Thief. Here is a picture coming out of Europe, post-war Europe, itself. The black market is also the backdrop of this picture, but a properly understood one. Here is a city and a people, with their real and very concrete problems, brought to life and not used as an excuse to describe a story of death. Rome and the Italian people – particularly the walkers of the suburb and factory areas – perform if a rich, warm and human story which speaks the truth and has not a phony episode or scene in it.

The increasingly dangerous attitude of Americans in particular toward Europe now extends to all fields. In politics, we know it well – Atlantic Pact; rearmament programs, etc. But Europe fights back, with whatever weapons it has in hand. It is worth noting that both the Catholic Church and the Kremlin denounced The Bicycle Thief. And what more could be said in its favor?

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Last updated: 8 March 2023

Plastrik (Stanley/Judd) Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 8 March 2023