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Mary Irvine’s Blog: The Most Dramatic Shot In The History Of Cinema

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Mary Barton – Brief Encounter

Many older people will remember the film’ Brief Encounter’ starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. But do you remember the young girl who served them tea in the station waiting room? Beryl. In real life the actress Margaret Barton, 90 this year and the last surviving member of the cast.   

In a recent radio interview she praised the work of the director, David Lean. She remembered him telling her
it wasn’t dialogue people remembered from a film but a picture, a scene. It brought to mind my own personal favourite snapshot - and one acclaimed by critics as one of the greatest ever – which comes from a film probably most remembered by its haunting theme, played on a zither!    

The Third Man  

Starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, ‘The Third Man’ was filmed, in 1949, entirely amongst the still ravaged streets of
war-torn Vienna. The film is well on its way before we even see Welles, as his character, Harry Lime, is reported as being killed in a road accident although his friend, Holly Martins, believes the story is not so clear-cut and sets out to discover the truth.

Picture the scene. A cobbled street of shadows and interrupted moonlight, a cat slinks alongside a wall, it meows, it comes up against a large brogue and licks the shoe. Holly challenges who is there, a light goes on in a window. And for a few seconds we see the affable face of Welles, enigmatic, a suggestion of a smile and the light is extinguished. In a film where there is much emphasis on faces this one is the one we remember for it is not the face of  the man Lime is eventually revealed to be,
a black marketeer/drug dealer who has caused the deaths or mental handicap of many children.

Lean could have made it the face of a monster, as Lime is, but he didn’t. In those few seconds he had drawn us in. Brilliant!

Mary Irvine, August, 2016.

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Publisher of Pat’s Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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