"the end of the affair"
a commentary by Tony McRae


We are at Harry Lime's second funeral.  This time it's for real.  The only ones in attendance are Anna Schmidt (Valli), Harry's mistress; Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), Harry's erstwhile friend; and Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) who is in charge of divided Vienna's British sector.  

After dropping a spoonful of dirt onto the casket (1), Anna leaves the grave and walks briskly toward the gate.   Major Calloway and Holly climb into a jeep, and if they hurry Holly can get to the airport in time for his plane back to America.  They drive past Anna as she walks briskly, her eyes fixed straight ahead.  Martins, who is clearly in love with Anna, asks the major to stop.  He grabs his satchel and gets out (2), ever the optimist.  He walks over to a cart (3), leans against it and waits.  Anna is some distance off (4).  The tree-lined way is strewn with the leaves of the nearly bare trees which line both sides of the cemetery main entrance.  Calloway looks back at Holly, no doubt thinking what a poor besotted fool he is.  He leaves the two to their own problems.  Anna is still a ways off.  Holly puts his hands in his pockets and tries to assume a casual air .  Anna comes abreast of Holly, eyes forward as if he is not there (5).  She does not falter, passes him and walks out of the frame (6).  Holly takes out a cigarette, lights it as he continues to lean against the cart.  He throws the match onto the path.  The picture fades to black (7).

Anna's walk from graveside takes some two minutes of screen time, a rather extraordinary length when there is no action save the woman's striding toward and past the camera.  In his screenplay Graham Greene had Holly and Anna walking together without a word.  But director Carol Reed chose the now famous ending in which Anna walks out of Holly Martins' life.  Greene later admitted that Reed "has been proved triumphantly right."  He goes on to say that he had not considered "the mastery of Reed's direction" nor "the brilliant discovery of Mr. Karas, the zither player."  But is this enough to justify Reed's sober ending rather than Greene's happy one?

Anna Schmidt probably could, with Major Calloway's assistance, get out of Vienna with Holly, go to America and lead a pleasant post-war life of relative comfort.  Why not choose Holly over a dead Harry Lime?  She does, in fact, confuse their names on several occasions.  Holly seems to have no dark side, while Harry is darkness lightly covered with a veneer of humanity.  So why not this kind and rather sympathetic American?  Why not escape the rubble that is Vienna?

But there is something else going on here.  The fact that Harry Lime is decisively dead does not affect Anna's emotions, her reasons for loving him.  

Anna Schmidt remains impervious to Holly Martins (8) not because she doesn't feel something for him, but because of her prior relationship with Harry.  It is significant that at Harry Lime's first funeral she refuses to throw dirt onto his coffin.  One might think that a second time around, when she is now certain it is Harry in the coffin, she would refuse again.  Why the change of heart?  

Anna is no fool.  The spoonful of dirt on Harry's coffin is an ending, closure of a kind.  At the first funeral she refused the ritual because she was not willing to give up Harry.  And we see, all through the film, her stubborn attachment to her lover.  The beauty of Orson Welles's Harry Lime is that we can understand why Anna loves him:  he is charming, affectionate, full of the impishness that is so rare in Anna's life.  She refers to Harry as a boy:  "He never grew up," she tells Martins.  "The world grew up around him, that's all...and buried him."  Though she now accepts that Harry is gone, she cannot expunge him.  Even before he is killed in the Vienna sewers, she tells Holly, "I don't want to see him, hear him, but he's still a part of me.  That's a fact."  Director Reed carefully and unobtrusively underlines this throughout the film:  she wears Harry's robe (9); when alone she is invariably melancholy, perhaps depressed (10); when Holly arrives at her apartment he asks if she's had a bad day.  "It's always bad around this time.  He use to look in around 6:00."  Then she asks Holly to talk about Harry, anything about him.  In her world there is no room for the Holly Martins who still hold on to the notion of romantic love.  Not to give in to Holly is to experience a freedom she has not known till now.  

Post-war Vienna is an unaccommodating place.  But Anna has proved that she is a survivor.  She will live through this.  Holly Martins will no doubt continue writing his westerns, but Anna...?  Perhaps she will return to the stage (11), perhaps not.

Like a Proustian heroine, her refusal to give herself is proof not only of her independence but of the fact that she has been and is loved.  Anna Schmidt will need this self assurance to survive.



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