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Major Calloway

The cynical policeman who is The Third Man's most moral character

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Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) is the British military policeman appalled by the murderous racketeering of Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Whereas Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli) is ruled by romantic devotion to Harry, and the pulp-fiction writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) is a sentimental bungler constantly letting his imagination run away with him, Calloway is a hard-bitten cynic who knows all about the brutal ways of the world and doesn't flinch at them. In the words of critic Raymond Durgnat, Calloway "provides the necessarily harsh moral realism, to hold back the forces of chaos and black night".

Howard was a very fine RADA-trained British actor, versatile but drawn to morally complicated roles. He had the clipped tones of a schoolmaster or a civil servant and he embodied middle-class Britishness in Brief Encounter (d. David Lean, 1945) - only his third film - his character well-trained in repressing his feelings but bursting at the seams with them.

Howard was a heavy drinker and, like other actors with that habit, he had a haunted look. Underneath the politeness or confidence or professionalism of Howard's characters there tended to lurk something else: decadence, cruelty, panic, passion or despair. So, in The Third Man, Calloway is difficult to pin down.

He seems to feel a gentleness towards Anna at times, as when he tries to persuade the Russian officer Brodsky (Alexis Chesnakov) not to pursue the matter of her forged papers. But he has no sympathy at all for Holly, mocking him, withholding information about the penicillin racket until he has to - then exploiting the full horror of it, exuding a certain bitter pleasure in getting him to the children's ward under false pretences in order to show him Harry's victims.

Calloway's obedience is to the system and to the rule of law and order. Critic Andrew Sarris has commented:

The character of Major Calloway is the key to The Third Man as social commentary. Calloway is the embodiment of political power at the crossroads of the cold war. Although of the West, he exhibits neither idealism nor compassion. Immersed in evil, he has developed a cynical efficiency in his attitude towards the non-political crimes spawned in a world he has helped to create.

Martins, Lime and Calloway represent three approaches to the problem of evil. Martins externalises it in comfortable platitudes. Lime identifies with evil in a manner that is partly heroic and partly narcissistic. Calloway attacks evil in terms of bureacratic disorder.

The character of Calloway adds great sophistication to the film, above all because he isn't very sympathetic. In Greene's novella, Calloway is the narrator and he's both wittier and more affected by the human consequences of crime. His last words are "Poor all of us, come to think of it", suggesting sorrow and sensitivity. He could almost be a hero; but not in the film, where he's a cold, stern authority-figure who lacks warmth and humour.

Without people like him - bureacrats, soldiers, policemen and politicians - there would be more Harry Limes, more dead and maimed children: this is the rational message of the film. But the moral and emotional puzzle that The Third Man poses has to do with feelings that go beyond reason: Anna's love for Harry, say, but also the audience's fascination with him - and its suspicion of Major Calloway, despite what he does for the benefit of society at large.

If Anna's romanticism can seem obsessive, Calloway's enthusiasm for law enforcement seems soulless and cruel: The Third Man offers no easy compromise between these very different attitudes.

Rob White

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