Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Third Man

"The Third Man" is another excellent example of the formula and characteristics that make this show work. It concerns a gambler that Caine befriends, Jim Gallagher, another terrific western stereotype played excellently by veteran TV actor Fred Beir (check out this guy's resume at IMDB; like so many actores on this show, he's got lengthy experience on great TV shows).

Gallagher is country smooth, saloon charming, a damn fine card player - and quite hopelessly addicted to gambling. Caine temporarily joins Gallagher's household, which includes his caring but frustrated wife Noreen (Sheree North), and tries in his gentle, Chan Buddhism way to encourage Gallagher to change his life. (Great scene where Caine meets Fay and tells her, "I work... eat... learn.") Unfortunately before Caine can succeed Gallagher is robber one night after a hot run at the table, and accidentally killed by the noble but all too human town sheriff, Sheriff Raha (Ed Nelson).

Caine is the only one that sees who really killed Gallagher, and here's where the plot gets, to me, interesting. Sheriff Raha witholds his guilt from the incident because he is secretly in love with Gallagher's widow. It's clearly eating Raha alive to hide his involvement in the accidental death, but he won't step forward - he thinks this will allow he and Fay to finally be free of Gallagher and be together. Instead of doing the detective work necessary to expose Raha, Caine simply waits. He recognizes that Raha wants to do the right thing and, as is characteristic with this show and Caine's solution to its conflicts, Caine enables, through inaction and dialogue, Raha to do the right thing.

Of course, Caine also has to contend with the thugs that robbed Gallagher, still at large, which he does with much appreciated ass whuppery. There's also a terrific flashback involving Master Kan that helps explain Caine's method in this case, an incident involving the theft of some gold plates from a Shaolin altar; Kan lets the crime go, teaching Caine that sometimes good people do bad things, and charity and understanding are required in response. (You can see part of it in this nice edited version from YouTube vid below.) This sounds like a pretty convoluted plot and it's one that might have sunk the episode in its execution, but writer Robert Lewin and director Charles D. Dubin keep "The Third Man" on track so that it is exemplary. Four out of four yin yangs. IMDB for this episode is here.

By the way, Sheree North, who plays Noreen, was an interesting Hollywood figure that I never knew much about until I looked into this episode. You might recognize her as Lou Grant's girlfriend from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," Kramer's mom from "Seinfeld," or several other roles. Apparently she was rumored to have been hired as a countermeasure against the unreliable Marilyn Monroe, with whom she shared exact measurements! More interesting reading is here.

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