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The Third Man
Year:
1949
Country:
UK
Genre:
Thriller, Mystery, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
8.4
Director:
Carol Reed
Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins
Alida Valli as Anna Schmidt
Orson Welles as Harry Lime
Trevor Howard as Major Calloway
Bernard Lee as Sergeant Paine
Paul Hörbiger as Karl - Harry's Porter (as Paul Hoerbiger)
Ernst Deutsch as 'Baron' Kurtz
Siegfried Breuer as Popescu
Erich Ponto as Dr. Winkel
Storyline: An out of work pulp fiction novelist, Holly Martins, arrives in a post war Vienna divided into sectors by the victorious allies, and where a shortage of supplies has lead to a flourishing black market. He arrives at the invitation of an ex-school friend, Harry Lime, who has offered him a job, only to discover that Lime has recently died in a peculiar traffic accident. From talking to Lime's friends and associates Martins soon notices that some of the stories are inconsistent, and determines to discover what really happened to Harry Lime.
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Reviews
Haunting and Poetic; A True Masterpiece...
Carol Reed's "The Third Man" strikes all the right cords, establishing itself on so many different levels that it almost becomes untouchable. It has an underlying tone of darkness that not only thrills but chills. It grabs the viewer from the start and never lets go. It opens with Anton Karas' startling zither music and quickly propels the viewer into a world of evil and lies. The tale is familiar to any film lovers: A pulp Western writer named Holly Martin (Joseph Cotten) is invited to post-war Vienna by an old friend of his, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). The city has been divided into American, British, French and Russian zones. The city exists as a shattered remnant of the past - haunting and horrifying, dark and mysterious. Upon his arrival, Holly discovers to his horror that his old college pal is dead - hit by a car in the middle of a street. But for Holly, the circumstances don't add up - everyone involved in the accident was related in some way or another to Harry. So Holly searches for clues, much to the chagrin of the British officer Calloway (Trevor Howard), whose name is misused as Callohan by Holly many times throughout the film. ("It's 'Calloway,' Mr. Martin, I'm not Irish.") Holly Martin does begin to stumble upon some vital clues as to the real story behind Lime's death - and finds out more than he bargained for. Lime's old girlfriend is a stage actress. ("Always comedy.") She accompanies Holly throughout the film, and we expect an underlying romance to blossom, but yet in the end it does not - one of the many surprises of the film. I suppose it would be a sin for me to give away how Harry Lime reappears, or even give away the fact that he does, for that matter (though by now I am sure you realize Orson Welles is in this movie and therefore turns out to be alive). But for those who have seen the film, we all remember that terrific scene where the cat meows, and suddenly he appears, an evil smirk on his face like a child who has gotten away with the cookie from the jar. And then the ferris wheel scene, and the chase through the sewers that no doubt helped win the film an Oscar for cinematography. These are all some of the most memorable of film scenes. The director of "The Third Man," Carol Reed, stumbled upon the film's musician, Anton Karas, one night in a trashy bar in Vienna. It is no wonder that out of all his candidates he chose Karas - the film's tune is literally the most perfect example of matching harmony between a film and its music I have ever seen (although "JAWS" is up there with it). To go into the music is pointless - it must simply be heard in synchronism with the film for you to understand where I am coming from. When I think of film noir, "D.O.A." (1949) and "The Third Man" (1949) are the first two films that come to mind. Both accomplish what they set out to do, but "The Third Man" exceeds even farther than the former - it is haunting and almost poetically vibrant in the way it displays its story and the outcome of its characters. It is a film that will be around for years and years. "Citizen Kane" is often thought of as the greatest American motion picture of all time. But if I had to choose between the two, I would most likely choose "The Third Man." It's just my opinion, of course, and many may not agree, but as far as I see, "The Third Man" beats "Citizen Kane" - for me - on more levels than one. Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) was an artistic film that rarely used close-ups. It would almost stand back from the scenes and let the viewer focus on what he or she wanted to focus on. "The Third Man" has many close-ups. I do not take this as a director trying to give the audience what he wants them to see, but rather a director in touch with his feelings and ideas. Director Carol Reed knows just how to evoke characters' feelings from scenes and close-up shots. The camera tilts at awkward angles more often than not. The more and more paranoid and afraid our hero becomes the more and more intense the close-ups and angles. There is some haunting material in "The Third Man," some material the most novice of filmgoers might not expect. And the music and direction only makes it all the more terrifying and haunting. This is a film that you must witness to believe. 5/5.
2003-09-27
Another overrated "masterpiece"
I've always thought "The Third Man" (**1/2 out of ****) one of the most overrated movies I've ever seen 4 or 5 times. Setting aside the admittedly dazzling photography and editing, we have a plot that's as difficult to follow and riddled with holes and loose ends as the one for "The Big Sleep." If we assume that Harry Lime is the "third man" who drove the truck that killed the medical orderly that was informing on him to the police (in fact, this is never made clear), wouldn't it have been a simple matter for the authorities (or anyone else) to identify the body and discover that it was not Harry Lime? Didn't the police interview the driver of the truck? How could Lime and his cohorts have possibly gotten away with the faking of his death when he was the most notorious and sought after racketeer in Vienna? The pretext for Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) being in the city at all is awfully weak. (The narration mentions a vague "some sort of a job.") Why would Harry want a friend from America that he hasn't seen for 10 years to come to Vienna to write about his operations? The less publicity the better it would seem to me. It's also extremely ambiguous whether or not his mistress (Alida Valli) knew that Harry was dead. The first time that Martins sees Lime he's lingering outside her apartment house as if waiting to go in, and then she does everything she can to make sure that Harry eludes the authorities. In fact, her obtuse behavior throughout the film is baffling. (I'm inclined to believe that she was in on the whole deception.) Perhaps Carol Reed and co. needed audacious cinematic razzle-dazzle and oblique dialogue to cover up the fact that their story makes minimal sense. And that jangling zither music! Time and again it intrudes upon scenes that were meant to evoke tension and atmosphere and dissipates both. After the 4th or 5th repetition of the "Third Man Theme", I was ready to turn on the "mute" button! (These comments are based on the original 104 minute version.)
1999-05-10
Blithering Zithering!!
I love Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton, either together or singularly in movies. This one I saw for the first time a few years ago on TCM. They played it again this morning.

If there was a way to play a movie on "Mute," and still get the gist of the acting, I would do it. What a horrific decision to make use of a Zither as the major music score. The repetitive pounding of the same score was maddening! In case you have any tympanic membrane left, be forewarned....A "Zither" is a musical instrument that sounds like a cross between a Mandolin and a Screeching Cat. The music goes loud, then low (during a funeral), fast then slow.... but rarely stops for more than 5 minutes at a time. It's the same tune too. Forget waterboarding: just play this music score to your enemy and they'll beg you to take their secret info.

The movie is often shown in angles, as though they tilted the camera. Tall shadows of unknown persons in the city at night were supposed to add to the thriller aspect. Oh yeah, it seems that this city is always empty except for the movie crew and actors. Odd.

I thought the movie was fine, but not worthy of most accolades. Just a modest post-war thriller of sorts. Orson Welles shows up in the last third of the movie. The thrill part comes mostly from his interaction with Joseph Cotton and others, and the plot point is finally revealed. Big Deal!! Geez....I don't think I've ever spent so much room of a review on the music alone. BUT It's the music that jangles every nerve in my body and ruins what otherwise would have been a good movie experience.
2014-09-02
In The Gutters of Vienna
(Flash Review)

Great dark and gritty cinematography take center stage in this classic Film Noir. Laced with tilted cinematography, it helps to accentuate the shady story of who's telling the truth or not. The plot is a little hard to follow in portions but a novelist arrives in Vienna, Italy to meet up with a friend, who upon his arrival learns has been murdered. The novelist decides to do his own sleuthing to find out what really happened. Orson Welles is great as usual; such a distinctive voice. There are many shadowy shots of Vienna at night including a full exploration their sewer system. Haha. This film had one of the best main character reveals I've ever seen. Main character reveals are usually very stylish and intelligent so you know that character is important. The music score started off very fitting to the location but became overly redundant and distracting at points.
2017-07-03
The Trouble with Harry Lime
I initially felt a fool for not having seen "The Third Man" earlier. However, in retrospect, having now read most of Graham Greene's major works, and having received some keen insight into the back-story of producer Alexander Korda through Kati Marton's book "The Great Escape", I feel I was able to enjoy "The Third Man" even more for the staggering masterpiece that it is.

As a European/American co-production bankrolled by two legendary hands-on producers, David O. Selznick and Alexander Korda, "The Third Man" was masterfully crafted by director Carol Reed from a screenplay by British novelist Graham Greene. The film served as a pinnacle of the film noir movement and is a prime example of master filmmakers working with an iconic writer and utilizing an amazing cast and crew to create a masterwork representing professionals across the field operating at the top of their game.

Fans of Greene's novels need not be disappointed as the screenplay crackles with all that signature cynicism and sharp witted dialogue. Carol Reed's crooked camera angles, moody use of shadowing and external locations (Vienna, partially bombed out, wet and Gothic, never looked more looming and haunting) and crisp editing are the perfect visual realizations of Greene's provocative wordplay and often saturnine view of the world. Reed's brief opening montage and voice-over introducing us to the black market in Vienna is also shockingly modern, as it is that energetic quick-cut editing that has influenced directors like Scorsese to film entire motion pictures in just such a style. Also making the film decidedly timeless is the zither music score of Anton Karas, a bizarre accompaniment to the dark story that serves as a brilliant contradiction to what is being seen on screen.

The story of "The Third Man" slides along like smooth gin down the back of one's throat as characters, plot and mood meander and brood along cobblestone streets and slither down dark alleys in an intoxicated state. Heavy drinking hack writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten, doing an excellent Americanized riff on Graham Greene himself) arrives in post WWII occupied Vienna to meet up with his old pal Harry Lime (Orson Welles) only to find that Lime is reportedly dead, the police (headed by a perfectly cold Trevor Howard) don't seem to care, and Lime's charming broken-hearted mistress (Alida Valli, perfect as another Greene archetype) has been left behind. Of course, Martins can't leave well enough alone as conspiracy, murder, unrequited romance, and political intrigue ensue. Welles benefits greatly from being talked about for most of the film and appearing mostly in shadows spare for two scenes: the famous ferris wheel speech, and a climatic chase beneath the streets of Vienna through Gothic sewers. His top hap, dark suit, and crooked smile are the stuff of film legend.

The side characters, however, are what make "The Third Man" such a rich, rewarding experience. We're treated to small glimpses into the mindsets of varying people ranging from a British officer obsessed with American Western dime-store novels (of which Martins claims his fame) to an Austrian landlady eternally wrapped in a quilt going on and on in her foreign tongue as international police constantly raid her building and harass her tenants. The brilliance is that one needs no subtitles to understand her frustration. These added layers of character and thoughtful detail, hallmarks of Greene, set "The Third Man" in a class above the rest of film noir from the late 1940's era.

Make no mistake, "The Third Man" is arguably one of the most finely crafted films ever made. One's preference towards noir and Greene's world-view will shape how much one actually enjoys the film. For the sheer fact it has held up so well over the decades and has clearly influenced so many great films that came after it, its repeated rankings as one of the greatest motion pictures ever made can not be denied. With a good stiff drink in hand, and Graham Greene's collection dog-eared on my bookshelf, "The Third Man" is undoubtedly now one of my favorite films. Reed's closing shot of a tree-lined street along a cemetery and Joseph Cotten leaning against a car smoking a cigarette while Alida Valli walks right past him with that zither music score playing is one that has left an indelible mark on my memory and enriched my love of film as art.
2008-04-01
Unsympathetic
Watched it last night. I was not engrossed, which surprised me. The main character is a writer of some sort, but he completely lacks imagination. He's entirely straight-forward, utterly lacking in the nuanced sophistication that makes for a good investigator. The motivations of many of the characters are dubious at best, such as the appearance of the Third Man. Orson Welles did fine, but the role is not as legendary and epic as we are lead to believe. Not seeing this film will not make one any less of a film connoisseur.

The camera-work, shadows, and atmosphere are to be commended. The actors other than Joseph Cotten are very good. Overall, it makes for a "so-so" film by today's standards. Some older films created tension quite well, but this film simply doesn't, which is probably a prerequisite for a thriller to succeed, no?
2008-09-25
The Mysterious Third Man
Who is the third man? An accident has occurred, a man was hit by a car. Three men were on the scene, but only two have been identified and everyone refuses the existence of the third man.

The Third Man is the story of American novelist Holly Martins going to post-WWII Vienna, Austria to visit his friend Harry Lime. Upon arrival Martins learns that Lime was recently hit by a car in an accident, but Martins soon begins to uncover a conspiracy about a penicillin racket and this mysterious third man that leads him to believe that his friend might have in fact been murdered.

The Third Man is really a hit-and-miss film. The premise is ripe with potential for suspense, but there was never a moment in the film where the suspense really elevated to the level needed to really keep me on the edge of my seat. The mystery unfolds in a fashion in which is fairly predictable, the music to the film felt odd and out of place for a film noir, and the film's tone was constantly shifting. Just when the film seemed to be on the right track to hooking the viewer, it did a complete U-turn and went back the other way.

Even for all my gripes, the film has many great things about it. The performances from Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles as Martins and Lime were superb, the cinematography was simply marvelous, and for the time the direction was very unique, directed in a way that many movies weren't done till at least the 60s (the infamous sewer chase is the true stand-out moment of the film).

While the film has many things going for it, at the end of the day it doesn't stack up well against some of the finer mystery/thrillers in cinema history.

I give The Third Man a 6 out of 10!
2009-10-27
Greatest Experience
Just returned from a vacation in Vienna. Went to the Prater Amusement Park where the famous ferris wheel is still in operation. Took a ride on it remembering the great scene with Orson Wells and Joseph Cotton every moment of the way. The actual ride takes about the same ammount of time that it took in the film,roughly about 15 minutes. Being that the city has been almost completely rebuilt since the film was shot there, the doorway where Orson Wells (Harry Lyme) appears is no longer in existence. Wonderful nostalgia for a wonderful, unforgettable film.

1999-10-15
The Greatest Film of All Time
It took me several years and a lot of thought, but as someone who enjoys movies, I selected "The Third Man" as the greatest film ever made. I have a list of similar favorite films, and it is hard to rank them in order of preference (it often depends on my mood, so many are equally great).

Here are a few reasons:

1) "The Third Man" is the most outstanding reason for why I love to go to the movies. It welds images, sounds, dialogue and music into my memory, my personality, and my soul. When I think of why I love the cinema, I think of this film as an example.

2) Joseph Cotten. The man has a screen presence wrought not from the elements which make other "Great" actors like Laurence Olivier, Humphrey Bogart or Jimmy Stewart, but from his own normalcy. He is Joseph Cotten, a nice guy, someone you'd like to have speak for you at a college admissions board or at a traffic court. He's the kind of guy you hope your new girlfriend's dad is like. He's not just "nice", either, in a Cary Grant way. We actually like the guy. And it is this niceness which hurts us most when we see what he must do.

3) Alida Valli. She was in the 1977 hidden treasure "Suspiria", but otherwise dropped from view after this film, in which she blasted through a handicap (that accent) with the most affecting female performances of all time--we love her and hate her, because she's the unrequited love to end all unrequited loves.

4) Orson Welles. He's such a convincing bad guy, but he's the coolest. In the pantheon of directors, he was sometimes overlooked as an actor, but here he tops them all. He almost has us taken by his scheme, and we doubt the movie (and Major Calloway) will be able to counter him. It does, nearly, and he becomes both the despicable rat villain and the glorious rebel martyr at the same time.

5) The zither score.

6) The final shot.
1998-12-28
Carol Reed's flawless masterpiece and essential viewing for film buffs.
I like to consider myself as a somewhat cultured man in the world of cinema - I have engaged in many film delights for many different reasons; from the downright silly to the spiritually moving, non stop action to obscure art-house, gritty realism to total fantasy, sweeping epics to the blunt and insular.

The Third Man is my personal favourite movie of all time for one overwhelming reason - it's wry charm - which this film has in spades.

This is just a perfect film; every time I see those zither strings being plucked at the intro, I'm there in Vienna. The crooked camera angles of the streets, the brilliantly acted characters of Harry and Holly and their intertwining relationship, the dryness of Calloway, the absolute wit and grace of the script and of course, one of the most memorable scores in movie history all combine to create an incredible piece of film noir but with so much more humour, irony, tension and characterisation than others in its genre (not dismissing such other greats as Double Indemnity and Touch of Evil which are also superb).

So at the risk of sounding like a rabid fan, yes, I do believe this to be the greatest film of all time - and the ferris wheel scene should be more than enough evidence to prove this!

Perfect - 10/10
2007-12-25
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