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The Third Man
Thriller, Mystery, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
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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A Timeless Toy of Fateful Accident
The Third Man is one of that smattering of pictures that have become the epitome, not just a movie that would continue to inspire countless other films but a paradigm that would embed itself deep within the id of a massive amount of viewers, counting people who've never even seen it. The first time you do, your encounter is sprinkled with little jolts of recognition, lines and scenes and moments whose resonance have already made their way to you intermediately.

Although both Greene and director Carol Reed were British, the perspective of this pinball machine of a movie feels very American, a detail that's only partially clarified by the presence of Cotten and Welles. Post-war Vienna characterizes Europe's remains. It's thick, for sure, with actual remains, though the diversely twisting and regal structural design of its more practical edifices looks devastated by being rendered worthlessness. Similarly, most of the Europeans we see are remarkably played by an ensemble of Austrian and German character actors, who correspond superbly with the mixed doubts and disdain of the inexperienced American, Holly Martins, who lumbers through the alleys, down the holes, up the ladders, seemingly a toy of fate, but one who appears to usually break even. The American Martins is upfront, yet surrounded by Europeans, and their paths oscillate between confrontation and tiptoeing, like minor cultural traits represent an inherent bylaw.

Welles is, sure enough, the mind-body dualism of the story. His character is mentioned in each scene, in addition to the title, and has the most hands-down unforgettable lines in the script. Moreover, his interactions with Cotten, a recurrent performer in his directorial work, take on Welles's distinguishing metrical hallmark: mood intersecting and colliding with figure of speech, lines treading on lines in a persistent roundabout of broken tides.

Reed, a director far too obscure in the US, made outstanding films both preceding and following this one. Reed was amply accommodating to offer a noteworthy argument against the auteur theory. The Third Man is constant with his superlative form, wheedling a taut drama with penetratingly illustrated characters, in a locale so defined it may too be regarded among the cast.

The Third Man is such a hysterically visual event that it's easy to overlook what a petite, intuitive film it basically is. Think about how Anton Karas, without whose score the picture wouldn't be remotely the same, was discovered on location, playing in a restaurant. That kind of fortuitous find, during production, of a deep-seated constituent of a movie would've been tough if not unimaginable in Hollywood even then. The Third Man is indeed a virtuoso progression of make-or-break gambles, a sort of contrarian recipe of contrasting essentials that somehow come together as if they had been fated to. It's an extraordinary item, an accident, a well-lubricated mechanism, a historic cache, an innovative sensation. There has never been another movie entirely like it.
"The dead are happier dead"
The bond a woman feels with her lover -- has a film ever captured it so realistically?

Anna (Alida Valli) will have no part of any schemes to capture expatriate Harry Lime (Orson Welles), though he has faked his death and left her to fend for herself in the corrupt and broken-down rubble of post-war Vienna. Nor, once she knows Lime is dead for good, will she have any of Holly Martin (Joseph Cotton), the hard-bitten American pulp writer who possesses the integrity that Lime has long ago exchanged for expediency.

Lime had offered a job to Holly, and that's what has drawn him to the dark and dilapidated streets of the Austrian capital. In the end, we see, Martin has performed his duties to perfection.

It's hard to believe the book "Positive Psychology at the Movies 2" does not list "The Third Man" in its index. In many ways, this film shows man at his best under grueling conditions. Martin shows judgment, self-regulation, perseverance, perspective, and bravery.

The casting and ensemble work here are perfect, and Robert Krasker's cinematography must set the standard in the field. I'm a little mixed on the famous score featuring endless gyrations of the zither. Perhaps it provides a bit of metaphor: Like the rot at the core of the culture, one can never quite escape its rather crazy-making influence.
To zither or not to zither, that is the question...
THE THIRD MAN is an effective piece of late '40s film noir, but in my opinion is a rather overrated one, accompanied as it is by a distracting zither score that some believe is the film's crowning achievement, aside from Robert Krasker's B&W photography.

Joseph Cotten gives his usual low-key performance as the pulp writer who wants to track down what really happened to his friend, Harry Limes (Orson Welles) whom he suspects has met with foul play and Valli is similarly low-key in her role as Limes' lonely sweetheart. Trevor Howard is excellent as Major Calloway who tries to help both Cotten and Valli, warning both of the dangers they face.

The B&W Oscar-winning photography of post-war Vienna is crisply detailed and shadowy in its display of virtually empty cobblestoned streets at night and the background score is unusual and sometimes even striking.

But therein lies the trouble. Not all of the famous Anton Karas zither score seems appropriate for the on screen action, although whether this is intentional or not, I don't pretend to know. For me, much of the score works against the story instead of creating the proper amount of tension in the script, as atmospheric as the Austrian music is.

If ever a story of post-war Vienna troubled by corrupt officials and black market thieves and murderers needed an orchestrated score by a Bernard Herrmann type of composer, this is it. Others have praised the zither score to the skies, but I'm of the firm opinion that "The Third Man Theme" itself is the high point of this particular score, effectively used every time the mysterious Orson Welles appears.

His theme became enormously popular as "The Third Man Theme" and deserved its success as a single--but as others have observed, the rest of the zither score becomes a bit monotonous after awhile and plays against what is happening on screen instead of deepening the emotional impact of the story. In fact, there are times when it becomes distracting and even irritating.

It's an interesting, almost semi-documentary kind of film from Carol Reed that has Welles appearing only toward the halfway point and then only briefly. He gives one of his better performances, more controlled, less florid than usual, although the film is carried chiefly by Cotten, Howard and Valli and some superb photography.

The story is told in such a cold documentary manner that there is almost an air of detachment about connecting to any of the characters we are supposed to care about. In this respect, it is Trevor Howard's Major Calloway that comes across as the most likable and fully developed character in the story.

Trivia note: The kitten seen in Valli's apartment and devoted to Harry Limes is not the same creature that rubs against him in the doorway scene, an obviously older cat. How did they think a sharp-eyed movie fan would not notice??
The real mccoy when you want to talk serious screen legends!
What IS it makes THE THIRD MAN the classic most everyone agrees it is? (And lets face it, voted no 35 in the top all-time films gives it MORE than just some passing credibility!) Is it Orson Welles' menace? The whiff of corruption in occupied post-war Vienna? the cuckoo-clock speech atop the big wheel? even Anton Karras' zither? Perhaps ALL these things? If however, you had to nominate just a single influence within the whole production that elevates it to greatness I suggest that would be Robert Krasker's cinematography.

The finished product innovatively, was years ahead of its birthright. Time and time again the viewer is bailed up by stunning camera angles and back-lighting. The eerie shadows around the deserted streets and of course the unforgettable first glimpse of Harry Lime (Welles) himself as he skulks like the rat he is, in the corner of the building, lit in close-up suddenly from the light in an adjacent apartment. Offhand I cannot think of a character's more dramatic entrance to a film.

Welles in fact has minimal screen time, though his dark presence and influence infiltrate proceedings like an insidious disease. Yet somehow his ultimate demise in the sewers brings into play an incredible sadness and compassion that has absolutely no right being there. It remains for me one of my top five film favorites. I have always given it a "10" personally but hey, to be voted an "8.6" universally is a pretty fair vindication of my words here.
I'm in the Minority Here **1/2
You would think that Harry Lime was the pillar of society the way Joseph Cotten and Valli made him out to be. Go know that this supposed endearing person was in the black market business and dealing with inferior penicillin that sickened and caused many deaths.

The film takes place in post World War 11 Vienna and yet all soldiers, whether they are Russian or Austrian police look like Nazis.

I will admit that Orson Welles has some scene stealing when it's finally revealed that Harry is actually alive. He is usual cunning, sinister and threatening way.

Joseph Cotten is fine for the part, but that music played over and over is far from endearing.
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!
One masterpiece per customer
Filmed as though the camera had one tripod leg shorter than the others, along with zithers, seductive shadows, echoing sewers, Alida Valli's cheekbones, ferris wheels, cuckoo clocks and a magician's touch, this film is more of an experience than a movie. Impossible to remake, it also captures Vienna at a critical time just after WW2 when it was still occupied by the Allied powers.

Even after 55 years, "The Third Man" has a compelling story, superb performances and enough style for ten films.

And that story by Graham Greene stands up even when compared with all the brilliant mystery films over the intervening decades as well as literate crime series on TV such as "Lewis", "Wallander" and "Vera" etc.

Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), a rather nerdy, and slightly annoying writer of paperback westerns, arrives in post-war Vienna to discover that his good friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) has supposedly been killed in an accident. He encounters suspicious British policemen (Trevor Howard and Bernard Lee), and also Harry's enigmatic and beautiful girlfriend Anna (Alida Valli). Eventually Holly learns things about Harry that trouble him deeply. It all leads to a confrontation in the cavernous sewers under Vienna.

The film also features one of the most unexpected endings ever. I won't spoil it in case one of the five people who haven't seen the film happens to read this.

Suffice to say that the original script had a more conventional ending and it was actually David O Selznick who came up with the one used in the film. It was always assumed that it was director Carol Reed's, but Charles Drazin in his fascinating book "In Search of the Third Man" pretty well pins it down to Selznick, who attempted to interfere with the whole production. Although ostensibly a British film, Selznick had money in it with Alexander Korda.

There is so much to observe and enjoy including Orson Welles famous monologue, and the stunning Alida Valli. She was so beautiful, "head-swivelingly beautiful" as Martin Scorsese once said. Even the shapeless raincoat she wears for most of the film only makes those luminous features even more striking. She had already made a couple of Hollywood movies including Hitchcock's "The Paradine Case" another film where her mystique is caught if a little chillingly – and she wasn't even a Hitchcock blonde.

Carol Reed went on to make other movies including "The Man Between", which tried to recapture the spirit of "The Third Man", this time set in Berlin. It even foreshadowed "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold", but it didn't have that self-contained, indefinable magic of "The Third Man". Maybe its only one true masterpiece per customer, although Reed's batting average was always strong.

Whatever the case, "The Third Man" has lost none of its lustre and more than lives up to its reputation. I'd have to say it's a desert island disc for me.
Nothing Short Of Brilliant!*****
There are so many things that one can say about a movie this good. The acting is great. It's fun to watch again and again. There's great composition in every shot. It's a great story with great characters. I'm really partial to the Joseph Cotton performance as Holly Martens. The character is set up for adventure from the start. The inviting voice-over describes Vienna during the "classic period of the black market" and proceeds to introduce us to Holly Martens. He arrives in Vienna with a certain sense of starry-eyed excitement to see and work with his friend.

For me, this set a very inviting tone for the rest of the film. This is appropriate because, in a sense, we look forward to meeting Harry Lime just as much as he does. Soon, we learn of Harry's death and are on our way to the funeral. Here, we catch the first glimpse of the mysteriously beautiful Anna (Alida Valli) as well as Major Calloway (Trevor Howard).

Throughout the rest of the film, we'll meet new characters and learn so many new things about the recently deceased (or so we think), Harry Lime. The final character we meet is the one we feel we've known all along. Harry Lime (Orson Welles) makes his dramatic entrance on a dark street when the light from a disturbed tenant in a second story apartment comes on. It is my opinion that the only entrance that comes close to the drama of this scene does so, but with thrill factor. That's the first time we see the shark in Jaws. Call me crazy, but that's what I think.

To reveal any more about this film, in my mind, would defeat the purpose of telling someone to watch it. There are many key elements that make it a great film that I want people to experience for the first time as I did. But it's a great story of friendship, love, greed, trust, and murder. Sir Carol Reed directed many a fine film. I thoroughly enjoyed Odd Man Out, Fallen Idol, and Trapeze. His musical, Oliver!, is something that belongs up there with West Side Story, Singin' In The Rain, and even The Sound Of Music.
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.
One of the greatest if not the best film-noir
One of the greatest if not the best film-noir in film history. Joseph Cotten perfectly portrayed an American novelist who led himself investigating the strange death of an old friend and Orson Welles (although he only appeared less than half an hour in the film) is still brilliant. His first quick shot is really stunningly surprising, and one of the unforgettable part of the film. In that revelation, he didn't say anything, that's the magic of it. You can only see gestures in his face, and it's a terrific acting, without a single word. The unforgettable zither score of Anton Karas did not win an Oscar nor even a nomination, but Robert Krasker's skill in photography did. Krasker's light and shadow technique is a masterpiece, you can feel the wetness of the ground, and it is perfect in a black-and-white motion picture.
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