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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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"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.
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.
Film-Noir of a Different Kind
Much like the entrance of Laura in the film LAURA, Harry Lime's entrance into the dark world of post-war Vienna is one of the most unforgettable of all times and effectively erased any memory that Joseph Cotten, the main hero (and alter-ego of Graham Greene) was even in THE THIRD MAN. Photographed under an opening window in a deserted Vienna street, Lime comes into focus as a fleeting face with a smug expression and suddenly we remember Orson Welles was included in the credits. It's a very powerful moment -- one which has us, the viewer, shift our consciousness into wanting to see more of him, wanting to get to know him even if he is a shady, corrupted character. It's the One Moment in the film when it seems that time (in a country that makes clocks, something that Lime makes a joking reference to later on) stops dead in its tracks.

THE THIRD MAN is the one film-noir that doesn't have a treacherous femme fatale and the usual suspects but shady people and a growing sense of doom and despair. That in essence is the very nature of film-noir, where it began before demanding the appearance of a sexy blonde with evil intentions. A political theme and espionage reigns throughout without it ever being as much as hinted at, and betrayal is at every corner, something that Hitchcock would have loved had he directed this film. There is a distant echo of CASABLANCA reflected in the threesome at the center of this story with Anna being the reserved woman in the middle but this is not a lush romance. If anything, there is a strong anti-romantic sentiment here, not only because Anna has been irrevocably separated from Lime but she also will not be the one whom Cotten's Martins gets at the end. And in that sense, that pessimism is what film-noir is about.
Vienna Without a Waltz
Although I am as old as this movie, produced in 1949, I have not aged nearly as well. This film, directed brilliantly by Carol Reed (Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol) and written by Graham Greene (long list!), beautifully captures the prevailing atmosphere of disruption and chaos that Vienna, a once highly civilized city, experienced during the years that followed World War II. The upheaval is physical, social, economic, political, moral, spiritual. You name it. Vanquished Vienna, conquered by the Allies, was crippled by turmoil in every imaginable way, and we viewers are given the opportunity to experience it up close, right here.

I spent a number of months in Europe during 1971-72 after I graduated from college. Although the war had been over for more than 25 years by then, I was struck by a very pronounced attitude of cynicism on the part of many Europeans regarding uniquely American ideals and principles, which were widely considered to be naive. To me, this film accurately captures this cultural and moral conflict, which lasted for decades and may even survive to this day. "You and your American principles," they would often scoff at me with mocking derision.

What does Anna (Alida Valli) know about the illegal activities of her lover, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), which includes selling diluted penicillin to Vienna's hospitals? For children with meningitis, watered down penicillin was not only useless, but it created an immunity from full strength penicillin so that these afflicted children could never receive effective treatment. Corrupted penicillin is a glaring symbol of a totally corrupted Vienna. Harry surely understands the full dimensions of his business, but what about Anna? Even after the truth about Harry's conduct and his victims is clearly revealed to her, she still sticks by him to the bitter end. Love conquers all? Seriously? While I don't blame her for rejecting the romantic overtures of Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), who is somewhat of a schnook, what's up with her anyway? She reminds me of the Europeans who never once caught a whiff of the burning flesh from the crematoria of the concentration camps that sat just down the road from where they lived, as if the ill wind never blew in their direction. She is deeply in love with Harry, so just shut up about children with meningitis. OK, Anna, whatever you say, sweetheart. Perhaps those silly 18th century costume comedies in which you appear will provide the escape from reality that you so desperately seek, dear. At least you manage to crack a smile, as weak as it is, beneath your powdered wig on stage.

From beginning to end, the unusual camera angles, the dark, somber, mostly abandoned sidewalks of Vienna, and those drenched cobblestone streets contribute to the overall eerie and foreboding atmosphere of the film, which was remarkably photographed by Australian Robert Krasker (Odd Man Out, Brief Encounter). Unforgettable images and characters appear before us, emphasizing an overall mood of mayhem and awkwardness from every direction. We witness, for example, Anna's landlady, draped in a bedspread for warmth and extremely anguished by the disruptive presence in her house of foreign invaders hailing from not one but four different nations. Then we observe one of those ludicrous, bureaucratic "cultural re-education conferences" offered to the Viennese by the allied victors, presumably to rehabilitate them after seven years of Nazi domination. And where the heck did the balloon seller come from as he pathetically peddles his merry merchandise on the dark, nocturnal streets of Vienna, which are not only completely void of children at the time but of people in general?

And what of the inquisitive, confused character of Holly Martins, played with lithe agility by Joseph Cotten? If he has been a successful writer of widely consumed western novels that even the young British sergeant happens to read, why is he broke, and what kind of job would Lime have offered him in an unfamiliar, German-speaking Vienna that is gripped by post World War II disorder, unemployment, and foreign occupation? Construction perhaps?

While some reviewers have problems with the zither music of Anton Karas, I think that it contributes to the general atmosphere of nervous tension and uneasiness that pervades the air throughout the duration of the movie. Would you prefer Strauss waltzes instead? They wouldn't be nearly as effective in reinforcing the overwhelming atmosphere of chaos, even insanity, that plagues Vienna on so many levels.

Finally, we are brought to the hidden network of grand Vienna's underground sewers. What could be a more fitting symbol of the underlying unpleasantness that lurks beneath the thin, shallow surface of what we call "civilization"? It provides the perfect setting for the ending to a very unique film that very effectively portrays a world that has succumbed to a state of disorder, misery, and even madness. In the end, the sewer awaits. Bal-loon?
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.
A Few Personal Notes
No need to recap the oft-repeated plot. So why bother commenting after 500+ reviews. I guess it's because I'm a movie lover and want to enter my little note of appreciation. What sticks in my mind from the movie's first release are the visuals. They're among the most memorable if not the most memorable in film annals. In sum, they're a nightmare world of emptiness—the streets, the walkways, the dead hulking edifices. It's a communal world emptied of community, leaving only ruins and shells. The metaphor for a post-war Europe is unmistakable, while only the morally destitute like Harry Lime have thrived. I can't imagine that filming in color was actually entertained (IMDB). Had that happened, the film would have passed into semi-obscurity unlike its now celebrated status. Note too, that no one ends up happy, in contrast to the narrative norms of the day. I think what brought many folks to the showings at the time was the unfamiliar zither music. As I recall, a commercial cut was heard regularly on the radio. Still, I expect a lot of folks left the theater put-off by the bleakly unhappy world they had just seen. Anyway, the movie remains a brilliant slice of cinematic imagination and should not be missed.
Joseph Cotten is Excellent in Revolutionary Film Noir
"I never knew the Old Vienna, before the war, with its Strauss Music," opens Carol Reed's The Third Man, and we catch a glimpse of the New Vienna, with its Black Market and its Shady Deals. Joseph Cotten plays cheap novelette author Holly Martins, just arrived in Vienna to meet with long-time friend Harry Lime, who offered him a job. He instead meets with the mysterious facts surrounding the death of Lime, learned bit-by-bit from Lime's friends, a woman named Anna Schmidt, who has problems of her own (played excellently by Valli), and two British officers, Calloway and Paine. Learning, that there is more to death of Lime than there seems to be, Martins begins his investigation for the truth. This film was shot with some of the greatest, most ahead-of-its-time cinematography ever, and it creates mystery and deceit. It is complimented by the excellent use of shadows. The soundtrack is essentially one long song, which plays throughout the film, changing and stopping as the emotion calls for. It is a zither composition by Anton Karas made for the film. This is all topped off by an engrossing storyline, and a great performance by Joseph Cotten, as the ordinary man mixed up in this web of mystery.
the best of all time
Unrelenting fascination is what I have every time I watch this movie. It never seems old. It's in my mind, haunting me, with its unearthly music and its dark, oblique photography. And that great Orson Welles' speech, and also the best entrance in movie history to go along with the best exit in movie history. It couldn't be better. I can't even express how I feel in words. Watch it again and again, and you'll be dazed!
Great film
Greetings from Lithuania.

I can believe of how involving and intriguing "The Third Man" (1949) actually is after seeing it just now for a first time in 2017. This is a movie which stood the test of time. Now for a second this movie in term of its narrative, script, writing, acting and directing looked like of felt like it was made back in 1949. All of the above mentioned parts of the film were more then great - they were a head of its time. Now i also loved how somehow darkly funny this movie was and especially the whole story if you think about it - i won't spoil the ending for those who haven't seen it yet, but the story about a novelist desperately trying for find out about his closed friends dead and how it all ends its just a funny, darkly funny thing. Music as well cinematography were also great.

Overall, while "The Third Man" isn't perfect nor it blew my away like some other films of the period, this is a great film overall, a bit a head of its time.
Some Idiosyncratic Comments On THE THIRD MAN
I am not sure if anyone mentioned the ending, which has me bursting out in tears and heartbreak, and reaching for a cigarette, in deep resignation and yearning, every time I see it.

And, how about the absurd comedy that always, in reality, accompanies the darkest, direst situations in life? It's in there! (Like Prego Pasta Sauce!) I experience a visceral need to see this film at least once every 3 months. In fact , I might stop typing now and.....And, who can honestly tell me that they don't feel like the down and out ex-repatriated American , like Holly Martins, almost all the time nowadays! And the death of Sgt Payne still stings horribly. It's Callo-WAY , not Calla-Han, Holly, so get it right!!
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