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Reviews & Ratings for
The Third Man More at IMDbPro »

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246 out of 334 people found the following review useful:

A movie ahead of its time

Author: Michael Torrice ( from Boston
26 June 1999

The Third Man is a movie that looks and feels not like a movie of the 40s, but like a neo-noir of the late 60s/early 70s. This wonderful example of classic noir is one of the all time greatest films. It combines amazing visuals, sounds, dialogue, and acting to tell a thrilling story and comment about the atmosphere after WWII.

Of all the movies durring the studio era (pre-1960ish), there are three movies with cinematography that always stick out in my mind: Gregg Toland's work in Citizen Kane, Russel Mety's work in Touch of Evil, and Robert Krasker's work in The Third Man (all starring Orson Welles funny enough). I just recently saw a restored 35mm version of The Third Man. The crisp black and white visuals of a bombed out Vienna are so breath-taking. Shadows are everywhere. The unique way Krasker tilts the camera in some shots adding to the disorientation of the plot. And who can forget the first close-up of Welles with the light from an apartment room above splashing onto his face; one of the great entrances in movie history (Lime gives his old friend a smile that only Welles could give).

The cinematography is backed by strong performances by Welles, Cotten, and italian actress Vali. The writing of Greene is wonderful; you can see the plot twisting around Cotten tightly. But what makes The Third Man so great is its historical commentary (well not really historical since it was commenting on its own time, but to us it is historical). On one level The Third Man is a story of betrayal and corruption in a post-war, occupied Vienna. On the other hand, its giving the audience a glimpse of the mood of Europe after the great war. The uncertainty that the Cold War was bringing is evident through out the film; Cotten is constantly trying to figure out who to trust. Vienna is on the frontier of the new communist bloc (we even see the communists infiltrating Vienna trying to bring Vali back to her native Czechoslavakia). The zither music score combined with the stark images of bombed out Vienna are reminiscent of the frontier towns of American Westerns. So The Third Man is not only a wonderful film noir, but a unique look at the brief time between WWII and the height of the Cold War.

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133 out of 223 people found the following review useful:

The real mccoy when you want to talk serious screen legends!

Author: uds3 from Longmont, Colorado
29 March 2002

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.

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44 out of 51 people found the following review useful:

Simply beautiful

Author: gogoschka-1 from wherever good films play
25 December 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As soon as the music starts, you know you're in for something special. And then the setting: a beautifully shot Vienna in ruins, the scars of war visible at every corner. I think it's precisely the combination of that happy tune playing and the destroyed city in the background which creates the unusual mood of this masterpiece. For although this is a tragic story of murder and betrayal, the general tone of the narrative is rather light, sometimes darkly comic.

'The third man' has now more than 60 years on its back, but despite its age it still feels fresh. This might be partly because of the slightly cynical tone and the morally ambiguous characters which add a very modern edge to the movie. But what really stands out and makes this memorable even by today's standards - apart from the fantastic soundtrack - is the cinematography. Black and white has never looked better. The way the camera plays with the angles and the lights and shadows of this city in ruins: it almost adds an expressionistic quality to the film. And of course, the iconic, unusual ending. Simply beautiful.

My vote: 10 out of 10

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112 out of 188 people found the following review useful:

A Flawless Classic

Author: Snow Leopard from Ohio
23 July 2001

This is a rare film that is flawless in every respect. It combines great acting and memorable characters with a fascinating story, taking place in an interesting setting and adding a creative musical score. "The Third Man" is remembered for many things - for Orson Welles' wonderful performance in his appearances as Harry Lime, for its wonderfully appropriate musical score, and for its nicely conceived plot surprises. Adding to these is Joseph Cotten's fine portrayal of Holly Martins, which holds the rest of it together - it is his character who initiates most of the action, and also through whom we view everything and everyone else.

The story starts, after a nicely done prologue, with Martins arriving in Vienna, and finding out that his friend Harry is not only dead but is accused of running a particularly destructive black market racket. Martins sets out at once to prove his friend's innocence, getting into an immediate scuffle with the police, and it seems at first to set up a conventional plot about clearing the name of a friend - but the actual story that follows is much deeper and much better. It is just right that Martins is an innocent who writes cheap novels for a living, and he gets a pretty memorable lesson in fiction vs. reality. There are some great scenes (the Ferris-wheel confrontation being as good a scene as there is in classic cinema) leading up to a memorable climactic sequence, and a good supporting cast, with Alida Valli as Anna being very good in complementing Lime and Martins. The setting in crumbling post-war Vienna and the distinctive zither score go very nicely with the story.

This is a fine, flawless classic, and while obviously belonging to an earlier era, it deserves a look from anyone who appreciates good movies.

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104 out of 180 people found the following review useful:

Joseph Cotten is Excellent in Revolutionary Film Noir

Author: peanutthegreat from New York
21 May 2002

"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.

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98 out of 187 people found the following review useful:

Atmospheric British thriller

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
18 January 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

American author Holly Martins arrives in Vienna to meet old friend Harry Lime. On arrival he finds Harry was just killed in an accident and attends his funeral. The police are happy that his death was an accident and are also closing crimes by attributing them to him. Martins begins to investigate the accident and finds out things that lead him to a shocking discovery that will eventually challenge his values and friendship.

This is a classic bit of British cinema that owes a lot to the source material (Graham Green) and the slanted, moody cinematography throughout. The story is quite straight forward and can be perceived more complicated than it is. The best bits of the story come early, with Martins investigating the accident against a backdrop of secrecy and cover-ups, and later when he confronts Lime briefly on a Ferris wheel. The story is mainly a story of friendship and morals packed into a mystery setting. The final shot of the film is really good and gives a realistic (if not happy) end to the story.

Joseph Cotton was always good around this period and seemed to be on a roll when he teamed up with Wells. Here he is good as Martin, even if his character is not as interesting as Harry Lime is. Orson Wells is excellent, casting a huge shadow (literally!) over the film despite having a very short time onscreen compare to Cotton. The director and the writer fought the producer to cast Wells in order to make the film more sellable to the American audience (the producer wanted Noël Coward) and the film is much better for their choice. His character hugely lacks morals and, despite being a small hustler, is almost a demonic figure - most notably in his speech on the Ferris wheel where he defends his actions to Martin.

The film is given a great mood of shadows throughout. The city itself is shown as both beautiful and in ruins and is constantly slanted and shadowy. The final confrontation in the sewers of Vienna is excellent. The score is also good - at first it doesn't seem to fit, as it seems out of step with the mood, but it does work well with the culture that exists in the city at the time - I can't really explain it better than that but it does work.

Overall this is a classic. The story may not be enough to support repeat viewings but the moody, the cinematography and a towering performance by Wells all make this essentially viewing for film fans.

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35 out of 66 people found the following review useful:


Author: shanayneigh from Narnia
30 April 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I don't mind a slow movie. That is, as long as the story calls for it. But in the case of The Third Man, the tempo is nothing but dull.

I imagine that the big reveal of Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles, still being alive might have been shocking when the movie was released in 1949. Kind of like Kevin Spacey being the killer in Seven, receiving no credit on posters or in the title sequence in order to preserve the mystery. Today, one would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't know that Spacey's in Seven.

This brings me back to The Third Man. Before seeing the movie I knew absolutely nothing about it, except it being voted one of the best British films ever, and that Orson Welles plays a character called Harry Lime (his face is on the cover for chrissake!), a fact which has been hard to avoid as it's regularly on lists of great performances. Consequently, I spent most of the film waiting for him to appear. No great mystery left, in other words.

The acting is symptomatic of its time, so I can't really complain about it not being naturalistic. It's just something you have to accept when watching movies from this time period. Although I have to say I love the scene in the ferris wheel. Welles does a great job there.

Although some people might love it, I'm just really annoyed that the movie refuses to decide which genre it's in. Is it a comedy? Is it a thriller? There are instances where combined genres work beautifully, but The Third Man is not one of those cases. The problem with The Third Man's genre schizophrenia is that the comedy parts aren't that funny, and the thriller parts aren't very thrilling, resulting in a bland mess.

The thriller part is messed up even more by the ever annoying zither soundtrack. I can think of only one other case where the soundtrack almost singlehandedly messes up a movie, and that's Serpico. In the case of Serpico the director Sidney Lumet boasted that there was only about 10 minutes or so of music (I can't remember the exact number, but he says it in the special features on the DVD) in the entire 2+ hour film. All I could think about when watching it was that it was 10 minutes we could have done without that awful Mikis Theodorakis crap.

Back to The Third Man, Anton Karas' plinky plunky zither bonanza plays almost nonstop throughout the entire picture. It sways between being vomit inducingly melodramatic and something out of a zany Tom & Jerry cartoon comedy, effectively removing any tension that might have been left in the movie.

The behind the scenes documentary on the DVD was far more interesting and engaging than the movie itself, and is the only reason for me not chucking the movie into the waste basket.

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63 out of 122 people found the following review useful:

the best of all time

Author: matt hintze from california
27 October 1998

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!

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6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Blithering Zithering!!

Author: sherryminou07 from United States
2 September 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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.

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23 out of 43 people found the following review useful:

That Terrific B&W Cinematography

Author: Lechuguilla from Dallas, Texas
20 June 2009

In a bombed-out Vienna just after WWII, novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives from America to renew a friendship with his childhood buddy, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Much to the dismay of Holly, a freak auto accident has recently killed his friend, according to those who knew Harry.

But in searching for details of Lime's death, Holly gets contradictory stories that don't add up. One of the persons who knew Lime is an attractive woman named Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli) whose continued presence in the story invites suspicion. The film's plot has Holly searching for the truth about his friend, while trying to stave off a city detective, Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) who tries to persuade Holly to leave Vienna.

The film's story is okay. But what makes "The Third Man" really interesting is the B&W cinematography, by Robert Krasker. Unlike most films, camera movement here is restricted, so as to draw attention to each frame's geometry. Typically in this film, a frame is tilted at an angle so that both vertical and horizontal points of reference are off-kilter. Frame images thus become a series of diagonal straight lines and curves. Further, very high-contrast lighting, especially in outdoor scenes at night, creates a bizarre, almost nightmarish look and feel, and are suggestive of German Expressionism.

All of which results in a visual disorientation for viewers that parallels Holly's disorientation both in the streets of Vienna and in his understanding of the circumstances surrounding Lime's absence. In most outdoor scenes there's a conspicuous lack of crowds, a lack of hubbub one would expect in a bustling city. Instead, only a few secondary characters appear in night scenes. This sparseness in characters on the streets conveys the impression that hidden eyes are watching Holly, ready to pounce at any moment from out of dark shadows.

"Everybody ought to (be) careful in a city like this", says one character to Holly, as an implied threat. Soon, a man who wants to give Holly some valuable information is murdered.

The script's dialogue is quite impressive, with some interesting lines and points of view. Some of the dialogue is in German, which enhances authenticity.

The film's acting and editing are very, very good. Adding a slightly romantic, and at times melancholy, tone to this dark film is the music of the "zither", an instrument similar to a guitar, but sounding quite different.

My one complaint about this film is that it's hard to keep tabs on some of the background characters. Trying to connect names with faces can be difficult, resulting in some confusion.

"The Third Man" tells an interestingly bleak story, set in a bleak, desolate urban environment, rendered truly mesmerizing by the creatively surreal B&W cinematography.

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