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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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
*** 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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Post-war Vienna. A dangerous city, full of intrigue, crime & sudden
death. Notorious American racketeer Harry Lime starts to cross a
street. There is an accident and he is killed instantly. Or is he? His
body is carried to the sidewalk by two friends. Or does another man
assist them? If so, who is THE THIRD MAN and what does he know about
Lime's suspicious death?
Such is the puzzle at the beginning of what many consider to be the greatest film ever made. Its glories are so obvious that it is almost futile to pick out any for observation: the marvelous sewer chase, the balloon man, the little boy with the ball, the giant wheel, the cuckoo clock speech & the long closing walk across the cemetery. All of these linger in the mind, becoming permanent residents of our cinematic subconscious.
The entire cast is excellent: Joseph Cotton as Lime's American friend trying to piece together what has happened; Trevor Howard as the stalwart British Major of Police; gorgeous Valli as Harry's faithful lover; Bernard Lee as the tragic Police Sergeant; Wilfrid Hyde-White as a dithering English cultural attaché. And then there's Orson Welles...
The character of Harry Lime, alive or dead, on-screen or not, is one of cinema's most fascinating villains. Charming & deadly as any cobra, he attracts & repels at the same moment. It is interesting to note that BBC Radio resurrected the character for the series 'The Lives of Harry Lime' very shortly after the film's release. Harry was not allowed to stay in his grave for long...
Three more items of note: (1) The cinematography is first-rate, making Vienna by night look almost lunar. (2) Orson Welles' first appearance on screen is a real dandy. (3) Above & around & through everything is the famous zither music of Anton Karas, which becomes like a Greek Chorus, commenting on the action. Its complete silence during the sewer chase only underscores the starkness of the sequence.
A great deal has been said about "The Third Man" by contributors to
this forum. Having seen the restored copy that was shown at the Film
Forum, recently, I could not resist watching this masterpiece once more
when it was shown by TCM, the other night.
This movie owes a debt of gratitude to Graham Greene, a writer who had the most developed sense of intrigue among his contemporaries and one of the best writers of the last century. It also helped that a great director, Carol Reed, brought it to the screen. Mr. Reed was a director who had an eye for detail, as he demonstrates here, as well as in the rest of the body of work he left for us to enjoy.
The screen play is faithful to the original novel. If to all of the other elements we add the fabulous cinematography of Robert Krasker, the result has to be the masterpiece we see today. Never before has a city taken center stage in the development of the story that is presented here. Mr. Krasker's wonderful night vision of this city enhances the story as we are taken along for a fantastic trip of the post war Vienna of 1949.
The casting of this film is amazing. Never had so many excellent actors been thrown together in a film, as it is the case as with this picture. Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Orson Welles, Bernard Lee, Ernst Deutsch, Paul Horbiger, Erich Ponto and Wilfred Hyde White are splendid in their roles. It is hard to imagine these characters played by other actors.
Orson Welles has perhaps the best part, even though his time before the camera is short. This must have been one of the best roles in which Welles appeared. Of course, there are so many others, but his Harry Lime is an original and could have fitted perfectly in one of his own films.
The music by Anton Karas is still haunting, with the exception of a few times at the beginning of a couple of scenes, when it startles the viewer and actually doesn't add anything to what we are about to see.
This film will live forever.
*** 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
Who was Harry Lime (Orson Welles)? An evil man, devil in the flesh who
was responsible for the unspeakable crimes, yet brilliant, cheerful and
charismatic. His most famous words, a short speech written by Welles
himself, say a lot about his character and motivations:
"In Italy for 30 years under the Borgies they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
No wonder, we like him, even though we know what he'd done
It has been said thousands of times about the greatest movie entrance ever but what about his 'exit' the fingers on the street? I think it is one of the greatest, too
A beautiful mysterious girl with tragic past was in love with him and the unforgettable ending, so antiHollywood, so true to the film - was about her love that goes beyond the grave. I read that both Selznick (the producer) and author Graham Greene had initially argued for something more upbeat (Holly and Anna walking off arm-in-arm), but Reed disagreed. I am so happy that Reed won (I am sure millions of fans are, too). That was the way to finish the movie and make it much more than just typical noir. Makes the viewer think about love, friendship, betrayal, loyalty, the price one pays for them.
Amazing film - perfectly shot; almost flawless. It looks and feels like Welles himself could've made it. The influence of Citizen Kane is undeniable. The only problem I had the music. I like it but it was very strange to hear it in the film like The Third Man. Maybe that was a purpose instead of somber, moody, and ominous music that would be expected for the noir film, something completely different and out of place cheerful but melancholy in the same time
Criterion DVD is wonderful the restored version of the film shines. There are two openings of the film available British and American, and a lot of extras.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Currently ensconced in the top fifty movies of all time on the IMDb, I
just don't see it. Sure, The Third Man looks absolutely gorgeous and
the ending is superb, but the rest is just passable. Beautiful to look
at, but lacking any real drive or urgency.
The stuff in the sewers is good and there's some nice discussions of morality, but the film drags terribly for the first hour, where the casting (and, in a modern age, VHS covers) clearly signpost that Welles is to be expected.
Coming from the director of the superlative "Odd Man Out" and the writer of the equally superb "Brighton Rock" then I was expecting more. I don't consider myself a philistine, but, for me at least, the narrative and subtext of this one wasn't enough to sustain its attempts at brilliance.
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