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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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't know why this movie always hooks me the way it does; it's
obviously a masterpiece and a revered piece of British/American cinema
- but that alone is not the reason (there are other such masterpieces
which fail to have that effect on me). Maybe it's the setting: the
beautiful city of Vienna right after World War II, the scars of the
most devastating conflict in human history still visible at every
corner. Or it's the contrast between the eerily happy music tune -
which plays throughout the entire film - and the dark, tragic story of
murder and betrayal which I find so strangely captivating. Whatever it
is, I just love this movie.
'The Third Man' now has more than 60 years on its back, but its age hardly shows. Despite the story's dark themes, the general mood of the narrative is rather light, sometimes darkly funny, and the slightly cynical tone and morally ambiguous characters give the movie a very modern feel. What also stands out and makes the film memorable - in addition to the fantastic soundtrack - is the outstanding, Accademy Award winning cinematography. Black and white has rarely looked better. The way DOP Robert Krasker plays with unusual angles and virtually "paints" this city of Vienna with light and shadow, he adds an almost expressionistic quality to the film. I always felt that the city plays an essential part in the story, - a key character if you will - with its damaged buildings reflecting the damaged human characters. The recent war is a looming presence throughout the film, and to me this is as much a story about the desensitizing effect of war on people as it is a murder mystery. And there is yet another quality to the film which needs to be mentioned: it's very entertaining. 'The Third Man' has fantastic pacing and there is simply not a dull moment in it.
To sum up my overall impressions, this is one of those rare occasions where everything just falls right into place and helps create a unique film experience: Carol Reed's masterful direction and the wonderful performances by the fantastic actors (Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Alida Valli and Orson Welles); the beautiful soundtrack by Anton Karas; the gorgeous cinematography by Robert Krasker, and, perhaps most importantly, the story and screenplay by Graham Greene with its unexpected twists and turns (although the unusual, iconic ending wasn't Greene's idea). A true work of art and highly enjoyable entertainment: 10 stars out of 10.
Favorite films: http://www.IMDb.com/list/mkjOKvqlSBs/
Lesser-Known Masterpieces: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070242495/
Favorite Low-Budget and B-Movies: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls054808375/
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.
"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 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.
Author Joseph Cotten (Holly) is invited to Vienna by his friend Orson
Welles (Harry Lime). There is a major problem with this set-up from the
outset as it is revealed that Welles has just been killed. Cotton
attends the burial but sticks around in Vienna as there seems to be a
great deal of suspicion surrounding the death of his buddy.
The film has an interesting setting and idea for a story but I'm afraid that it just drags - it's drawn-out and never gets moving. Cotten is dreary in the lead role but Welles is the best thing in the film and delivers his amusing famous quote comparing Italy with Switzerland. The scene on the Ferris wheel is a standout scene as the audience experiences the only real moment of tension as the carriage door is opened at the top of the ride. Uh-oh is anybody going over the edge?
A mention must be made of the music it's all zithery throughout. To further clarify, it sounds like a mixture between Greek music and French café accordion music. And it provides moments of over-exaggerated melodrama that just ends up comical. It is also just basically out-of-place belonging more in an art film or 1960s camp comedy horror.
The story is not bad and the film could have been so much more interesting we are given about 30 minutes of plot stretched out to nearly 2 hours. Definitely not the classic that everyone blindly labels it as it is vastly over-rated right up to the final chase scene in the sewers a plot device that was done a year before in the better film "He Walked By Night" (1948) which provided far more tension and a better sewer chase.
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.
I read many wonders about this film, considering the very positive
reviews it gets. It even is considered one of the greatest films ever.
Judging by the general descriptions regarding this motion picture, it
was even said to be a great story of suspense.
I was expecting a noir film comparable to 'The Window' (1949), which is one of my favorite films. It turned out to be disappointing, nothing of what I expected.
It isn't until the last 10 minutes that something begins to happen at all, but that's just so little, especially comparing to the rest of it where nothing special happens. It's just way too slow-paced, boring and dull, made me yawn of boredom. Suspense? Zero suspense!
It was one of those films that left me indifferent. It's very far from being one of the best ever, being clearly far more praised than it really deserves. Not even the fact that it takes place in Vienna can save it. While Vienna is a beautiful place, the movie doesn't show that much of Vienna. On the other hand, the film has both English and German language.
'The Fallen Idol' (which is from the same director) was better than this and had more suspense than this (even if still very little).
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
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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