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"The Third Man", at first glance, would seem an odd choice of movie to adapt
into a television series. The Carol Reed-directed 1949 thriller, was, after
all, about a notorious criminal, Harry Lime, and his plot to convince
Interpol and the Vienna police that he was dead, to allow him to continue
his corrupt activities. A film rich in atmosphere, with an unforgettable
sewer chase finale, and a haunting, yet lilting zither theme, it seemed to
offer little to hinge a television program on.
But the BBC was enjoying a 'rebirth' in the 1950s, aided by a large input of American money from the use of British studios and production companies (for tax purposes, many American studios utilized British facilities, throughout the decade), and as the British studios became stronger, the quality of the television product being offered to the BBC improved, as well. "The Third Man" was actually an ideal candidate for television, as it had been a world-wide success, and, as it had offered American actors Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton in the leads, a series based on the film opened a door to a potential American market that few other British film titles could match.
Of course, Welles and Cotton would never agree to star in a weekly series, but in the retooled format of "The Third Man" (involving the international 'Robin Hood'-like escapades of a wealthy 'art dealer' with an obligation to Interpol, and his associate/friend), the BBC was able to utilize the services of Michael Rennie as a 'kinder and gentler' Harry Lime. Rennie was very familiar to audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, having starred as 'Klaatu' in the classic THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, as well as the Christian leader, Simon Peter, in THE ROBE. His Harry Lime possessed a wry sense of humor, a strong code of honor, and a naughty habit of 'tweaking' law enforcement noses while pulling off his capers (qualities that would be 'inherited' by Simon Templar when "The Saint" became a weekly series, in 1962).
The true pleasure of the "The Third Man", however, was watching Lime's loyal, if somewhat cowardly assistant, Bradford Webster, portrayed to perfection by Jonathan Harris. Webster had the aplomb of a Clifton Webb, but the ineptitude of Nigel Bruce's 'Dr. Watson', and Harris was so endearing in the role that he recreated virtually the same character as 'Dr. Zachary Smith' in "Lost in Space", which debuted shortly after "The Third Man" completed production. Rennie and Harris had a warm, wonderful chemistry together, and made each episode a delight.
As with nearly all of the 'international' shows of the 50s and 60s ("I Spy" was the only exception), the episodes were shot in the studio or on the back lot, with set 'dressing' and costumes creating the exotic flavor of the 'foreign' locales. While this tends to make the episodes appear 'low budget', today, to the audiences of the time, it was all wonderful escapism. And that theme song is ageless!
If "The Third Man" reappears on a 'nostalgia' channel, check it out...it is really a very entertaining series!
Harry Lime in the 1949 movie is a charming, totally amoral character. In the
1951 radio series, (an episode of which can be heard on the Criterion
Collection DVD of the film), which also starred Orson Welles, he is a
charming adventurer of dubious reputation who is not as ammoral as people
think he is. In the TV show, as played by Michael Rennie, he's a rather
conservative businessman whose reputation seems to have been a case of
I would love to have seen Welles essay the role in the TV show. It would have made all the difference. But of course, he didn't do TV series. One wonders who might have been more interesting than Rennie who was doing TV at that time. The name, (and face) that pops into my mind is Ross Martin but perhaps he was not a big enough star yet. At least Jonathan Harris provides some liveliness as Lime's persnickety assistant, although one can hardly imagine Welles' Lime finding a use for such a character. Also, in a half hour show his intrusions often detract from the story too much.
I will say that I like the way the show was filmed, with some good camera angles, clever editing and, of course, Anton Karras' musical theme, which never seems to stop playing. It's still not a patch on the movie but what TV series is?
My wife found me a DVD with three episodes of this show at a dollar
store in the Sacramento, CA area. The DVD is apparently produced by
Television Classics of Solana Beach, California. If you are a fan, as I
have become, then happy hunting!
The show stars Michael Rennie.
And Jonathan Harris.
Harry Lime is the hero.
The three episodes on my DVD are: "The Man Who Died Twice" "Dark Island" and "A Little Knowledge"
Hope this helps.
Television in the late 1950's and in the early 1960's,if most of us may
remember it were in shades in gray,and the only thing that was composed
during the early stages of that period were the occasional variety show
that were broadcast from either New York or Hollywood,and also during
that period were situation family comedies and the regular
detective-mystery show and all over the place at the time...the
television western. In 1959,westerns dominated the television landscape
with "Gunsmoke" and "Wagon Train" being at the top of the ratings and
were the most watched shows during that time. Not to mention the airing
of classic movies of the 1930's and 1940's which were the norm at the
time for prime viewing. But the end of the 1950's,all that would
The adventure-mystery-espionage TV series "The Third Man" would seem like a odd choice for a movie to adapt into a television series. The Carol Reed-directed 1949 thriller,was,after all,about a notorious criminal Harry Lime,and his plot to convince Interpol and the Vienna police that he was dead,to allow him to continue his corrupt activities. A film that was rich in atmosphere,with a unforgettable sewer chase finale,and a haunting,yet lifting zither theme,it seemed to offer little to hinge a television series on. Harry Lime was one of those sinister characters of literature who was cleaned up considerably for television. As introduced by Graham Greene's novel,The Third Man portray Lime as a treacherous man,a double-dealer whose only saving grace that he usually swindled con men and lowlifes who were more despicable them himself. Harry could be charming,but he always had an angle somewhere.
Television turned this blackheart into a suave and debonair ladies' man who was head of an import-export company based in New York,but each week traveled around the world acquiring works of art and solving mysteries and crimes. His criminal past was acknowledged,but in some episodes could be on the bit of the shady side when dealing with opposite end of his clients,whether they were lowlifes and others of the sort,which Harry ended up in a situation or two each week. The series starred Michael Rennie as Harry Lime and Jonathan Harris as Lime's assistant Bradford Webster. "The Third Man",which was produced in conjunction with the BBC(British Broadcasting Corporation),and in collaboration with 20th Century-Fox Studios,was produced by National Telefilm Associates that produced 77 episodes,all in black and white that ran in syndication from January 23,1959 until August 27,1965. Seasons 1 thru 3 episodes were produced in England for the BBC at Shepperton Studios. 20 episodes were made for Season 1 and 19 for Season 2(39 episodes),while Season 3 produced 5 episodes(total of 44 episodes). Seasons 4 and 5 were produced in Hollywood at Twentieth Century-Fox Studios. Season 4 produced 17 episodes(total of 61 episodes) while in its final season,which was Season 5 produced 13 episodes(total of 74 episodes),which included 3 that never aired during its original broadcast("Proxy Fight",and the two-part final episode of the series "Members Only"-episodes 75,76,and 77).
The best episodes from this series included "Confessions of an Honest Man","The Man Who Died Twice","A Question of Price","Dark Island","How To Buy A Country","As The Twig Is Bent","Broken Strings","One Kind Word","Toys of the Dead","Barcelona Passage","A Diamond In The Rough", "An Act of Atonement","Who Killed Harry Lime?","The Trial of Harry Lime","Man At The Top","A Little Knowledge","A Question In Ice".
Guest stars for this series comprised of both international and American actors that included Mai Zetterling,Sebastian Cabot,Ross Martin,Oliver Reed,Eric Pohlman,Frank DeKova,Laurance Naismith,Robert Sherman,Barbara Shelley,John Wengraf,Moria Redmond,Betta St. John,Sydney Tafler,not to mention actor Guy Williams.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I may be out of line here since I only saw two (well, 1 and a half episodes, I moved on) but this show is booooooooooooring. We see Harry Lime in the intro walking down an old European side street late at night, ahhhh he is up to no good I bet! Then we get a show about a guy doing business deals, yawn. Maybe in 1960 this was considered the cool of cool but in 2010 it is dull dull dull. Hey, I am a big fan of old TV (and movies going back to the silent era) but I know a turkey when I see one and this show is a dud. If you're a fan then you probably saw it growing up and have fond memories of those times of past, but if you're new to this show like I am (today), you can sample it on youtube and decide for yourself. I liked watching the ultra rich and the styles from the early 60's and I also like the musical score, I just wish I could have heard those bass drums kicking in a scene with Harry getting punched in the gut, over and over and over again. Now that would have done his seedy reputation some good! Instead I get 25 minutes of dialog and a closed business deal in the end, yawn. A good late late late show to help you fall asleep. 5 of 10.
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