The Third Man (1949)

Film-Noir, Mystery, Thriller
Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard
Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, black-market opportunist Harry Lime.
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This atmospheric thriller is one of the undisputed masterpieces of cinema, and boasts iconic performances from Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles.
  • Rialto Company:
  • NOT RATED Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 31 Aug 1949 Released:
  • 30 Nov 1999 DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • Graham Greene (by), Graham Greene (screen play) Writer:
  • Carol Reed Director:
  • N/A Website:

All subtitles:

Trailer:

Atmospheric British thriller5/10

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 Noel 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.
A movie ahead of its time10/10

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.
Joseph Cotten is Excellent in Revolutionary Film Noir10/10

"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.
A Flawless Classic5/10

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.
The real mccoy when you want to talk serious screen legends!5/10

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.