The Third Man (1949)

Film Noir of generations | 108 minutes

Movie Info


Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias 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. So long Holly.

The Third Man, is one of the finest post-war era, movie ever made in its unusual, sui generis stylish thriller. In the middle of destructed 20th century Vienna, following WWII. The city paranoid of a social, economic, spoilt, smutted and divided along geo-political lines is the backdrop of Carol Reed’s directional of Graham Greene’s novella.

The unquestionable effectiveness of this film is derived from the manner in which the accessible narrative reinforces the influence of Greene’s intrigues of international politics and espionage. This is also Reed’s greatest triumph in the making which followed with Oliver! (1968), when he received the Academy Award for the best Director. He’s been influenced ever since with many film-makers then and Roman Polanski repeatedly cited Reed as his favourite influencer to become a director.

The Third Man has all the right ingredients- Twisty storyline, with one of the most charismatic villains ever to grace the screen Orson Welles. The background score by Anton Karas’s spur to the solid musical chord and of course, the black & white visual opulence, defining the couth of urbanity from the lenses of Robert Krasker cinematography remain breathtaking even to this date, that’s more than seven decades later.

The film was viewed in all sorts of ascendancy through the years with many pundits wondered the casting of Orson Welles indirectly influenced Reed. After all, Citizen Kane was seven years old when The Third Man went into production, and it is likely that many of the techniques and approaches pioneered by Welles in his masterpiece found their way into among many other contemporary motion pictures.

The writing of Graham Greene elevates the characters straight away into the story. He adopted crotchet of the disposition as a piece of larger puzzle, thus the subtext is deeper and fierce. One can make out the difference is in the details. Apart, the story has a subtle devilish mischievous humour runs through, touching the darker depressions of war and aftermath with glints of macabre.

Joseph Cotten, the selection of producer David O. Selznick (Reed wanted James Stewart), is Holly Martins, a relatively naïve American novelist who arrives in post-war Vienna to take a job offered to him by his long time friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). When Holly arrives, however, he learns that Harry has recently died in a tragic traffic accident. At the funeral, he meets Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), a British member of the local military police, who tells Holly that he should turn around immediately and go home. But Holly is bitten by the curiosity bug and smitten by Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), a mysterious mourner at Harry’s funeral. He thinks there’s more to the story of Harry’s death than is initially obvious, and he begins his own investigation. He soon learns that there are differing accounts of what happened that day, and that one of the witnesses, to remove Harry’s body from the street – cannot be found. In fact, several of the other witnesses deny his existence. Harry with help from Anna and in the face of stern opposition from Calloway, unwinds to the indistinct reality and finds a different perspective of his close friend who scares the bejesus out of replacing good penicillin with bad, resulting in widespread death and disease.

Welles as Harry Lime is introduced rather late in the movie, creates one of the most striking and enthralling characters in the silver screen. His sardonic, half-mocking expression on his face. yet cheerful and charismatic. His most famous words, a short speech written by Welles, say a lot about his character and motivations: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias 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.” Welles’ most important contribution to cinema may be Citizen Kane, but a large segment of the movie-going population will remember him as Harry Lime, and in fact, that British radio created a series of radio play featuring the Lime’s character.

Extant of Joseph Cotten, the protagonist coming to grips with betrayal and builds his strength to chase the shadow on a lark and confronting the devilish Harry Lime is a classy treat and the hard lessons about friendship, loyalty, and justice.

The film’s love interest/femme fatale is played by Italian actress Alida Valli (billed during the original release as “Valli”), who brings both a hard edge and a softer vulnerability to the part. Like many women in film noir, she is the object of unrequited love, and, being aware of the protagonist’s interest in her, she manipulates his affection. This Ingrid Bergman-like performance represented the high point of Valli’s career as an actress in English-language films. The rest of the actors’ viz. Trevor Howard, near the beginning of a long and prosperous career, is Major Calloway is also significant.

The Third Man consistently impresses, with its crisp and clean, black and white visuals. It’s equally harmonized with the background score trembles the keys, tones, pitch and sound through the innermost waking of the ghost streets of Vienna, solaced and refreshed.

It’s so well reminisced, and unquestionably a must-see – one of the masterpieces of a genre that has contained everything from milestone motion pictures to a serious potboiler and due in large part to the meticulousness of those involved, the movie is virtually without flaw. It’s a standout from an era in which there were many great films, The Third Man manages the laudable feat of combining popular entertainment with artistic achievement, making it beguile, compelling and captivating. It’s no longer just a succession of suspenseful ride, but awaken our forgotten world of an era passed by. Not let anyone know what you’re against or what you’re for.

When a show ended, for a few hours, my body sizzled with leftover energy, like a tree in the wake of a lightning strike. So’s The Third Man.

Film Crew

  • Produced & Directed by Carol Reed
  • Written by Graham Greene
  • Cast: Joseph Cotton; Alida Valli; Orson Welles & Trevor Howard
  • Music by Anton Karas
  • Cinematography: Robert Krasker
  • Editing by Oswald Hafenrichter
  • Distributed by British Lion Films; Selznick & 20th Century Fox
  • Release dates: 2 September 1949 & Running time: 104 minutes
  • Country : United Kingdom
  • Language: English

Trailers & Videos


The Third Man (Official Trailer)

Film Noir of generations

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