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Thriller, Mystery, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
Carol Reed
Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins
Alida Valli as Anna Schmidt
Orson Welles as Harry Lime
Trevor Howard as Major Calloway
Bernard Lee as Sergeant Paine
Paul Hörbiger as Karl - Harry's Porter (as Paul Hoerbiger)
Ernst Deutsch as 'Baron' Kurtz
Siegfried Breuer as Popescu
Erich Ponto as Dr. Winkel
Storyline: An out of work pulp fiction novelist, Holly Martins, arrives in a post war Vienna divided into sectors by the victorious allies, and where a shortage of supplies has lead to a flourishing black market. He arrives at the invitation of an ex-school friend, Harry Lime, who has offered him a job, only to discover that Lime has recently died in a peculiar traffic accident. From talking to Lime's friends and associates Martins soon notices that some of the stories are inconsistent, and determines to discover what really happened to Harry Lime.
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Zither Thou Goest
The Third Man refers to another witness to a crime that no one seems to know anything about. The crime of course is the hit and run murder of Harry Lime played by Orson Welles. But is Welles dead.

One of the things I like about The Third Man is that it makes a nominal hero out of one of the biggest bunglers ever put on screen. Let's just say that if Holly Martins played by Joseph Cotten were bumping into furniture on top of everything else, he'd be Inspector Clouseau.

Holly arrives in occupied Vienna in the late Forties at the invitation of an old college classmate Harry Lime. Literally upon arriving in Vienna, Martins learns that his friend Lime was the victim of a hit and run accident and the funeral is going on at that moment. He goes to the funeral and is smitten by Lime's girlfriend, Alida Valli.

Martins is a writer of western stories and it's bad when a writer starts believing he's one of his own heroes. Maybe Jessica Fletcher is capable of it, but not Holly Martins. Martins decides to start his own investigation into Lime's death much to the consternation of the British occupying force which doing its own inquiry. Trevor Howard plays Major Callaway of the British Army in charge of the investigation.

Martins turns out to be right that there is something more afoot than a simple traffic accident. But he's so terribly wrong about everything and everyone else it is frightening. I really can't say more at this point.

Someone reading the plot description I've given might think The Third Man is some kind of comedy, but it is not. It is in fact one of the most finely crafted dramas ever put on the screen. The location photography in Vienna is fabulous and contributes so much to the authenticity of the story and its characters. Joseph Cotten gives one of his best performances as the bull-in-the-china-shop amateur detective.

As for Orson Welles, it's a virtual tie in my opinion with Compulsion for the distinction of his finest performer as an actor without working for director Orson Welles. Harry Lime turns out to be the harbinger of a cynical age we were entering.

And if nothing else grabs you about The Third Man, that theme on the zither will stay with you forever. Definitely one of the ten best known movie scores ever.
This motion picture belongs in the all time top ten list
Notwithstanding 'Citizen Kane', this is the finest movie Orson Welles has ever made. Indeed, this is one of the finest movies anyone has ever made. The classic Welles touch permeates this fine film and anyone who wishes to know what the man was all about should start with this one. All of the actors, fine performers in their own right, seem to have peaked in this movie. I have not read the Graham Greene novel but I would have to believe that, contrary to the usual book/movie comparisons, this movie has surpassed the book. I say this partly because of the almost dreamlike scenes and camera angles , something of a signature of Welles' work, and partly because of the hauntingly lovely strains of Anton Karas' zither, tying one scene to another and delicately enveloping the whole work. A book cannot do that. I don't know how many times I have seen this movie but, like a fine painting, I see it again at each opportunity. If you have not seen this movie you are missing a major contribution to the world of cinematography.
Beautiful cinematography, but contrived and incoherent plot
As "The Third Man" is considered a cinema classic, anyone who gives it a less than glowing review risks being labeled a philistine or worse. However, I found it a bit disappointing, viewed sixty-six years after its release.

I liked the locations. Costumes were fine. Cinematography was suitably moody, although a bit contrived. The askew camera angles seemed neither annoying nor fraught with allegorical significance; however, the balloon vendor's exaggerated shadow and the brightly lit sewers were distracting. The acting was better than average for the period, but largely consisted of posturing to deliver exposition. Dialogue was good, with a lot of subtext. I liked that the dialogue was delivered in the language of the character and appreciated the confusion it caused. I liked the ending – cynical, dismaying and very un-Hollywood, but effective.

What disappointed me was the plot, which made no sense at all. If one were to rearrange the events in chronological order, as I understood them, they would go something like this:

Spoiler Alert!!

In post-war Vienna, penicillin is scarce. Charles Lime hatches a scheme to steal it from a British military hospital with the help of orderly Joseph Harbin, dilute it and sell it on the black market to other hospitals.

The diluted penicillin proves ineffectual or worse. Major Calloway launches an investigation.

Lime conspires to cover his tracks by murdering Harbin and switching identities so the authorities believe he is dead. He will then defect to the Russian sector. But first he offers pulp fiction author Holly Martins a job and sends him a plane ticket.

Although Martins is apparently a popular, successful author, he is broke and leaps at the opportunity to travel to Vienna, where he learns that Lime is dead and tries to unravel inconsistencies in the stories told by witnesses.

The movie suggests that the penicillin somehow caused the patients distress and exacerbated their conditions. This might make sense if the penicillin were somehow contaminated in the dilution process. But absent an allergic reaction, a weak dose of penicillin shouldn't cause any immediate harm. When the dosage proved ineffective, one would expect the doctors to suspect it had been diluted and simply increase the dosage at considerably greater expense and/or renegotiate with Lime. Similarly, if it were contaminated, one would expect it to cause infections and for the doctors to suspend using it. One might just as easily blame the doctors for buying and administering suspect drugs on the black market. Everybody knows penicillin is scarce. It seems no different than drug dealers purchasing heroin. They need to conduct quality control inspections to be sure they get what they paid for. For all they know, Lime could have filled used vials with tap water.

The murder/fake death plot doesn't make much sense either. Apparently Dr. Winkel, Popescu and Kurtz were involved in the penicillin scheme and assisted Lime in faking his death. Two walk with Harbin, one entices him to cross the street and the fourth runs him over with a truck. Or maybe they pushed him. This is done in broad daylight in front of witnesses who don't want to become involved, but are ready to chase Martins all over town when they suspect he was involved in the porter's murder.

Calloway, who has a personal axe to grind with Lime and is heading the investigation, has time to attend funerals and escort visitors around town but doesn't find time to verify that the accident victim was Lime, even though some of the witnesses made inconsistent statements.

Meanwhile, Lime, who has done all this so he can get away clean, doesn't go anywhere. He manages to slip into his apartment building, where everybody knows him, in broad daylight without being seen, and murders the porter then slips out again.

Artistically, the film is superb. It has many excellent qualities. But the plot is flimsy, incoherent and relies upon numerous coincidences and contrivances.
Great film
Greetings from Lithuania.

I can believe of how involving and intriguing "The Third Man" (1949) actually is after seeing it just now for a first time in 2017. This is a movie which stood the test of time. Now for a second this movie in term of its narrative, script, writing, acting and directing looked like of felt like it was made back in 1949. All of the above mentioned parts of the film were more then great - they were a head of its time. Now i also loved how somehow darkly funny this movie was and especially the whole story if you think about it - i won't spoil the ending for those who haven't seen it yet, but the story about a novelist desperately trying for find out about his closed friends dead and how it all ends its just a funny, darkly funny thing. Music as well cinematography were also great.

Overall, while "The Third Man" isn't perfect nor it blew my away like some other films of the period, this is a great film overall, a bit a head of its time.
The Greatest Film of All Time
It took me several years and a lot of thought, but as someone who enjoys movies, I selected "The Third Man" as the greatest film ever made. I have a list of similar favorite films, and it is hard to rank them in order of preference (it often depends on my mood, so many are equally great).

Here are a few reasons:

1) "The Third Man" is the most outstanding reason for why I love to go to the movies. It welds images, sounds, dialogue and music into my memory, my personality, and my soul. When I think of why I love the cinema, I think of this film as an example.

2) Joseph Cotten. The man has a screen presence wrought not from the elements which make other "Great" actors like Laurence Olivier, Humphrey Bogart or Jimmy Stewart, but from his own normalcy. He is Joseph Cotten, a nice guy, someone you'd like to have speak for you at a college admissions board or at a traffic court. He's the kind of guy you hope your new girlfriend's dad is like. He's not just "nice", either, in a Cary Grant way. We actually like the guy. And it is this niceness which hurts us most when we see what he must do.

3) Alida Valli. She was in the 1977 hidden treasure "Suspiria", but otherwise dropped from view after this film, in which she blasted through a handicap (that accent) with the most affecting female performances of all time--we love her and hate her, because she's the unrequited love to end all unrequited loves.

4) Orson Welles. He's such a convincing bad guy, but he's the coolest. In the pantheon of directors, he was sometimes overlooked as an actor, but here he tops them all. He almost has us taken by his scheme, and we doubt the movie (and Major Calloway) will be able to counter him. It does, nearly, and he becomes both the despicable rat villain and the glorious rebel martyr at the same time.

5) The zither score.

6) The final shot.
The Trouble with Harry Lime
I initially felt a fool for not having seen "The Third Man" earlier. However, in retrospect, having now read most of Graham Greene's major works, and having received some keen insight into the back-story of producer Alexander Korda through Kati Marton's book "The Great Escape", I feel I was able to enjoy "The Third Man" even more for the staggering masterpiece that it is.

As a European/American co-production bankrolled by two legendary hands-on producers, David O. Selznick and Alexander Korda, "The Third Man" was masterfully crafted by director Carol Reed from a screenplay by British novelist Graham Greene. The film served as a pinnacle of the film noir movement and is a prime example of master filmmakers working with an iconic writer and utilizing an amazing cast and crew to create a masterwork representing professionals across the field operating at the top of their game.

Fans of Greene's novels need not be disappointed as the screenplay crackles with all that signature cynicism and sharp witted dialogue. Carol Reed's crooked camera angles, moody use of shadowing and external locations (Vienna, partially bombed out, wet and Gothic, never looked more looming and haunting) and crisp editing are the perfect visual realizations of Greene's provocative wordplay and often saturnine view of the world. Reed's brief opening montage and voice-over introducing us to the black market in Vienna is also shockingly modern, as it is that energetic quick-cut editing that has influenced directors like Scorsese to film entire motion pictures in just such a style. Also making the film decidedly timeless is the zither music score of Anton Karas, a bizarre accompaniment to the dark story that serves as a brilliant contradiction to what is being seen on screen.

The story of "The Third Man" slides along like smooth gin down the back of one's throat as characters, plot and mood meander and brood along cobblestone streets and slither down dark alleys in an intoxicated state. Heavy drinking hack writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten, doing an excellent Americanized riff on Graham Greene himself) arrives in post WWII occupied Vienna to meet up with his old pal Harry Lime (Orson Welles) only to find that Lime is reportedly dead, the police (headed by a perfectly cold Trevor Howard) don't seem to care, and Lime's charming broken-hearted mistress (Alida Valli, perfect as another Greene archetype) has been left behind. Of course, Martins can't leave well enough alone as conspiracy, murder, unrequited romance, and political intrigue ensue. Welles benefits greatly from being talked about for most of the film and appearing mostly in shadows spare for two scenes: the famous ferris wheel speech, and a climatic chase beneath the streets of Vienna through Gothic sewers. His top hap, dark suit, and crooked smile are the stuff of film legend.

The side characters, however, are what make "The Third Man" such a rich, rewarding experience. We're treated to small glimpses into the mindsets of varying people ranging from a British officer obsessed with American Western dime-store novels (of which Martins claims his fame) to an Austrian landlady eternally wrapped in a quilt going on and on in her foreign tongue as international police constantly raid her building and harass her tenants. The brilliance is that one needs no subtitles to understand her frustration. These added layers of character and thoughtful detail, hallmarks of Greene, set "The Third Man" in a class above the rest of film noir from the late 1940's era.

Make no mistake, "The Third Man" is arguably one of the most finely crafted films ever made. One's preference towards noir and Greene's world-view will shape how much one actually enjoys the film. For the sheer fact it has held up so well over the decades and has clearly influenced so many great films that came after it, its repeated rankings as one of the greatest motion pictures ever made can not be denied. With a good stiff drink in hand, and Graham Greene's collection dog-eared on my bookshelf, "The Third Man" is undoubtedly now one of my favorite films. Reed's closing shot of a tree-lined street along a cemetery and Joseph Cotten leaning against a car smoking a cigarette while Alida Valli walks right past him with that zither music score playing is one that has left an indelible mark on my memory and enriched my love of film as art.
One masterpiece per customer
Filmed as though the camera had one tripod leg shorter than the others, along with zithers, seductive shadows, echoing sewers, Alida Valli's cheekbones, ferris wheels, cuckoo clocks and a magician's touch, this film is more of an experience than a movie. Impossible to remake, it also captures Vienna at a critical time just after WW2 when it was still occupied by the Allied powers.

Even after 55 years, "The Third Man" has a compelling story, superb performances and enough style for ten films.

And that story by Graham Greene stands up even when compared with all the brilliant mystery films over the intervening decades as well as literate crime series on TV such as "Lewis", "Wallander" and "Vera" etc.

Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), a rather nerdy, and slightly annoying writer of paperback westerns, arrives in post-war Vienna to discover that his good friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) has supposedly been killed in an accident. He encounters suspicious British policemen (Trevor Howard and Bernard Lee), and also Harry's enigmatic and beautiful girlfriend Anna (Alida Valli). Eventually Holly learns things about Harry that trouble him deeply. It all leads to a confrontation in the cavernous sewers under Vienna.

The film also features one of the most unexpected endings ever. I won't spoil it in case one of the five people who haven't seen the film happens to read this.

Suffice to say that the original script had a more conventional ending and it was actually David O Selznick who came up with the one used in the film. It was always assumed that it was director Carol Reed's, but Charles Drazin in his fascinating book "In Search of the Third Man" pretty well pins it down to Selznick, who attempted to interfere with the whole production. Although ostensibly a British film, Selznick had money in it with Alexander Korda.

There is so much to observe and enjoy including Orson Welles famous monologue, and the stunning Alida Valli. She was so beautiful, "head-swivelingly beautiful" as Martin Scorsese once said. Even the shapeless raincoat she wears for most of the film only makes those luminous features even more striking. She had already made a couple of Hollywood movies including Hitchcock's "The Paradine Case" another film where her mystique is caught if a little chillingly – and she wasn't even a Hitchcock blonde.

Carol Reed went on to make other movies including "The Man Between", which tried to recapture the spirit of "The Third Man", this time set in Berlin. It even foreshadowed "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold", but it didn't have that self-contained, indefinable magic of "The Third Man". Maybe its only one true masterpiece per customer, although Reed's batting average was always strong.

Whatever the case, "The Third Man" has lost none of its lustre and more than lives up to its reputation. I'd have to say it's a desert island disc for me.
Watched it last night. I was not engrossed, which surprised me. The main character is a writer of some sort, but he completely lacks imagination. He's entirely straight-forward, utterly lacking in the nuanced sophistication that makes for a good investigator. The motivations of many of the characters are dubious at best, such as the appearance of the Third Man. Orson Welles did fine, but the role is not as legendary and epic as we are lead to believe. Not seeing this film will not make one any less of a film connoisseur.

The camera-work, shadows, and atmosphere are to be commended. The actors other than Joseph Cotten are very good. Overall, it makes for a "so-so" film by today's standards. Some older films created tension quite well, but this film simply doesn't, which is probably a prerequisite for a thriller to succeed, no?
A great film that keeps getting better.
As you watch The Third Man, you are slowly sucked into the word of past war Austria. You can almost taste the wet stones that line the streets and you feel just as alone as Holly Martins does. Holly has come to Austria at the request of his boyhood friend, Harry Lime. Upon arriving in Austria, Holly learns that Harry has been killed. As Holly digs deeper into Harry's life in Austria, things start to get weird. Turns out Harry wasn't all that Holly thought he was. That only drives Holly to find out what really happened to Harry, and who the mysterious Third Man is. The Third Man not only showcases great performances from Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, but it also boasts great black and white cinematography. Shadows abound from every corner and the angles give you a feeling of being off balance, which is how Joseph Cotton feels through the first half of the film. Post war Austria lends itself well to the story. The bombed out buildings and dark streets highten the mystery and danger that lurk in the corners. A great film that can never be topped, and once you've finished the film, you'll be in a dither over the zither.
Film Nu-uh
Since this movie appeared on the IMDb top rated movies list, I felt obliged to watch it, so last night I settled in to be blown away by a what has been described as a film noir classic. Instead of film noir, I saw film nu-uh.

The black and white film is generally well shot and pretty to look at - with the occasional hilariously fake car scene - one scene with 3 or 4 men in a jeep early in the film in particular stands out in my mind, as it almost looks like the actors are inwardly cringing, knowing how fake the scene is going to look. Nevertheless this is a comic distraction that can be written off as a technical limitation from the time the movie was made, and indeed many modern films and TV shows still haven't mastered a realistic car scene.

The flow of the plot reveals contrivance after contrivance. Some of the acting borders on pantomime - in one early street scene there are several "watchers" on the sidewalk, or in apartment windows or shadowy corners, who cast what are supposed to be surreptitious glances towards the action, "subtly" looking away or appearing to mind their own business when they sensed they are being noticed. Gee, do you think these people might know something the guy on the street doesn't??

Two thirds of the way through the film, the "twist" or the "Third Man" in the plot is revealed, and by the time the end of the film arrives, it is obvious that the twist made no sense. In a real life situation, the Third Man has no reason to reveal himself, in actual fact it would be completely detrimental (dare I say suicidal?) to his own interests to reveal himself. Towards the end of the film we are watching an underground chase scene, which is really just a long montage of a chased man looked desperate in a tunnel and policemen climbing down manholes and shining torches into the darkness. The way this scene ends is comically flawed and loses its last piece of credibility when lead policeman literally forgets about chasing the criminal to attend to a friend, complete with a pantomime shaking of his head as he snaps out of it and realises that he is still supposed to be involved in a chase.

I'm prepared to make allowances for an old film and shrug off its technical flaws or inadequacies and accept the cultural and artistic aspects that link it to a certain time. However the flimsy plot of The Third Man is its achilles heel. I also found the constant switching of languages (particularly early in the film) to be quite jarring and wasn't a fan of the frequent zither throughout the soundtrack.

Having said all of that, there are a few likable aspects to The Third Man. Every now and then there is snappy line of dialogue that makes you smile and some of the minor parts, particularly those played by Siegfried Breuer & Ernst Deutsch are roguishly charming, and it is at these times the film does shine briefly as these character actors are free to beguile and charm. And I must finally say that the final scene of the movie does actually achieve one lone moment of classic film noir - it is beautifully shot and is a genuinely classic scene complete with the lighting of a cigarette as the film fades out.
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