Third Man

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The Third Man: Black and White Delight!

Apr 7, 2000 (Updated Feb 20, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Script, Cinematography, Score, Cotten, Welles, supporting Cast

Cons:None

The Bottom Line: A superb example of Post WWII intrigue in Central Europe, The Third Man belongs in the library of every film buff. Must see!


The Third Man (1949)

Director Carol Reed’s "The Third Man" is an amazing tale of post-WWII cold war Europe. Set in the then present-time in bombed out Vienna, it stars Joseph Cotten as hack writer "Holly Martins".

The opening credits of the film roll over the vibrating strings of Anton Karas’ fantastic zither, an instrument I came to appreciate when I was stationed in Germany during my Army days... Karas’ zither plays the score, alternating light-hearted passages with those that build suspense and tension in an unusual, but perfect contrast of darks and lights, just as the immaculate cinematography captures the suspense and tension of the plot.

Martins is a man who has come for a job promised by entrepreneur friend "Harry Lime", whom Martins, upon his arrival in Vienna and much to his chagrin, discovers to be now deceased. So recently deceased, that Martins has the opportunity to attend his friend’s funeral. They throw dirt on the closed casket, already in the ground and Martins notices a mysterious woman, played by the lovely actress "Valli", who is one of the few attendees at Lime’s funeral. He also meets the British military police Chief, brilliantly portrayed by Trevor Howard. Howard advises Martins to get on the next plane out of Vienna, but Martins has other ideas... he wants to get to the bottom of Lime’s death.

Vienna is a hotbed of intrigue, a crossroads for the displaced humanity of Central Europe. The war has been won, yes, but the occupying powers are divided, East against West. There are British, French, Russian, and American zones of occupation in Vienna, making it a confusing time for the viewer as well as the unsophisticated Martins. The odd camera angles and shadows of the photography mimic the babble of the tongues of the various sublimely depicted characters, underscored by the pulsating zither, making the entire film extremely cohesive, a trait it in which is exceeds all other films. The closest comparison for this trait is Michael Curtiz’ "Casablanca", but "The Third Man" exceeds even this masterpiece in cohesion.

The plot revolves around Harry Lime’s activities prior to his untimely demise. It seems he was a black marketeer of newly discovered antibiotics. These were hijacked from the military hospitals, diluted, and distributed to the local citizens at exorbitant prices. Many of the persons were killed or maimed by the adulterated drugs Lime peddled and Martins is appalled as it becomes apparent to him what a monster his friend really was.

The sudden entrance of Harry Lime and his short but sweet performance is legend in cinematic lore. Lime is portrayed by the inimitable Orson Welles, in arguably his greatest screen performance. The smiling face in a darkened doorway is illuminated by the light of an upstairs apartment as an Austrian woman rails against Martins, standing below in the street.

The plot moves into high gear and culminates in a chase thru the sewers of Vienna, where Martins and Lime have their fatal confrontation.

The ending shows the attendees again throwing dirt on the coffin of Harry Lime, seamlessly wrapping up the plot in a neat package.

There are just too many succulent moments in this film to recount them all. Suffice it to say that "The Third Man", will stand up to repeated viewings and the viewer will learn something new each time he sees it.

Also recommended are The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, LA Confidential, and The Maltese Falcon for aficionados of the genre.


Recommend this product? Yes

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