Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Third Man (1949)

Seen: In HD on our big-screen/projector set-up, streamed from Miles' computer.

Set in Vienna a few years after the end of World War II, The Third Man is an unexpected mystery that unravels around the governmentally fractured city and its drifting inhabitants. Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), an American pulp western writer, arrives to visit his friend Harry Lime, just in time to discover he was killed by a negligent driver. He seeks out Lime's friends, fails to avoid local British authorities, and stumbles upon a questionable murder plot that no one seems fully intent on solving. He also sort of falls in love with Lime's grieving girlfriend, Anna (Alida Valli). Oops.

With a strong cast, intriguing story, and jaw-dropping cinematography, The Third Man becomes more and more interesting as the story progresses. The stark black and white visuals are exceptional, and I was happy just to drink in every shot. The attention to shadow and sound, added to the slick cobblestone streets and twisted alleyways, makes for an aesthetically gripping experience, with certain images burned in my memory. That immortal final chase scene in the sewers is just one in a series of memorable visual sequences.

At the start, I couldn't get over what a total dick Martins was, and how idiotically he was trying to solve this crime. Seriously, he'd announce his presence to everyone, yell at everything, agitate both the police authorities and the potential bad guys, and just generally make a mess of things. What a doofus. BUT as he becomes more and more embroiled in the puzzling events surrounding Lime's death, Martins also becomes more likable- primarily because it is abundantly clear that he's in over his head and can't seem to get out. I loved the revolving door of smarmy side characters, from the adorably sly gay duo of "Baron" Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch) and Dr Winkel (Erich Ponto) to the possibly good/possibly bad British detective Major Calloway (Trevor Howard). Martins is a typical brash American, incapable of navigating the tumultuous waters of international forces operating in postwar Vienna, but he clings so strongly to the idea of Lime- and through that, Anna- that he's somehow able to persevere.

Of course, Orson Welles steals the show, though he takes his sweet time showing up. The only thing I knew about The Third Man was that he was in it, so I spent most of the film waiting for him to appear. When he finally does, it's awesome, and I was reminded that he was actually a pretty handsome guy at one point. And I know that he was a total dick on set and showed up for filming weeks late, but hey, he's got charisma and his character/performance adds an integral layer to the proceedings.


Pair This Movie With: I was describing the general premise of this to someone and she was like, "Oh, so it's what happened after The Sound of Music?" What a double feature that would be!


  1. Aw yay! I love the Third Man. That jaw-dropping cinematography man, and all of the tilted shots!

  2. My favorite film of all time. It gets better every time I see it.

  3. On my first viewing, the music seemed so incongruous - I was expecting waltzes, or Mozart, Strauss, and instead I get this coffeehouse laptop zither stuff? But on every other viewing after it, this music fits so well.

    The radio series was written and performed by Orson a couple of years later as "The Adventures Of Harry Lime", and are 50-odd weekly episodes as prequels to his demise in this film. Pretty excellent work, and can be tracked down on ARCHIVE.ORG. Harry's still a scoundrel & thief in each episode - it's just that he's not the worst scoundrel, thief or criminal in them.