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The Third Man

A movie directed by Carol Reed

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A Quick Tip by MNeulander

  • Aug 29, 2010
Carol Reed’s 1949 film-noir “The Third Man” is Reed’s greatest work, and probably Orson Welle’s second greatest acting role of his career!  This is not an idle boast considering this movie is considered the greatest British made film of all time by the British Film institute, (#57 on AFI’s top 100).  By the way, Welle’s has the unique distinction of also acting in the #1 movie on the American Film Institute list, “Citizen Kane”!!!

“The Third Man” is certainly on my all time fave top ten list for several reasons.  The story was superbly written as a novella by Graham Greene who also wrote the screenplay for the film.  The cinematography is absolutely stunning!!!  It is considered to have two of the greatest cinematic shots in film.  One is when Orson Welles character is first seen on film, which interestingly does not happen until half way through the film.  The second is the ending scene.  In addition the movie was actually shot in war torn Vienna soon after the war which gives this movie a very “edgy” look.  Another interesting fact is that when Reed was scouting for interesting locations in Vienna to shoot scenes he did it at night so there was not so much traffic on the streets to obstruct his view.  He noticed that trucks would periodically drive over the roads and hose them down to clean them of debris.  He loved how the night light reflected off the wet sheen of the asphalt roads, a look that he duplicated in the masterful black and white film to great effect!!!  It won the Oscar Award for cinematography.

Another great “back story” to this film is how Reed settled on the film score for the movie.  It has one of the most unusual, enticing and whimsical sound scores of any movie.  Originally Reed was going to use a typical symphonic sound score.  However, while on location, Reed went to a Viennese wine bar to relax and heard the lyrical zither sounds of Anton Karas who was a mere entertainer in the bar.   Reed was captivated by the sound and selected Karas as the musical director of the movie. He was invited to London and lived with Reed. Reed treated him very well, but Karas was in a slump - then suddenly Reed rushed into Karas' room, and lay at full length on the floor. "Now I'm dead! Only your zither can bring me back to life! Karas, play such a song as to raise me from the dead." Instantly Karas realized his intention, and tried to play a song that would satisfy him. But Reed wasn't easily satisfied, Karas exerted himself for hours - the moment he almost gave it up, he played that familiar melody.  The success of "The Third Man" changed Karas' life totally. He played all over the world, and won applause from the British Royal family and the Pope. He earned a lot of money from this soundtracksince its title cut topped the international music charts in 1950.  

Plot Summary:

An out of work pulp fiction novelist, Holly Martins,(Joseph Cotton a life long friend of Orson’s from his Mercury theatre days, “Citizen Kane”, and “The Magnificent Ambersons”),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, (Orson Welles) 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. The ensuing mystery entangles him in his friend's involvement in the black market, with the multinational police, and with his Czech girlfriend.

Soon after he is introduced in the movie with one of the all time greatest cinematic scenes cleverly using a “chiaroscuro” effect reminiscent of Caravaggio’s Renaissance era paintings, Wells delivers one of his greatest film soliloquies that he wrote for his character to deliver in the film.  Looking down on the people below from his vantage point of being on a Ferris wheel, Harry Lime (Welles) compares them to dots. Back on the ground, he notes:

"You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty 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 five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

As I mentioned earlier in this review Welles doesn’t even appear until half way through the movie; however, his screen presence is captivating, he steals the show!!! 
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More The Third Man reviews
review by . August 24, 2010
One of the great film-noir movies of all time!!!
Carol Reed’s 1949 film-noir “The Third Man” is Reed’s greatest work, and probably Orson Welle’s second greatest acting role of his career!  This is not an idle boast considering this movie is considered the greatest British made film of all time by the British Film institute, (#57 on AFI’s top 100).  By the way, Welle’s has the unique distinction of also acting in the #1 movie on the American Film Institute list, “Citizen Kane”!!!   …
review by . February 13, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Orson Welles makes an impression!     Cons: Can be tough to follow     The Bottom Line: Cuckoo! Cuckoo!     One of the great tragedies of cinematic history is that Orson Welles really didn't capitalize on the potential he showed with Citizen Kane. He made a couple more noteworthy movies like The Third Man and Touch of Evil, but mostly his career just faded out to the point where he was voicing commercials during his later years to …
review by . September 21, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Ah, what an excellent, entertaining little film this is! I'd heard of it, off and on, throughout the years, but never seen it until I had the joy of getting the Criterion Edition of the film, so I come to it as fairly recent first-time viewer.    The movie's plot, as you know, centers around an American writer, Holly Martens, who goes to post-War Vienna to work for a friend named Harry Lime. When he gets there, he finds that Lime has met an untidy end, one that gets more and …
About the reviewer
Michael Neulander ()
Ranked #43
Recently graduated with a Masters in Humanities degree from Old Dominion University reading in philosophy and history. I graduated from the Univ. of Miami in 1980 with a B.A. in Political Science; specializing … more
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This classic noir mystery, from the team of Carol Reed and Graham Greene, is generally considered to be the best filmwork of both of these estimable talents. THE THIRD MAN features Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins, a pulp novelist who has come to post-WWII Vienna with the promise of work from his friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). When he finds that Lime has just been killed in a questionable car accident, he decides to remain in the city to investigate his friend's demise.

There have been few better movies in the history of the planet thanThe Third Man, and fewer still as brilliantly directed from second to second. Orson Welles played the title role, and his legend has tended to engulf the film. But it was directed by Carol Reed and written--except for a Wellesian riff on the Borgias--by Graham Greene, and the credit for this masterpiece is properly theirs. Theirs and Joseph Cotten's; for awesome as Welles is, hisCitizen Kanesecond banana is onscreen about six times as much, and Cotten uses every minute to create one of the most distinctive--if also forlorn--of modern heroes.

You know the story. Holly Martins (Cotten), a writer of pulp Westerns and one of life's congenital third-raters, arrives in post-WWII Vienna only to learn that his old pal Harry Lime, the guy who sent him his plane ticket, is being buried. Everybody, from a cynical British cop named Calloway (Trevor Howard) to Harry's Continental knockout of a girlfriend (AlidaValli) and his sundry ...

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Director: Carol Reed
Genre: Film-Noir, Mystery, Thriller
Release Date: 31 August 1949 (UK)
Screen Writer: Graham Greene
DVD Release Date: November 16, 1999
Runtime: 104 min
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The creative genius of Orson Welles


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