The Third Man (1949)

Runtime: 118 min
Rating: * * * * *
The Third Man was directed by Carol Reed, from a story by Graham Greene. Starring such actors as Orson Welles and Trevor Howard, it could hardly fail to be great

Director: Carol Reed
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles
Runtime: 118 min
Rating: * * * * *

The Third Man was directed by Carol Reed, from a story by Graham Greene. Starring such actors as Orson Welles and Trevor Howard, it could hardly fail to be great. Set in post-war Vienna – a city split between the Allied powers and overflowing with racketeers – it has some of the most evocative cinematography in the history of film, and it was for this that The Third Man won an Oscar for Robert Krasker. Many of the camera angles are off-centre and the use of shadow underlines the feelings of alienation and uneasiness that the characters – many of them foreigners to Vienna – might be feeling.

It is to this city that Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), an American author, travels to visit his friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), only to discover that he has died in rather dubious circumstances and has been branded a racketeer by the British Major Calloway (Trevor Howard). Holly decides to find out exactly what happened and attempt to clear his friend’s name. In the process he meets Harry’s girlfriend Anna Schmidt, an actress who very much loved Harry. The story itself is extremely well written: the dialogue is sharp and peppered with bleak humour; it never gives away too much or over-explains anyone’s motivation – it is, in other words, classic Greene.

Of course, no film would be complete without a musical score, and The Third Man provides in style with the iconic zither music performed by Anton Karas. It is one of the most memorable aspects of the film and perfectly compliments the uncomfortable atmosphere. The Third Man is classic British noir: it perfectly creates feelings of claustrophobia and disquiet and the acting is impressive- especially that of many of the minor characters who were often played by prominent Austrian actors who would probably not be recognised by the film’s British and American audiences. Orson Welles’ performance is striking as Harry Lime, although it is probably not accurate to see it as an ‘Orson Welles film’ – he had no real hand in the directing and only came up with one line of dialogue- albeit possibly the most famous line of the film; “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, 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 they produce? The cuckoo clock.” This late ’40s film is rightly hailed as a classic and I would urge anyone to watch it.

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