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The Third Man
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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A work of ART
This movie starts REALLY slow. I mean you have to watch half of the movie before anything happens. It's worth the wait. Unfortunately I don't have much to add that hasn't been said before, the plot, the writing, the actors, the staging, the lighting, the cinematography, the music, everything is a work of art. Every detail is perfect too. Many are unrepeatable. We will never see bombed out Vienna again, and certainly not like Carol Reed showed it. Then there is Holly Martins, the pulp fiction writer in a pulp fiction noir movie written by Graham Greene. And it goes on and on, but I've reached my ten lines. They don't make the like they used to...
The Third Man - the ultimate masterpiece
I first watched this film in the 1975, on TV, and I sang its famous zither theme for days, to the point of annoying my parents and siblings. I was 18, I loved it, and I was over the moon when I was finally able to buy a VHS copy in 1989, which I keep, and to which I have added a DVD release and the Criterion release, certainly the finest and most perfectly cleaned up version so far.

At 18, I was instantly overawed by the music and, perhaps most of all, by the haunting B&W photography, with the long shadows, the war-bitten faces protruding from windows, the cobblestone streets shimmering in the dark, the exquisitely filmed ruins contrasting with some luxurious interiors and embroidered building facades, and myriad other wonderful details that keep surprising me.

The documentary-like short preamble of a war-ravaged Vienna is a gem in its own right and sets the high standard for the rest of the film.

I have also been consistently astounded by the quality of the acting. Trevor Howard and Cotten are superlative; Welles, in a much smaller part, stays with you forever; and that trio is superbly supported by Valli, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Bernard Lee, Paul Horbiger (memorable as the porter who wonders whether Lime went to heaven or hell), and Siegfried Breuer, the sophisticated Romanian heavy with the threatening smile, accompanied by a gallery of human gargoyles.

In truth, apart from a nurse clutching a teddy bear at a children's hospital, I cannot think of anyone in the film who does not perform at the highest level.

The dialogue is wonderful beyond words, punctuated by humorous moments, involving British vs American pronunciation of the word "ranch," the fact that Martins writes cowboy books which a British Army sergeant avidly reads, a cat, a parrot, a cuckoo clock, the wonderful scene where Hyde-White mistakes Martins for a "serious" writer, resulting in a comic sequence where Martins fears for his life only to be left at the mercy of intellectuals who pump him on stream of consciousness, while consciousness for him is the presence of killers, the whole sequence punctuated with apparently harmless and jocund remarks redolent with fine irony.

The renowned scene with Cotten and Welles on the Prater Wheel shows two Americans crossing paths, supposed friends who are actually incompatible (Lime used to steal Martins' girlfriends, but the latter never thought much of that). Martins is like the lawmen in his cowboy books, looking for honesty and respect for the law, while Lime wades in the murky waters of contraband. One also suspects that Lime had Martins in mind to become the victim, when he invited him to Vienna. But Martins metamorphoses from dreamy cowboy to down-to-earth restorer of the law, and by the time Lime realizes his error in judgment, he has the law on his tail, and there is something rat-like about his face as he hides and runs in the limey sewers of Vienna.

Despite the classic trimmings, the script is incredibly advanced for its time.

The action sequences are totally credible, brilliantly shot, and include the famous Vienna sewers chase sequence, certainly a masterful example of how to pull off a blend of sublime photography, top acting, and dramatic surroundings.

Welles is known for the cuckoo clock contribution and he is also believed to have given valuable advice to Director Carol Reed. Certainly, the film bears a few photographic resemblances to CITIZEN KANE, and it is a collaborative effort with everyone in exceptional form, right up to the majestic final sequence where Martins receives the ultimate kissoff from Valli.

THE THIRD MAN remains the greatest movie experience of my life, and may I live long enough to watch it many more times. 10/10 only because the system does not allow me to give it 20/10.
The Greatest Movie of All Time
The Third Man is the most perfectly executed movie I have ever seen. All the performances are perfect. The camera work is as innovative as Citizen Kane's. The Screenplay by Graham Greene is the greatest ever to be used on screen (even though he didn't write Orson Welles speech about the Cuckoo Clock). The film also has historical importance as a living reminder of the impact of World War II on Vienna and the world in general. The messages of this film have haunted ever since I first saw it, and the suspense sequences are first rate. Carol Reed should have gotten his best director Oscar for this and not Oliver. Anyone who wants to see a truly great film should do whatever they can to get their hands on a copy of this masterwork.
One of the best movies ever
In my top 3. This movie has some of the best shadow work I've ever seen. Deep Caravaggio lighting is striking. And the music is tops.

On to story...They just don't write 'em like this anymore. This script has it all. The use of the camera is, too me, the most intelligent use of a camera in all of film history. The characters are all so round and bursting with fullness that it makes me want to puke...it's so perfect. How did they do it? It was just another movie that they were pumping out...They just happened to throw in a ferris wheel scene that has become one of the most classic scenes of all time.

What a splendid job of recording history. The four sectors of Vienna. I don't think I'll live to see a film that has a better final scene. wow.
Nothing Short Of Brilliant!*****
There are so many things that one can say about a movie this good. The acting is great. It's fun to watch again and again. There's great composition in every shot. It's a great story with great characters. I'm really partial to the Joseph Cotton performance as Holly Martens. The character is set up for adventure from the start. The inviting voice-over describes Vienna during the "classic period of the black market" and proceeds to introduce us to Holly Martens. He arrives in Vienna with a certain sense of starry-eyed excitement to see and work with his friend.

For me, this set a very inviting tone for the rest of the film. This is appropriate because, in a sense, we look forward to meeting Harry Lime just as much as he does. Soon, we learn of Harry's death and are on our way to the funeral. Here, we catch the first glimpse of the mysteriously beautiful Anna (Alida Valli) as well as Major Calloway (Trevor Howard).

Throughout the rest of the film, we'll meet new characters and learn so many new things about the recently deceased (or so we think), Harry Lime. The final character we meet is the one we feel we've known all along. Harry Lime (Orson Welles) makes his dramatic entrance on a dark street when the light from a disturbed tenant in a second story apartment comes on. It is my opinion that the only entrance that comes close to the drama of this scene does so, but with thrill factor. That's the first time we see the shark in Jaws. Call me crazy, but that's what I think.

To reveal any more about this film, in my mind, would defeat the purpose of telling someone to watch it. There are many key elements that make it a great film that I want people to experience for the first time as I did. But it's a great story of friendship, love, greed, trust, and murder. Sir Carol Reed directed many a fine film. I thoroughly enjoyed Odd Man Out, Fallen Idol, and Trapeze. His musical, Oliver!, is something that belongs up there with West Side Story, Singin' In The Rain, and even The Sound Of Music.
Given up on this "classic"
I have tried many times to watch this movie that everyone else raves about. I have never got to the end because I got bored not long after the beginning. Well yesterday, I made it a point to watch it to the end no matter what. I still cannot figure out the movie and why everyone else raves about. Except for the terriffic scenes in the French canal system I see nothing but a boring movie. I am almost 60 and a lover of film-noir movies but this one does nothing for me.
Unforgettable film
Has there ever been a film where the music more perfectly suited the action than in Carol Reed's "The Third Man"? Anton Karas is responsible for this unforgettable soundtrack. At the beginning, he wasn't part of the film, but after one day of filming, Reed and some cast members (Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Orson Welles) had dinner and retired to a wine cellar, where they heard the zither music of Karas, a 40-year-old musician, who was playing only for tips. When Reed heard him, he realized that this music was perfect for his film.

The film begins with the spoken prologue "I never knew the old Vienna, before the war. . ." On the background it is presented post-war Vienna. After the war, Vienna was divided in 4 zones: French, British, American and Russian. American pulp Western novel writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) comes to the city seeking his old best friend, Harry Lime. Upon arrival he finds out that Harry was killed by a truck while crossing the street. Martins attends Lime's funeral, where he meets two British policeman. One of them is Sergeant Paine (Bernard Lee), a huge fan of Martins' novels, and Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), who says Lime was a criminal and suggests Martins leave town. After the funeral Martins goes with Major Calloway to have a drink. Calloway says that Lime was the biggest gangster in the city, but Martins didn't believe him, and starts a fight. Calloway send Martins to a hotel with Sergeant Paine. At the hotel Martins met Crabbin, who is the head of a discussion group, about culture. Crabbin is offering to pay for his lodging, in exchange for a lecture about American culture at his group.

Viewing this an opportunity to clear his friend's name, Martins decides to remain in Vienna. He receives a call from "Baron" Kurtz (Ernst Deutch), who tells Martins that he, along with another friend, Popescu (Siegfried Breuer), carried Lime to the side of the street after the accident. After that he goes to Lime's place, where he meets the porter (Paul Hörbiger), who says that Lime was carried by three men. He also finds out, that Lime had a girlfriend Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), who was acting in a play at Josephstadt.

From now on the suspense and adventure begins. Who killed Lime? Why? Who was the third man? If you want to find out you have to watch this amazing noir film. This is one of my favourite movies, with an unforgettable story, music, and characters. I hope you will consider to watch it, because you won't regret it.
Classic Noir With A Post War Feel
When this movie was released, there was a lot of classic noir. This film has the feel of the noir era only with bigger stars than films like The Narrow Margin for example. That is because we have Western script writers writing a film noir.

It does work pretty well because of a talented cast. Orsen Welles plays Harry Lyme, a mysterious character who fakes his own death before Joseph Cotton (Holly Martin) arrives on the scene. It is then up to Martin to find out about Lymes life, yet he can not shake the feeling perhaps Lyme is not dead after all.

There is a lot of support here that is very talented from Bernard Lee(see his support of 007 in Dr. No) to Trevor Howard (see Noel Cowards's Brief Encounter in 1945). Robert Brown, another Bond series regular, has an accredited role as a cop in the storm drain sequence.

The storm drain chase at the end of this is the main highlight of the film. But prior to this, it is pretty much film noir. Carol Reed, the director of James Mason's Odd Man Out in 1947 seems to be the ideal director in this one. Reed gets a lot out of any cast, and that is not an exception here. His direction of this final chase of Lyme is nearly flawless.
"The dead are happier dead"
The bond a woman feels with her lover -- has a film ever captured it so realistically?

Anna (Alida Valli) will have no part of any schemes to capture expatriate Harry Lime (Orson Welles), though he has faked his death and left her to fend for herself in the corrupt and broken-down rubble of post-war Vienna. Nor, once she knows Lime is dead for good, will she have any of Holly Martin (Joseph Cotton), the hard-bitten American pulp writer who possesses the integrity that Lime has long ago exchanged for expediency.

Lime had offered a job to Holly, and that's what has drawn him to the dark and dilapidated streets of the Austrian capital. In the end, we see, Martin has performed his duties to perfection.

It's hard to believe the book "Positive Psychology at the Movies 2" does not list "The Third Man" in its index. In many ways, this film shows man at his best under grueling conditions. Martin shows judgment, self-regulation, perseverance, perspective, and bravery.

The casting and ensemble work here are perfect, and Robert Krasker's cinematography must set the standard in the field. I'm a little mixed on the famous score featuring endless gyrations of the zither. Perhaps it provides a bit of metaphor: Like the rot at the core of the culture, one can never quite escape its rather crazy-making influence.
The best British film of all time, a unique masterpiece.
"I never knew the old Vienna before the war, with its Strauss music, its glamour and easy charm. I really got to know it in the classic period of the black market."

And with that brilliant opening voice over narration we are introduced to this landmark film, which in my opinion outdoes the Germans in its Expressionism. I've fallen in love with Carol Reed's masterpiece, The Third Man, which takes elements from classic film noir and German expressionism creating a timeless classic. To say this is the best British film of all time is an understatement, because it deserves to be considered amongst the very best the world has offered. Everything about this film is perfection, from the opening setting of the plot, to the iconic zither score by Anton Karas that accompanies it (which not in a million years I would've consider to fit this thriller, but it does), to the memorable Ferris wheel scene where Orson Welles delivers his famous "cuckoo clock" speech, to Orson Welles's spectacular entrance scene (the best in film history), to the spectacular chase scene through the sewers of Vienna, to the uncountable amount of Dutch angle shots that help build the tense atmosphere accompanied by an unprecedented visual aesthetic from cinematographer Robert Krasker who turns the evocative shadows into a character in this film, to Graham Greene's fantastic screenplay delivering on every twist, to the final long shot that ends the film in a magnificent and memorable way only adding to the romantic fatalism theme of the story. Every single decision made during the production of this film, even those they came across by chance, seems to have worked to perfection. This is not a case where you can say it's style over substance or vice versa, it's one of those rare films where style and substance come together to deliver a perfect visual aesthetic and an intriguing theme with memorable character.

The opening narration introduces us to postwar Vienna, a city of bombed buildings and piles of rubble that has been divided into four occupied zones by the victorious allies (British, American, Russian and French). It is a place where opportunists and racketeers have come to make a living in its widespread black market. This is where Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), an American pulp novelist, enters the scene. He is broke, but has been invited by Harry Lime, a good old friend from his school days, to stay with him in Vienna. Upon his arrival, Holly discovers that Harry has been killed in a traffic accident. Being the mystery novelist that he is, Holly begins to talk to some of Harry's friends who witnessed his accident and discovers some inconsistencies in their stories. He reports these suspicions to Maj. Calloway (Trevor Howard), the man in charge of the investigation, but he quickly dismisses him and says he should return home. The Major believes it is best that Harry has died since he was a racketeer who caused many innocent deaths. Holly however becomes intrigued with the case after the porter of Harry's building (Paul Horbiger) tells him there was a third man involved in the scene, but who no one else accounts for. Holly also befriends and falls for Anna (Alida Valli), Harry's lover who had immigrated from Czechoslovakia, which gives him another reason to stay for a few more days to try to uncover the mystery of his friend's untimely death.

The film is so visually stunning (it's only Oscar win was for best cinematography) that at times people forget to mention how great Graham Greene's script actually is. He understood this post-war European world and how the black market worked because he himself was a former British spy. That is what makes the story so believable and gives the film its substance. Of course the style is what turns this into a landmark film with its clever shots playing with Dutch angles, lights, smokes, and shadows, its wonderful editing, and its amazing score, but the film has a great plot to go along with it as well as some solid performances. Joseph Cotten delivers a solid role as the lead hero who comes into this world as a naive child believing everything is black and white. He is flawed, he is a drunk who falls in love way too easy. Harry's friends all have faces who at least look very suspicious (Siegfried Breuer as Popescu and Erich Ponto as Dr. Winkel). And then there is Orson Welles himself who with less than 15 minutes of screen time steals the movie. He could've done so with his iconic entrance alone (delivering a perfect smile), which was gorgeously lighted, but he also delivers one of the most memorable quotes of the film as well. Alida Valli also delivers as the femme in this film and it all leads to an exciting finale. For all these reasons and many more which I've failed to put into words, I can affirm that The Third Man is a masterpiece. Let me end this review by citing Orson Welles's memorable speech:

"Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 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 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly."

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