The Third Man (1949)

 Run Time: 105 min. | b/w
Director: Carol Reed
Stars: w. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard
 Genres: Film Noir | Mystery Thriller
In this taut thriller, pulp fiction writer Holly Martins (Cotton) searches through the intrigue-filled streets of postwar Vienna for traces of his old friend Harry Lime (Welles), the most charismatic heel in movie history. Classic from start to finish.
Box Office
Opening Weekend: $13,576 (USA) (7 May 1999)
Gross: $449,191 (USA) (20 November 2015)


  1. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    The Third Man is a movie that looks and feels not like a movie of the 40s, but like a neo-noir of the late 60s/early 70s. This wonderful example of classic noir is one of the all time greatest films. It combines amazing visuals, sounds, dialogue, and acting to tell a thrilling story and comment about the atmosphere after WWII.

    Of all the movies durring the studio era (pre-1960ish), there are three movies with cinematography that always stick out in my mind: Gregg Toland’s work in Citizen Kane, Russel Mety’s work in Touch of Evil, and Robert Krasker’s work in The Third Man (all starring Orson Welles funny enough). I just recently saw a restored 35mm version of The Third Man. The crisp black and white visuals of a bombed out Vienna are so breath-taking. Shadows are everywhere. The unique way Krasker tilts the camera in some shots adding to the disorientation of the plot. And who can forget the first close-up of Welles with the light from an apartment room above splashing onto his face; one of the great entrances in movie history (Lime gives his old friend a smile that only Welles could give).

    The cinematography is backed by strong performances by Welles, Cotten, and italian actress Vali. The writing of Greene is wonderful; you can see the plot twisting around Cotten tightly. But what makes The Third Man so great is its historical commentary (well not really historical since it was commenting on its own time, but to us it is historical). On one level The Third Man is a story of betrayal and corruption in a post-war, occupied Vienna. On the other hand, its giving the audience a glimpse of the mood of Europe after the great war. The uncertainty that the Cold War was bringing is evident through out the film; Cotten is constantly trying to figure out who to trust. Vienna is on the frontier of the new communist bloc (we even see the communists infiltrating Vienna trying to bring Vali back to her native Czechoslavakia). The zither music score combined with the stark images of bombed out Vienna are reminiscent of the frontier towns of American Westerns. So The Third Man is not only a wonderful film noir, but a unique look at the brief time between WWII and the height of the Cold War.

  2. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    What IS it makes THE THIRD MAN the classic most everyone agrees it is? (And lets face it, voted no 35 in the top all-time films gives it MORE than just some passing credibility!) Is it Orson Welles’ menace? The whiff of corruption in occupied post-war Vienna? the cuckoo-clock speech atop the big wheel? even Anton Karras’ zither? Perhaps ALL these things? If however, you had to nominate just a single influence within the whole production that elevates it to greatness I suggest that would be Robert Krasker’s cinematography.

    The finished product innovatively, was years ahead of its birthright. Time and time again the viewer is bailed up by stunning camera angles and back-lighting. The eerie shadows around the deserted streets and of course the unforgettable first glimpse of Harry Lime (Welles) himself as he skulks like the rat he is, in the corner of the building, lit in close-up suddenly from the light in an adjacent apartment. Offhand I cannot think of a character’s more dramatic entrance to a film.

    Welles in fact has minimal screen time, though his dark presence and influence infiltrate proceedings like an insidious disease. Yet somehow his ultimate demise in the sewers brings into play an incredible sadness and compassion that has absolutely no right being there. It remains for me one of my top five film favorites. I have always given it a "10" personally but hey, to be voted an "8.6" universally is a pretty fair vindication of my words here.

  3. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    I don't know why this movie always hooks me the way it does; it's obviously a masterpiece and a revered piece of British/American cinema – but that alone is not the reason (there are other such masterpieces which fail to have that effect on me). Maybe it's the setting: the beautiful city of Vienna right after World War II, the scars of the most devastating conflict in human history still visible at every corner. Or it's the contrast between the eerily happy music tune – which plays throughout the entire film – and the dark, tragic story of murder and betrayal which I find so strangely captivating. Whatever it is, I just love this movie.

    'The Third Man' now has more than 60 years on its back, but its age hardly shows. Despite the story's dark themes, the general mood of the narrative is rather light, sometimes darkly funny, and the slightly cynical tone and morally ambiguous characters give the movie a very modern feel. What also stands out and makes the film memorable – in addition to the fantastic soundtrack – is the outstanding, Accademy Award winning cinematography. Black and white has rarely looked better. The way DOP Robert Krasker plays with unusual angles and virtually "paints" this city of Vienna with light and shadow, he adds an almost expressionistic quality to the film. I always felt that the city plays an essential part in the story, – a key character if you will – with its damaged buildings reflecting the damaged human characters. The recent war is a looming presence throughout the film, and to me this is as much a story about the desensitizing effect of war on people as it is a murder mystery. And there is yet another quality to the film which needs to be mentioned: it's very entertaining. 'The Third Man' has fantastic pacing and there is simply not a dull moment in it.

    To sum up my overall impressions, this is one of those rare occasions where everything just falls right into place and helps create a unique film experience: Carol Reed's masterful direction and the wonderful performances by the fantastic actors (Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Alida Valli and Orson Welles); the beautiful soundtrack by Anton Karas; the gorgeous cinematography by Robert Krasker, and, perhaps most importantly, the story and screenplay by Graham Greene with its unexpected twists and turns (although the unusual, iconic ending wasn't Greene's idea). A true work of art and highly enjoyable entertainment: 10 stars out of 10.

    Favorite films:

    Lesser-Known Masterpieces:

    Favorite Low-Budget and B-Movies:

  4. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    This is a rare film that is flawless in every respect. It combines great acting and memorable characters with a fascinating story, taking place in an interesting setting and adding a creative musical score. "The Third Man" is remembered for many things – for Orson Welles’ wonderful performance in his appearances as Harry Lime, for its wonderfully appropriate musical score, and for its nicely conceived plot surprises. Adding to these is Joseph Cotten’s fine portrayal of Holly Martins, which holds the rest of it together – it is his character who initiates most of the action, and also through whom we view everything and everyone else.

    The story starts, after a nicely done prologue, with Martins arriving in Vienna, and finding out that his friend Harry is not only dead but is accused of running a particularly destructive black market racket. Martins sets out at once to prove his friend’s innocence, getting into an immediate scuffle with the police, and it seems at first to set up a conventional plot about clearing the name of a friend – but the actual story that follows is much deeper and much better. It is just right that Martins is an innocent who writes cheap novels for a living, and he gets a pretty memorable lesson in fiction vs. reality. There are some great scenes (the Ferris-wheel confrontation being as good a scene as there is in classic cinema) leading up to a memorable climactic sequence, and a good supporting cast, with Alida Valli as Anna being very good in complementing Lime and Martins. The setting in crumbling post-war Vienna and the distinctive zither score go very nicely with the story.

    This is a fine, flawless classic, and while obviously belonging to an earlier era, it deserves a look from anyone who appreciates good movies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *