THE THIRD MAN. (1949) DIRECTED BY CAROL REED. PRODUCED BY DAVID O. SELZNICK AND ALEXANDER KORDA FOR LONDON FILMS. ASSOCIATE PRODUCER: CAROL REED. WRITTEN BY GRAHAM GREENE. PHOTOGRAPHED BY ROBERT KRASKER. MUSIC SCORE BY ANTON KARAS.
STARRING JOSEPH COTTEN, ALIDA VALLI, TREVOR HOWARD, BERNARD LEE, ERNST DEUTSCH, WILFRID HYDE WHITE AND ORSON WELLES.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is the kind of film that routinely makes it into those brilliant 100 BEST MOVIES EVER MADE list shows that used to be everywhere on television in the ‘Nineties and the ‘Noughties. Now, not so much, sadly. I miss them. The film is along the same lines as CASABLANCA and THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS and easily as good, if not better. Yes, it’s actually that good! Let’s take a squint at the plot.
Joseph Cotten is fantastic as Holly Martins. He’s the writer of lurid paperback Western novels who turns up in post-war Vienna at the invitation of his old mucker Harry Lime. Harry’s offered him some kind of a job as well as, presumably, a doss-down in his gaff. Joseph Cotten is handsome in a rugged kind of way. I could certainly go for him myself, the way he looks all manly and sort of overcoat-y in this film.
The one problem with Harry’s kind invitation is that Harry has had the unforgivably bad manners to go and get himself killed a couple of days before Holly rocks up in Vienna, all excited about meeting his old pal.
That’s right, Harry was run over by a truck and carried across the road to his home by, seemingly, three men, only two of whom can be satisfactorily identified. The mystery of ‘the third man’s’ identity is how the film gets its name. It’s obvious, innit…?
The more Holly hears about his chum’s sudden death, the more he becomes convinced that Harry’s demise was no accident. Harry was a racketeer, see? He was heavily involved in the black market, as indeed a lot of folks in post-war Europe seem to have been, so surely there might be any number of people who’d have had reason to wish him ill. Holly resolves to stick around in Vienna until he solves the mystery of why Harry was killed.
His decision to stay on in the beautiful, slightly decaying-looking post-war Vienna brings him into contact with a number of interesting people. There’s theatre actress and illegal immigrant Anna Schmidt for one, Harry’s former girlfriend who feels like her life is over and she’s got nothing to live for now that Harry’s dead. I find her a bit too miserable and mopey, a bit too much of an ungrateful sourpuss, for my liking.
Come on, love, we’ve all been there. Snap out of it. Life goes on, tomorrow is another day, plenty more fish in the sea and all that jazz. Also- and this maxim certainly applies in this case- I’m a firm believer in ‘if you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with.’ I know it’s easier said than done but trust me, love, you’ll get over him. Some day. And not without considerable pain and suffering to your good self…
Holly’s search for the ‘truth’ about Harry’s death causes him to lock horns with Trevor Howard, who does a wonderful job of playing the trimly-moustached and oh-so-terribly-English Major Calloway, who’s poking his aristocratic nose into all kinds of things to do with the late Harry Lime.
The cynical Intelligence Major, who looks absolutely darling in his duffel-coat and little beret, has one or two home truths for Holly about his dear old friend Harry Lime, deeply unpalatable truths which, if a shocked Holly chooses to believe them, may change his mind about Harry forever.
And if it takes a discarded teddy bear to help Holly come to a painful decision and bring the search to an electrifying conclusion in the very bowels of the city, then so be it.
Sergeant Paine, the Major’s subordinate and constant companion, is a thoroughly decent character too. He’s an avid reader of Holly’s books, a fact which naturally Holly finds immensely gratifying, and he’s just a jolly decent English chap who only wants to do his job and bring the bad guys to book for their misdeeds. We’re just not entirely sure who exactly these are, unfortunately…
The setting of the film in post-war Vienna is a marvellous choice. We’ve got atmosphere and fantastic cinematography by the bucket-load as the cameras take us along pitch-black little cobbled streets and up chipped decaying staircases into magnificent old apartments which look like they used to be the family home of posho aristocrats before the war, and before they got divided up into flats for the common people of Vienna. No offence intended to any commoners there, haha. Sure, we’re all commoners nowadays.
We’re taken into little European cafés and up on a Ferris wheel in a slummy old fairground, and we’re even lured down, down, deeper and down into the sewers that criss-cross Vienna’s underbelly and which can be used, if necessary, as a personal escape route for a ghost. The ghost of a man who was supposed to be… Well, I can’t tell you, but the settings are absolute perfection itself. What a wonderful film!
The zither music that runs all through the film is part of what makes it so famous, as you probably know. Even if you’re reading this and you don’t think you know the particular piece of music, you’d know it straightaway if it were played for you right now.
It was composed by a chap called Anton Karas, who was accidentally discovered playing at a Vienna café during production of the film. The score became an international bestseller. I just think that that’s one of the best movie stories I’ve ever heard. It all just worked out so neatly for everyone involved.
A word now about Citizen Kane or Orson Welles himself. I admit, I find his fleshy good looks extremely appealing, not to mention the aura of mischief and sheer physical presence that he exudes whenever he’s on screen.
He makes a huge impact in this film, in which an adorable puppy dog, a clever kitty-kat who likes to nibble on shoelaces and a precious little pudding of a small boy (played by Herbert Halbik), who might conceivably still be alive today, also make memorable appearances.
Mr. Welles is not necessarily the only star of this show, however. There are three stars of THE THIRD MAN, all male, and all equally worthy of praise and admiration. Orson Welles is, of course, one of these. When you watch this film, you won’t have any difficulty whatsoever in pinpointing the other two. Happy watching…!
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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