Top 100 Movie Review No. 097 The Third Man (1949)

Ranked 97 on the IMDB Top 100 Movies. Watched July 2017.

Cast: Joseph Cotten (Holly Martins), Alida Valli (Anna Schmidt), Orson Welles (Harry Lime), Trevor Howard (Major Calloway), Bernard Lee (Sgt. Paine)
Director: Carol Reed
My rating: 8.5 / 10

An out of work pulp fiction novelist, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), arrives in a post war Vienna divided into sectors by the victorious allies, and where a shortage of supplies has led 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 leaving mystery and paranoia everywhere.

What’s to Like
The authentic feel from being shot in actual post war Vienna, the use of different camera angels (tilted, wide-angle lenses and distorted faces) now called the “Dutch angle” camera technique, the music, the mystery and the more real to life non-feel good ending as Anna ignores Holly.

What’s not to Like

Early in the movie the lead character Holly is warned “Everyone should be careful in Vienna,” and this is good advice for the viewer as well.

This is a mystery movie which would now be called a film nor. The movie starts with the naive Holly (Joseph Cotten) finding out first that his college friend Harry (Orson Welles) is dead and later being informed by the British that Harry was a dangerous racketeer, the indignant Holly believing his friend to be innocent decides to clear his friend’s name. As soon as he starts questioning Harry’s associates and his loyal refugee lover Anna (Alida Valli), Holly is struck by some baffling inconsistencies in their stories. So Holly undertakes a quest through the seedy post-war Vienna seeking the unknown “third man” at the scene of Harry’s apparent death.

The mystery keeps you engaged at all times, while you suspect Harry to be alive the why and how this occurred is unclear. How can the good college friend and man who saved Anna be the same person accused of theft and murder? Orson Welles appears only three times as Harry (and speaks only in the classic fairground scene) but his presence dominates this movie.

The sleaze and desperation pervade Vienna, brilliantly caught in the atmospheric camerawork (to be copied many times in the future), with its bleak vistas of war-damaged buildings, rain-sodden streets and half-lit cafés. The sequence set on the Ferris wheel high above the city, where Martins learns that Harry is alive and dangerous, to the dank sewers where the climax is played out are well chosen.

Early on in the movie Holly spots Harry’s lover walking away from Harry’s funeral and the movie ends with the same outcome when Harry is buried for real this time. Anna’s loyalty never stops for Harry despite the things he did to make money including faking his death and killing others. Holly doesn’t end up with the girl he says he loves and Anna never took the offer of safety from Soviets that Holly tried to organise.

The movie ends on a sad note but highlights the duality we all have, both being good and being bad, and imperfect people who don’t always make the decisions that will bring us happiness. A visually stunning and enjoyable movie.

Academy Awards

  1. Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Robert Krasker) – Winner
  2. Best Director (Carol Reed) – nominee
  3. Best Film Editing (Oswald Hafenrichter) – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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