The Third Man (1949)

third man poster 1949 movie
10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Classic, smart thriller


Movie Info

Movie Name: The Third Man

Studio:  London Film Productions

Genre(s): Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  September 1, 1949 (Premiere)/February 1, 1950 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

third man joseph cotten alida valli

Maybe I’m not the best judge of character…

Writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) is down on his luck.  When he’s offered work by his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in Vienna after the war, Holly accepts the offer.  Holly arrives in Vienna to learn that a tragedy has occurred under rather suspicious circumstances.  Harry Lime is dead and when Holly learns the police led by Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) believe Harry to be a dishonest man, Holly sets out to prove his friend innocent and the potential victim of a crime.  Who was the third man at the site of Harry’s death and was Harry murdered?

Directed by Carol Reed and written by Graham Greene, The Third Man is a post-war noir thriller.  The film was released to positive reviews and is largely considered one of the best films of all time.  It won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography—Black-and-White and nominations for Best Director and Best Film Editing.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #64).

The Third Man is a classic of crime and noir.  Many of the images you see in as example of noir come from this film which really soaked up the black-and-white imagery.  The Third Man is a great thriller, and due to some plot points (though the movie is over seventy years old), a ******spoiler alert****** is in effect.

third man ferris wheel scene orson welles joseph cotten

So do you think you can fly, Holly?

The Third Man is largely a mystery but it also feels very underworld based (sometimes literally).  The hapless Holly and Harry’s girlfriend Anna Schmidt (played by Alida Valli) are caught up in the search for a potential murderer…but don’t realize the “murderer” is the victim of the murder.  Harry’s faking of his death and the subsequent events begin to unravel as Holly refuses to give up on his friend.  Not only does Holly discover that his friend is alive, but he doesn’t even really know him.  He insinuates that he would kill him and he’s responsible for the maiming of children…it is very tragic.  Harry dies three time as a result…the fake death, the death of who Harry was to Holly, and the literal death at Holly’s hands.

The cast is good.  Joseph Cotten is full of anger and angst most of the movie.  He’s jaded and feels pushed around by the police, Harry’s associates, and even is stepped on by Anna in the end.  Though he looms over the whole picture, Welles doesn’t show up until well into the movie.  Once he does, he carries a great sinister presence as he lurks in the shadows.  Alida Valli also has more depth than a lot of female leads in this type of film because it would have been easy to have made her a “femme fatale”.  Instead, she’s a victim like Holly, but also an enabler of Harry and his actions.  I think the little screaming kid (played by Herbert Halbik) rivals that irritating monkey from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

third man vienna sewers orson welles

Harry, you take me to the nicest places in Vienna

The setting for the movie is classic, and the fact that years later, sites in Vienna from The Third Man are still visited is a testament to the film.  While color would have been an easy (but expensive) decision, the movie works much better in black-and-white.  It gives it weight and gravitas.

The Third Man is a must see.  It is referenced multiple times in other films and is a staple of the “film history” of the thriller genre and the bigger film history itself.  The cast is at its peak, the visuals are at their best, and the story is smart and twisting.  If you’ve never seen The Third Man, check it out…and if you have seen it, there’s never a reason why you can’t enjoy watch it again and again.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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