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 led 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.Written by
Mark Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Initially cautious about Karas' music, Selznick sent this telegram to his VP from London.
"November 25, 1949 TELEGRAM to Daniel T. O'Shea [Executive VicePresident, Selznick Productions] ...Cannot commence to tell you sensation caused by Karas's zither music in The Third Man. It is rage of England and has already sold more record copies than any other record in entire history of record business in England. It is widest-played dance music in England... Ads here use "Hear Harry Lime Theme," etc. in type dwarfing all other billing. It is one of those unpredictable, tremendous sensations that I cannot expect any of you to understand who have not been here. Entirely unrelated newspaper articles and editorials, even on politics, constantly refer to it. Inevitably, this success will be repeated America if we are prepared for it. We should be able to make fortune out of this music". Regards, David
By the time Selznick released the film in the U.S., in February 1950, the "Harry Lime Theme" was already a sensation. He capitalized on this by including the tag line "Featuring the Famous Zither Score by Anton Karas...He"ll have in you a dither with his zither!" in the ad campaign and trailers. See more »
After Harry's funeral, in the Zentralfriedhof, Anna goes into the straight alley. We see her shadow on the right side on the screen See more »
I'd make comic faces... and stand on my head and grin at you between my legs... and tell all sorts of jokes. I wouldn't stand a chance, would I?
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In a bombed-out Vienna just after WWII, novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives from America to renew a friendship with his childhood buddy, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Much to the dismay of Holly, a freak auto accident has recently killed his friend, according to those who knew Harry.
But in searching for details of Lime's death, Holly gets contradictory stories that don't add up. One of the persons who knew Lime is an attractive woman named Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli) whose continued presence in the story invites suspicion. The film's plot has Holly searching for the truth about his friend, while trying to stave off a city detective, Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) who tries to persuade Holly to leave Vienna.
The film's story is okay. But what makes "The Third Man" really interesting is the B&W cinematography, by Robert Krasker. Unlike most films, camera movement here is restricted, so as to draw attention to each frame's geometry. Typically in this film, a frame is tilted at an angle so that both vertical and horizontal points of reference are off-kilter. Frame images thus become a series of diagonal straight lines and curves. Further, very high-contrast lighting, especially in outdoor scenes at night, creates a bizarre, almost nightmarish look and feel, and are suggestive of German Expressionism.
All of which results in a visual disorientation for viewers that parallels Holly's disorientation both in the streets of Vienna and in his understanding of the circumstances surrounding Lime's absence. In most outdoor scenes there's a conspicuous lack of crowds, a lack of hubbub one would expect in a bustling city. Instead, only a few secondary characters appear in night scenes. This sparseness in characters on the streets conveys the impression that hidden eyes are watching Holly, ready to pounce at any moment from out of dark shadows.
"Everybody ought to (be) careful in a city like this", says one character to Holly, as an implied threat. Soon, a man who wants to give Holly some valuable information is murdered.
The script's dialogue is quite impressive, with some interesting lines and points of view. Some of the dialogue is in German, which enhances authenticity.
The film's acting and editing are very, very good. Adding a slightly romantic, and at times melancholy, tone to this dark film is the music of the "zither", an instrument similar to a guitar, but sounding quite different.
My one complaint about this film is that it's hard to keep tabs on some of the background characters. Trying to connect names with faces can be difficult, resulting in some confusion.
"The Third Man" tells an interestingly bleak story, set in a bleak, desolate urban environment, rendered truly mesmerizing by the creatively surreal B&W cinematography.
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