The Third Man

TSPDT Greatest Films #30 The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)

The Third Man stands as one of the greatest film of all time and considered as the best non-American Film noir.

It’s the story of Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) an unemployed fiction writer going to Vienna after the Second World War for a job offered by a good friend; Harry Lime (Orson Welles). On his arrival, his friend has just been killed by a car while crossing the street in front of his home. The mysterious death of Lime is slowly revealed to Martins as the story goes by.

The set-up of the film is perfect, in 10 minutes the story brings us in a foreign city split by the winners of the war, the many foreign languages spoken and the many levels of authority. Just like Holly Martins we are destabilized by these elements and the viewer will easily identify himself with him. Joseph Cotten as Martins is as usual excellent and perfectly casted. Opposed to Orson Welles, like in Citizen Kane, he is the guy next door, the potential hero, the guy who falls in love with the beautiful widow.

The score performed by Anton Karas consists of only a zither played that reminded me some Spanish traditional guitar performances. It gave a unique casual feeling to the film and fits perfectly with the story. On the visual side, Robert Krasker‘s cinematography is so perfect that every frame could make the poster of the movie. The lighting gave such texture and depth to the images that sometimes the sets seem surreal. The techniques of the German expressionism heritage are noticeable in the visual touch.

The story is credited to Graham Greene but Alexander Korda, Carol Reed and Orson Welles all worked on the story. When we look at the quality of the script it is palpable that all these talents have been blend together. There aren’t any useless scenes and every moment is important for the story. The grand finale of The Third Man demonstrates how every facet of filmmaking is perfectly mastered. The story ends at the place it began and like we say in French: la boucle est bouclée.

The Third Man is considered as a masterpiece of the Seventh Art by Mediafilm and I completely agree with this statement. It stands on the Top 250 of IMDb, the 1001 films you must see and the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films and entirely deserves its place on these lists. Even with today’s fast editing / zapping / fast food movies that Hollywood has to offer to the public The Third Man is still an entertaining film and not just an “old movie” only critics refer to!


  1. Nice review! This was the first time I have seen the film, I had heard a lot of good things about, and I can genuinely say that I was impressed. The visuals alone make the film worth seeing. The music, while I really enjoyed it, gave the film an odd tone though. Holly was so close to getting knocked over so many times, but I never really felt much tension because the soundtrack was so lighthearted and casual. Not saying it was bad, just that it was odd. Great ending too.

  2. Thanks for the good word Alfindeol. I agree with you this is an impressive film and I love the visual too! But I have to say that I really like Karas' score, it gives a particular feeling to the film. Glad to be a part of the 1001 movies you must see!


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