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The Third Man - Criterion Collection (2-Disc Edition)
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Pulp novelist holly martins travels to shadowy postwar vienna only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend black-market opportunist harry lime - and thus begins this legendary tale of love deception & murder. Studio: Image Entertainment Release Date: 05/15/2007 Starring: Joseph Cotten Orson Welles Run time: 104 minutes Rating: Nr Director: Carol Reed

There have been few better movies in the history of the planet than The Third Man, and fewer still as brilliantly directed from second to second. Orson Welles played the title role, and his legend has tended to engulf the film. But it was directed by Carol Reed and written--except for a Wellesian riff on the Borgias--by Graham Greene, and the credit for this masterpiece is properly theirs. Theirs and Joseph Cotten's; for awesome as Welles is, his Citizen Kane second banana is onscreen about six times as much, and Cotten uses every minute to create one of the most distinctive--if also forlorn--of modern heroes.

You know the story. Holly Martins (Cotten), a writer of pulp Westerns and one of life's congenital third-raters, arrives in post-WWII Vienna only to learn that his old pal Harry Lime, the guy who sent him his plane ticket, is being buried. Everybody, from a cynical British cop named Calloway (Trevor Howard) to Harry's Continental knockout of a girlfriend (AlidaValli) and his sundry absurd/Euro-sinister business associates, feels that Holly should get on another plane and go home. He doesn't. Things come to light. Other deaths follow. The world lies in utter ruin.

The Third Man completed a sublime hat trick--an international critical and popular smash following upon the success of Reed's Odd Man Out ('47) and The Fallen Idol ('48). Although other filmmakers had begun to use war-ravaged Europe as a great movie set, The Third Man is so vivid in its canny mix of gray semidocumentary and insanely angular, Expressionist/Surrealist chiaroscuro that it seems to have imagined not only the postwar thriller but also postwar Europe itself singlehandedly.

What great movie moments: The throwaway details like a mourner who forgets to drop his wreath on a newly dug grave. The sly editing whereby thick-headed Sergeant Paine (Bernard Lee, once and future "M" to 007) goes on leafing through a magazine, knowing just the moment he must rise and subdue the nervy Yank who would take a punch at his boss. The way Anton Karas's legendary zither score seems to jangle in the very guy-lines of a bridge where, far below Robert Krasker's Oscar-winning camera, the Third Man calls a war council. The shadow of a dead man towering, big as Europe, over the nighttime streets of Vienna. --Richard T. Jameson

Stills from The Third Man (Click for larger image)

The fractured Europe post-World War II is perfectly captured in Carol Reed's masterpiece thriller, set in a Vienna still shell-shocked from battle. Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) is an alcoholic pulp writer come to visit his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). But when Cotton first arrives in Vienna, Lime's funeral is under way. From Lime's girlfriend and an occupying British officer, Martins learns of allegations of Lime's involvement in racketeering, which Martins vows to clear from his friend's reputation. As he is drawn deeper into postwar intrigue, Martins finds layer under layer of deception, which he desperately tries to sort out. Welles's long-delayed entrance in the film has become one of the hallmarks of modern cinematography, and it is just one of dozens of cockeyed camera angles that seem to mirror the off-kilter postwar society. Cotten and Welles give career-making performances, and the Anton Karas zither theme will haunt you. --Anne Hurley

Customer Reviews:

  • The Third Man: one of my favorite movies
    Very well done, and as good as when I watched it the first time, so many years ago. The second disc with all the extra stuff is so interesting, and just seeing how Caroll Reed made the movie, right after the war, is fascinating. ...more info
  • CAROL REED'S MASTERPIECE, and One of the Great Films of Cinema
    Carol Reed's The Third Man is his best known film, it was ground-breaking for many reasons, and it is one of the finest and most influential of all Film Noir classics. One of its hallmarks is the exceptional camera work by cinematographer Robert Krasker, for which he won an Oscar. The lighting and angles he used cannot be forgotten. But equally memorable is the music by zither artist Anton Karas, for which he was nominated. It is one of the very few films in which a single instrument carries the entire score.

    The story and screenplay by Graham Greene form the foundation for this post WWII thriller set in Vienna about the missing friend (Orson Welles) of an American western novelist (Joseph Cotten). Alida Valli portrays beautifully Welles' illegal actress-girlfriend, and Trevor Howard is the Rock of Gibraltar as the British sergeant responsible for solving the mystery of Welles' disappearance. Old Vienna is wrapped in mystery and fog, full of suspicious people and suspenseful moments. The final chase through the sewers is among the most classic scenes in all of cinema.

    Even though Reed did not receive the Oscar for Best Director for his masterpiece, he did win the Cannes Film Grand Prix, and proved his genius as a director. (Welles was not above taking some credit for the success on the basis of association.) Before this, Reed had directed Odd Man Out (1947) starring James Mason, and The Fallen Idol (1948) - another Graham Greene story and script - with Ralph Richardson. After this, he directed Trapeze (1956) with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, and Our Man In Havana (1959) with Alec Guinness and Maureen O'Hara - again, a Graham Greene story and script. Even though The Agony And The Ecstasy (1965) with Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison was a well crafted film based on a Philip Dunne script, it was a box office flop. Only Reed's final film, Oliver! (1968), would again attract the public, and Oscar - this time with eleven nominations, taking home five including Best Picture and Best Director.

    Waitsel Smith...more info
  • A masterpiece of movie making and story telling from Carol Reed and Graham Greene
    Everything about this movie works. If anyone wants to see how a movie should be directed and edited, or a screenplay written, or complex characters acted, or a film photographed, this is the one to flip in the DVD machine.

    Holly Martins, a down-on-his-luck writer, shows up in post-war Vienna looking for his old friend, Harry Lime. But he's told Lime died in an accident, the military tell him to go home, and he's attracted to a mysterious woman he sees at Lime's grave. He sticks around, gets different stories about Lime, but finally understands Lime was an unscrupulous black marketeer, dealing in adulterated drugs among other things. And he realizes that Lime is alive.

    Carol Reed was at the top of his form with this movie. His partnership with Graham Greene (they had collaborated the year before on The Fallen Idol and would again in 1959 with Our Man in Havana) is unusual in that both were heavyweights in their fields.

    Joseph Cotten as Martins strikes just the right note of charm, inquisitiveness and weakness. He's the kind of a guy who would most likely follow the strongest person around, and that has been his old friend, Lime. And what a great voice Cotten had. Orson Welles, who could be so hammy, reins it in here. He doesn't have a lot of screen time, but his character dominates the movie. And the two work perfectly together. Welles' cuckoo speech has been mentioned so many times in so many places that it has lost much of its charm for me. It sounds to me now more like an alienated high school kid's idea of philosophy. But Lime's discussion of all those little dots goes to the heart of his character. The interplay on Cotten's and Welles' faces as they discuss how easy (or how difficult) it might be to get rid of Martins on the ferris wheel is masterful, and so is Welles as he teases out of Martins what Martins may have told the military police. Alida Valli as Anna is terrific as a woman who loves Lime but has no illusions left. I suspect Trevor Howard took the role of Major Calloway because he wanted to work with Reed and Greene. In 1949 he was a major star in England, with Brief Encounter under his belt. I've always liked him, even in most of the later lousey movies he signed up for.

    And the look and sound of the film...glistening, damp cobblestones at night, bombed out buildings, off-angle camera shots, harsh nightime lighting and deep shadows. The chase through the sewers with only the sounds of rushing water and footsteps. The first glimpse of Lime, nothing but deep shadows in a doorway and then a pair of shoes of someone unseen standing there. The sound of the zither playing the main theme over and over.

    The ending is one of the most understated and powerful I've ever seen. Lime has been shot in the sewer by Martins. Martins and Calloway leave the funeral in a jeep to catch his plane home. Anna ignores them and leaves the cemetery on foot. The jeep passes Anna but then Martins asks Calloway to let him out. He obviously has feelings for her. Martins leans against a cart on the side of the road as Calloway drives off. The camera doesn't move. Anna, in the distance, walks toward him. Without looking at him she walks straight past, and past the camera. Martins lights a cigarette, looks after her, then tosses the match away. And that's it.

    This Criterion edition is just as superb as the movie, and the extras are worth watching. I couldn't tell any appreciable difference in the film transfer quality between the two Criterion releases, but this two-disc version has some excellent additionl extras. ...more info
  • The second coming of The Third Man
    The folks at Criterion never give up short of perfection. They've been reissuing some of their own material lately in newer, better versions, and while I *won't* get another Brazil just because they neglected anamorphic the first time (and I have an up-converting player/TV combo that helps somewhat anyway) I will gladly shell out more cash for improved prints of Seven Samurai, M and now this, The Third Man.

    But this is more than just a new transfer. Here you get a second disc of wonderful features. Well, one of the features could have been wonderful: it's a 90-minute documentary made a couple years ago that played at Cannes in 2006. While the information is fascinating, and will shed much light on this noir, the filmmaker's style is pretentious, and distracts from the content.

    Other extras are the original U.S. trailer (grossly inappropriate for this movie, but probably closer to the type of film Selznick wanted to make), vintage footage of Vienna and Zitherist Anton Karas, and a photo album of the production--all also included in the prior Criterion release. There's also a mini-doc on the film--much more straightforward and to me more interesting--with all still photos. Even though it's all stills I found this short 10 minute presentation very riveting. Then there's a featurette that shows many of the scenes of German-speaking players with their lines translated (they were deliberately left untranslated in the film so that the audience would feel as confused as Holly), a UK vs. US comparison of the openings, several of the radio shows that used the Harry Lime character, and a profile of writer Graham Greene from a 1968 British television program. Oh, and did I mention there are two commentaries, one from filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Tony Gilroy and one from film distorian Dana Polan. Oh, and there's a very stylish 26-page booklet insert. And you know what? There's probably other stuff I've forgotten. These discs are cram-packed.

    In short, this is a whole college-level course on The Third Man in a little box. It'll keep you watching for weeks.

    In case Amazon ever deletes the first Criterion edition of this DVD from their site, here's a cut-and-paste of my original review of the film itself:

    Reportedly Orson Welles replied to people who asked if he'd "really" directed The Third Man that Carol Reed was a great director who didn't need his advice. Yet this feels very much like Welles in many ways. First of all there's the subject matter--like Citizen Kane, this film deals with money and power, shattered idealism, and an elusive figure everyone knows *of* yet few people know. Like Kane, the cinematography is striking (though in a different way) and an integral part of the plot. Like Kane, the music is memorable and tells much of the story, yet again in a different way. Like Kane, the film was greeted coldly by many critics on its initial release and had to be shelved for many years before people realized it was a masterpiece. And last but not least, like Kane, it stars the great Joseph Cotten.

    The Third Man benefits enormously from being shot in post-war Vienna (in record time by using three crews simultaneously). You can taste the atmosphere. The locations are a "star" as much as any of the human players. Selznick wanted Reed to film on Hollywood back lots, and he wanted Jimmy Stewart to star. He objected to the zither music. He objected to the canted shots. (William Wyler reportedly gave Reed a level to put on his camera after seeing The Third Man!) Most of all, Selznick wanted a happy ending, where Holly gets the girl. But without Reed's vision, the film would have been a typical glossy Hollywood film now seen at 2 am on local UHF channels if at all.

    Reed gave Welles one of the great entrances in screen history. Welles gave Reed a hard time by refusing to work in a sewer and returning to England, forcing Reed to build a sewer set there just for Welles' part. Welles says he only wrote the "Cuckcoo clock speech," but leave it to Orson to give us the most memorable dialogue in a movie filled with memorable dialogue.

    Then there is the issue of The Woman. Often she will make or break a film like this, and here Alida Valli (or "Valli" as she preferred to be billed in the film...maybe it's an Italian thing that started long before Madonna) is the perfect choice, brooding and un-glamorous and yet all the more alluring because she's un-glamorous. It's easy to see how impressionable Holly would fall for her. It's harder to see why she would still defend Harry, but love is not always logical. Or is this just selfishness? There doesn't seem to be room for love in Reed and Greene's postwar Vienna...

    Criterion has done a loving restoration of The Third Man. While not up to the standard of the Citizen Kane DVD (which is not done by Criterion, incidentally) it is superb considering how poorly prints of this film have been handled over the years. Criterion performed many computer-repairs of tears and splices that make once-damaged scenes play perfectly. The gray scale is finally restored! (So many prints of this film are stark and grainy black and white and nearly unwatchable.) There are some extras, such as footage of Anton Karas performing on his unique instrument, documentary footage of the real Vienna sewers, the original trailer, the re-release trailer*, the alternate American opening, and fascinating production photos and commentary. Once again Criterion hits a home run.

    Make that a grand slam.

    *Not included in this version....more info
  • Behind the shadows lies a magical cinematic experience...
    When I first saw `Citizen Kane' I was completely smitten with Orson Welles and his brilliant performance. I had always heard wonderful things about Welles, but I had never really gotten around to delving into his filmography. The other night I picked up this classic film for the mere fact that Welles was in it, and what I found was one of the tightest film noirs I've ever seen; a film that I'm sure will steadily climb my favorites list for it is seriously one of a kind.

    The film follows author Holly Martins as he arrives in Vienna after his old friend Harry Lime sends him a plane ticket. Upon arriving though, Martins receives some disturbing news. Harry has died, been hit by a car, and is being buried. Instead of getting on the next plane and returning home, Holly decides that he is going to look into his friends untimely death for he's not so sure it was an accident as so many around him claim it to have been. Holly struggles with Major Calloway, a British cop convinced that Lime was an unsavory character, not to mention trying to gather information from those who knew Harry, especially his beautiful girlfriend Anna Schmidt. What Holly uncovers is far more than he expected, and much worse than he could have imagined.

    Writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed have crafted a marvelous film noir in `The Third Man', a film that is so superbly constructed it will never leave your mind. Reed's effective use of lighting and sound is marvelous, and the rich black and white just elevates the mood of the film. Seriously, I'm beginning to question why we ever moved over to color in the first place. That zither score is unique and, while at first I didn't think it would work, ultimately it proves to be one of the films greatest facets.

    The film instantly draws you in to the characters that their situation and manages to keep you guessing and ripe with anticipation as you uncover, along with Holly, the tragic truths behind Lime's fate.

    Aiding Reed and Graham are the entire cast, Joseph Cotton stepping into the lead role of Holly Martins, and doing a fabulous job at that. Cotton gives Holly a real sense of spark and determination, proving to the audience the importance within his motivations. As the film spirals towards its dramatic closing we see the layers stripped away from Holly and are allowed to see his humanity battling itself, which is something I always love to see plaguing my actors. Alida Valli is drop dead gorgeous as Anna, but she is far more than just window dressing. She captures the struggle of a woman in love who cannot bear to accept all that her lover really was. The single shot of her teary eyes is probably my single favorite scene in the film; a beautiful example of Reed using her actors to the full. Trevor Howard also turns in a grand performance as Major Calloway, a man that is easy to dislike yet the only one you can truly trust. He understands the true meaning of a supporting role, allowing Cotton to shine brightest yet never allowing his own character to suffer because of it.

    And then that leads me to Welles, the `third man' from the title. Welles single-handedly steals this entire film with a mere ten minutes or so of screen time. When we first see him standing in the shadows (one of the greatest cinematic entrances of all time) we are intrigued, but when his character finally meets Holly face to face we are presented with Welles undeniable presence and ability. He acts circles around Cotton and delivers a superb, undeniable performance that becomes the highlight of the film. He is unforgettable in every sense of the word.

    `The Third Man' truly lives up to the hype surrounding it. The classic use of shadows throughout creates a vibe of uneasiness that elevates the drama and helps instill in the audience a mystery that is slowly unfolding before them. When you add to this the immaculate script and the sublime performances you have a film that is not soon forgotten. I saw this movie for the legend that is Orson Welles, but I kept watching because of everything else that so perfectly creates a marvelous cinematic experience. There are few movies that come along like this one, movies that cannot be improved upon. ...more info
  • The Third Man
    The DVD case was smashed-in like it had been stacked under some weight. Contacted Amazon and they sent me a replacement....more info
  • Worth the double dip
    The Criterion Collection released an excellent edition on DVD many years ago and is revisiting it again this year. It is so rare that a double-dipped title is worth buying. Usually, only a few new extras are added and then resold to the public but this new edition is worth picking up even if you have the previous one. A wealth of new extras have been added making this a must-have for any film buff.

    The first disc features an introduction by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. He talks about Reed as an underrated director and herald's the film's atmospheric black and white cinematography. Naturally, he talks about Welles' role in the film.

    There is an audio commentary by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Tony Gilroy. Not surprisingly, they talk about the nuts and bolts mechanics of the story and the film's style. They just don't talk about the film as fans but from the point-of-view of filmmakers as well. This commentary is like watching the film with these two guys in your living room - very casual and conversational but never dull.

    There is a second commentary by film scholar Dana Polan. He argues that The Third Man is a hybrid film with various identities and moralities. Polan cites plenty of examples within the film to support his thesis while also exploring its themes. This track is a nice contrast to the first as it is more scholarly in nature.

    "The Third Man Treatment" features actor Richard Clarke reading Graham Greene's abridged treatment for the film with a preface that explains the story's origins.

    The second disc starts off with "The Third Man File," a collection of featurettes that include a production history by Charles Drazin, author of In Search of The Third Man; a comparison of the U.S. and U.K. versions of the film which included different opening voiceover narrators; subtitles for the scenes that featured untranslated foreign languages which is a nice touch; the original U.S. trailer; and the original U.K. press book.

    Perhaps, the strongest extra in the entire two-disc set is "Shadowing The Third Man," Frederick Baker's definitive 90-minute documentary on the film with visits to some of the original locations and archival interviews with key cast and crew members. This is a fascinating look at how this film came together including filming anecdotes told by those who were there.

    "Who Was The Third Man?" is a 30-minute documentary made for the 50th anniversary of the film's Austrian premiere with a look on how Vienna and the country in general were presented.

    "The Third Man on the Radio" features a radio play that was only one of a series that acted as prequels, fleshing out Harry Lime's past. Many were in fact written and performed by Welles himself. Also included is a radio play adaptation of the film with Cotton reprising his role.

    "Graham Greene: The Hunted Man" is a rare 1968 BBC profile of this famous novelist and screenwriter. Almost 60 minutes in length, it is an excellent look at his life and illustrious career.

    Finally, there is "From the Archives," a collection of various odds and ends, including a brief look at composer Anton Karas playing the zither; a look at the underground sewers of Vienna and how they were patrolled by the police in old, archival footage; and a pictorial essay about Vienna during the time that the movie takes place which gives a nice historical perspective....more info
  • One of the hundred best movies ever made.
    The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)

    Pauline Kael once said of Citizen Kane that it was the most fun you'd ever have watching a great film. I agree with the sentiment--I'm sure everyone has at least one movie they feel that way about--but for me, its recipient has always been Carol Reed's The Third Man, one of the many fine Graham Greene adaptations that's made its way to the screen (there are some authors whose work seems almost immune from being destroyed by bad adaptations, and Greene may well be one of them; of course, it helps that he adapted this one himself). No less an august body than the BFI called The Third Man the best British film ever produced. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but I just checked my list of the hundred best movies ever made, and only three British films rank higher. (None of them, I'm sure, has ever been mentioned by the BFI in remotely the same breath as this movie; my tastes tend to diverge from the crowd somewhat. And for the record, they're Richard Eyre's Iris (#11), Alan Parker's Pink Floyd: The Wall (#33), and Harry Bromley Davenport's XTRO (#36). The Third Man sits at #38.)

    Every film on my top 100 list is there for different reasons, but many of them share certain qualities. One of those is rewatchability; with very rare exceptions, it seems to me that one can't truly call a movie great if one can't imagine oneself watching it over and over again as time goes on, always deriving great pleasure from it. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen The Third Man over the years; certainly more than a dozen, probably closer to twoscore. It's a movie that has everything; a fantastic script, wonderful acting, a director and cinematographer who were both at the tops of their respective games, wonderful scenery, and, perhaps most strikingly, a rare star turn from the early career of Orson Welles in a movie he didn't direct.

    If you've somehow been in a cave for the past sixty years, here's a quick rundown of the plot: Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), a hack writer, is summoned to Vienna, Austria, by his old school friend Harry Lime (Welles), who wants Martins to write some promotional materials for Lime's prescription drug business. Arriving there, however, he gets to Lime's apartment and finds out the man's just been killed in an auto accident. He manages to get to the funeral just in time, where he finds himself embroiled in a game of cat and mouse involving a couple of stiff-upper-lip British military police (Trevor Howard and Bernard Lee), Lime's beautiful girlfriend (Alida Valli), and two of Lime's shadier friends (Ernst Deutsch and Siegfried Breuer). Supposedly, the two friends were with Lime when he died, but the porter in Lime's building swears there was a third man helping to carry the body after the accident; who was the third man? And what if it wasn't an accident at all?

    This is the kind of mystery that no one knows how to do any more (with the arguable exception of Hideo Nakata, whose Chaos borrows, visually, from The Third Man more than once). Reed unravels the mystery here just as much visually as he does through Martins' detective work. The viewer is expected to pay attention, to see the mystery rather than simply learning about it through the characters' conversations. What was the last Hollywood mystery you saw that did such a thing? Not that a great mystery can't be done conventionally; both The Maltese Falcon and The Usual Suspects come to mind as examples. But The Third Man is, as far as I can tell, unique in the way Reed unfolds the story; it's not enough that Graham Green wrote (and adapted) a cracking good mystery, and that the casting director staffed it with such phenomenal actors, each of whom turns in a stunning performance. It's Reed's visual language that takes this out of the realm of the good and into the realm of the spectacular. Everyone remembers Orson Welles' cuckoo clock speech, to be sure, but everyone also remembers the climactic scene with those fingers sticking out of the sewer grate; how many times have you seen it used in a movie since? It's become part of the language of film. Or Cotten standing at the base of the Ferris wheel? There's a reason is shows up in those best-movies-ever TV shows all the time; it's become iconic. But it's not just those scenes, of course. The entire movie is chock full of incredible images like this. Just rent it, put it on the DVD player, sit back, and enjoy the spectacle of the thing. And if you happen to get caught up in the engrossing story and wowed by the acting, well, that's just icing on the cake sometimes. Graham Greene could turn out a mystery like no other, and The Third Man began the golden age of Carol Reed's career (aside from collaborating once again with Greene on the other best Greene adaptation ever, Our Man in Havana, he was also responsible for such classics as Trapeze, Oliver!, and The Agony and the Ecstasy); there is almost nothing wrong with this movie at all. (The one thing that always nags me, however, is Harry Lime's first spoken lines; Welles always did have a tendency to go for the overly theatrical...) If you've never seen it, run, do not walk, to your nearest video rental store and pick a copy up. One of the hundred best films ever made. **** ?

    ...more info
  • Blu-ray Too Grainy
    I rented the Blu-ray edition. While the contrast is noticeably improved over the DVD edition, I found the graininess in the close-up shots to be too distracting....more info
  • A moody trip through postwar Europe.
    Graham Greene is one of the most acclaimed authors of the 20th century, and, unlike many such literary talents, he recognized the merits of film, and took work as a screenwriter for the British film industry, including several collaborations with producer/director Carol Reed, of which "The Third Man" is the most famous. Greene's works tend to be divided into two main genres: his meditations on Catholicism in the modern world ("The Power and the Glory", for example) and his work in the spy and crime genres, the category to which "The Third Man" belongs. It is also the high-watermark for director/producer Reed, though he would only earn his Best Director Oscar some two decades later with the musical "Oliver!" "The Third Man" is one of the great achievements in film noir, and, perhaps, in film in general.

    Greene's path in researching the film is in many ways mirrored by the character he ended up creating, one Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten, a prolific actor of the era who never reached the level of recognition of Stewart, Grant, or Bogart); arriving in Vienna, Greene prowled the bombed-out streets and drank in the Casanova Club, talking with local officials. He was inspired by stories of postwar shortage, organized smuggling, and the interaction of the four great powers in the early days of the Cold War. Martins arrives, having been summoned by his prewar friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles, in what is, apart from Charles Foster Kane, his most famous role), only to find on arrival that Lime has been mysteriously killed in a car accident. The local British security chief, Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) insinuates that Harry was a notorious racketeer involved in everything up to and including murder, and Martins, a writer of pulp novelettes about gunslingers, refuses to let that explanation stand. He delves deeper into Harry's world, from acquaintances such as Baron Kurtz (Ernst Deutch, who couldn't appear less trustworthy if he tried) and Dr. Winkle (Erich Ponto), who were both present at his death, and, most importantly, Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), a Czech living in Austria on a forged passport provided by Lime to help her avoid repatriation to Soviet-held territory. Martins' first big lead? Witness reports that an unidentified third man was present at Lime's death.

    "The Third Man"'s plot suffers from a case of what TV Tropes would call a 'Rosebud': the fact that the main plot twist is common knowledge because of the movie's notoriety (and, like the original Rosebud, Orson Welles is involved). We all know that Harry Lime isn't actually dead because he is due to appear and give him famous speech about cuckoo clocks (though Welles is listed in the opening credits, so perhaps it was never that big a secret). However, there is still plenty in the movie for the viewer to be surprised about, just as "Citizen Kane" retains its lustre.

    The movie has several great performances, starting with Cotten as the 'very American' (in the worlds of Peter Bogdanovich) lead man, Alida Valli as Anna, Trevor Howard as Calloway, and an enjoyable comic turn from Bernard Lee (later M to the Connery, Lazenby, and Moore incarnations of James Bond) as Calloway's batman, a sergeant who is quite a fan of Holly's writing. The performance that everyone always ends up talking about is Welles, however, in what amounts to an extended cameo (two scenes, the second with basically no dialogue).

    The other notable production components include the music, provided by Anton Karas on his zither string instrument, who was hired on the spur of the moment after impressing the director at a wartime party, and it was an inspired choice, though it may jar some people expecting more traditional noir stuff. The film is filmed in the actual postwar Vienna, still a place of ruined buildings, providing for a very high level of verisimilitude.

    Criterion's DVD version provides an extensive selection of extras, including several commentaries, features on the film's production, and, best of all, several older segments that include an interview with Greene on his career, and some old newsreels spotlighting the Vienna of the period, and showing the level of detail that Reed and company were able to capture....more info
  • A Great Film, But Demands the Viewer's Patience
    There are moments of absolute brilliance in this extraordinary morality play that explores the tension between loyalty to friends, self interest, and loyalty to the overarching moral code imposed by the social contract. The dialogue between Wells and Cotten in the ferris wheel poses the moral dilemma quite vividly (do you really care about those little dots moving along the ground below?). Also there is a great deal of suspense during this scene as to what Wells will do. One of the great scenes in the history of film.

    The girl friend adopts a simpler code of absolute fealty to friendship (at the expense of society's code). This option is compellingly portrayed and cannot be rejected out of hand.

    Greene's book has a far happier end, and I prefer it to the film's ending. In fact, I think the girl should get together with Cotten at the end -- it is not an unrealistic Hollywood ending, is more upbeat given the moral stance of the story, and is consistent with the moral code of the girl that love conquers all. Director Carol Reed seems to have felt that the we need a downer ending here to preserve the gravitas of the film, but I think he was just wrong on that score. It's not a nihilistic film and is a morality affirming film -- so why not have Cotten and the girl get together at the end?

    Cotten is perhaps the most underrated actor on the century. His work is truly great. And Wells is perfect in his portrayal of Harry Lime. He has a way of smirking that portrays Lime's moral stance as well as anything can.

    The chase scene in the sewers of Vienna is also pure genius.

    On the other hand, the story unfolds far too slowly. In fact, it's hard to sit through the first third of the movie without the advance knowledge that this is truly one of the greatest films ever made. ...more info
  • "I Remember the old Vienna..."
    This is a much better DVD release than the last one from the Criterion Collection. Not to mention the cover art for this edition is better looking than the last one which pretty much gave away the secret of "The Third Man". I first saw this movie in August of 1999 right around the time a little movie called "The Sixth Sense" just arrived in theaters nationwide. Anyway, back to "The Third Man", That was a great movie too. I especially like the opening narration from Carol Reed who made this film in 1949. The actors were great and so was the music. Let's just say they don't make 'em like this anymore. ...more info
  • The Third Man
    Fantastic movie, every time I watch it I see something new. Great cinematography, acting is superlative and story is gripping...more info
  • One of my favourite films
    The score is one that has haunted me since childhood, without ever knowing the provenance. Thank you for offering this priceless movie....more info
  • In my top 10 films ever made
    I grew up in Germany in that time and a similar place where this movie is set. From the stories that I was told about the black market, and from what I saw as a child, this movie captures the time and the place perfectly.

    The story, acting and camera work are all excellent. I have given this movie as a present more than once. I never lend out my copy.
    ...more info
  • The Third Man
    One of the all-time great mysteries, the excellence of this production is reflected in the talents of its key contributors: old Mercury Theatre colleagues Welles and Cotten, screenwriter Graham Greene, producers Alexander Korda and David O. Selznick, and director Carol Reed. Together, they create a haunting, intricate thriller, with corrupted souls inhabiting decimated Vienna like so many vultures. "Man" also features one of the best music scores in all film, with Anton Karas's original zither score adding to the ominous proceedings. Stunningly shot on location, this is a must-see....more info
  • WOW! talk about Must-have!!
    I was reading Criminal,the Marvel comic series
    by Ed Brubaker, who also wrote the Sleeper for DC/Wildstorm
    (my all time favorite)...

    and in the back of the issue, he talked about this movie.
    being a big fan I had to see what it was about...


    ...more info
  • Shadowing the Third Man
    The documentary Shadowing the Third Man makes this 2 disc set worthwhile alone. It's a fascinating doc which includes some interesting revelations, including the admission by Greene, who admitted for the first time: "Carol Reed was right... he made a magnificent ending."
    ...more info
  • Best presentation ever for this 1949 classic
    It's hard to find any flaws in the print Criterion Collection used to master this DVD. I saw more flaws, skips, and audio hiccups watching Pirates of the Carribean - At World's End last weekend at the movie theater only a day after its release -that is how great this picture looks after more than 50 years.

    Also included in this set is a vast info-dump about the filmmakers and the impact this film had on the world at the time. It's fascinating stuff, to me.

    The only disappointment was the audio commentary by Dana Polan, a NYU Film Studies professor that offers one of the two audio commentaries of the The Third Man. I wish Criterion Collection had encouraged his comments to reveal more about the film, it's production, history, anecdotes, etc. Instead, Polan spends an inordinate amount of time discussing character types, motivations, and what he calls "homosocial/[...]" themes using words I had to look up like "insouciant". In one instance, after Holly Martins returns from the funeral of his friend and is sharing a drink with a police officer he met there, Polan says "this shows that Holly is easily plied with alcohol to give up secrets." I think the more obvious reading is that he is grieving. I felt like a lot of the time Polan filled up too many minutes pounding into our heads how Holly is a "loser" character, which is true, but the least of many things I wish he had discussed at various points in the picture. The most pathetic part of the commentary is when Polan repeatedly points out the "homosocial/[...]" themes whenever there are two men talking to each other in the movie. Regardless of the fact that males are playing traditional male roles such as police officers and gangsters, Polan finds the need to point out that there is some kind of homosocial connection there. Whatever. I was especially disgusted when he giddily describes the police stakeout in which the two main police officer characters are hiding in the shadows to nab Harry Lime as a "[...] cruising" episode where men are lurking in shadows looking for sex. In reality, and what is not discussed at all by Polan in this scene as he is documenting his perceived fantasy, is the building and release of tension through the use of waiting in the ruins, the red herring of the balloon seller, and the surprise of Harry Lime showing up where they least expect him. Polan does provide a steady stream of informative detail relating to other films such as Lang's "M" and another film that takes place in the sewers, which was helpful. However, too much of his focus was misplaced on irrelevant details that were difficult to swallow. Is this what is taught in film studies at NYU? I'll stay away.

    Overally, this is a great movie easily deserving of 5 stars and the presentation is fantastic. I just hope Criterion Collection can reign-in their academic commentators so that their future discs don't start to feel like they have unneccessary filler in them....more info
  • Amazing Camera Work
    I was in awe of the shots in this drama set in post WWII VIenna. There were times when I said to myself, my God, how long did it take them to set up these fleeting shots? I see that another reviewer has put this on the list of one of the 100 best films of all time. I don't quite have the frame of reference to make such a declaration. For me, constrained by my modern sensibility, I found the story line less compelling than its execution, although this is a film you can look at again and again and continually find things to marvel at....more info
  • Time for Lime

    Who was Harry Lime (Orson Welles)? An evil man, devil in the flesh who was responsible for the unspeakable crimes, yet brilliant, cheerful and charismatic. His most famous words, a short speech written by Welles himself, say a lot about his character and motivations:

    "In Italy for 30 years under the Borgies they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

    No wonder, we like him, even though we know what he'd done...

    It has been said thousands of times about the greatest movie entrance ever - but what about his 'exit' - the fingers on the street? I think it is one of the greatest, too...

    A beautiful mysterious girl with tragic past was in love with him and the unforgettable ending, so anti-Hollywood, so true to the film - was about her love that goes beyond the grave. I read that both Selznick (the producer) and author Graham Greene had initially argued for something more upbeat (Holly and Anna walking off arm-in-arm), but Reed disagreed. I am so happy that Reed won (I am sure millions of fans are, too). That was the way to finish the movie and make it much more than just typical noir. Makes the viewer think about love, friendship, betrayal, loyalty, the price one pays for them.

    Amazing film - perfectly shot; almost flawless. It looks and feels like Welles himself could've made it. The influence of Citizen Kane is undeniable. The only problem I had - the music. I like it but it was very strange to hear it in the film like The Third Man. Maybe that was a purpose - instead of somber, moody, and ominous music that would be expected for the noir film, something completely different and out of place - cheerful but melancholy in the same time...

    Criterion DVD is wonderful - the restored version of the film shines. There are two openings of the film available - British and American, and a lot of extras.

    ...more info
  • Not worth the money. Buy the DVD.
    I bought the disk expecting to be wowed by a pristine, detailed black'n'white image that blu-ray could deliver. Could... is the operative world, because this disk doesn't. The image is no better than DVD quality. It's graining and shakes in the gate. I would thought that in the least, Criterion could have stabilized the image. But alas, they didn't.

    The film itself is brilliant. The best way describe the viewing experience of Criterion's edition is.... it's like watching a 16mm print on a rickety old projector, but with excellent sound.

    If I could return this disk, I would....more info