The Third Man (1949)

I was talking with Alex from Alex Raphael months ago (it was December 2017, it still qualifies as months ago, right?), and I learnt that The Third Man is his favourite movie. I hadn't heard of it before which didn't surprise me as my knowledge of film noirs is very limited, but after reading a great quote from the film that Alex had shared on his blog, I added it on my watchlist.

Set in the post-WWII, the film follows American pulp writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) as he arrives in Vienna to meet with an old friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), who has offered him a job. However, he is soon told that Lime has just died in an accident, hit by a truck in front of his building. As Martins starts searching for details, he finds the circumstances very strange and begins his investigation to discover the truth. 

The plot is rather simple and yet it manages to be complex and quite intricate and, more or less, it has your attention from start to finish. And it has a pretty good twist too. It does, however, have some flaws. First, it's a rather short story stretched to fit 1 hour 45 minute film; second, it has several plot holes and loose ends; third, it focuses too much on the girl; and fourth, the plot twist is revealed too soon, halfway through the movie, and it kind of gets boring to watch Martins search for the responsible. 

I wasn't completely happy with the characters either. Holly Martins isn't particularly interesting nor mysterious as he is just an American writer of cheap books who is determined to find the truth about his friend's death. Anna Schmidt, Harry Lime's attractive girlfriend, is interesting at first, but eventually, I got tired of her as she has too much screen time and not much to do. And Harry Lime should have been more menacing. Also, none of the characters has clear motivations. 

British Lion Film Corporation, Selznick Releasing Organization
Despite that, these characters still are pretty memorable and the credits entirely go to the cast. Joseph Cotten perfectly portrays the American novelist and has a terrific screen presence; Alida Valli gives a compelling and melancholic performance as Anna Schmidt; at last, Orson Welles makes a terrific bad guy, and delivers one of the best quotes ever written. 

Thankfully, great acting isn't the only positive aspect of The Third Man. There are tension and suspense, especially in the Ferris Wheel scene, and the cinematography is nothing short of extraordinary with its odd angles, lighting and shadows. The musical score, however, doesn't fill very appropriate for a thriller. In fact, it often feels out of place.


  1. Aahhhh! The music is out of place?? Oh my goodness!! This piece of music became a huge hit...the top 10 for its day and is now known as the Harry Lime Theme which I think totally works with the film. One has to take 8nto account the post WW2 climate and the musician, Anton Kara’s was literally plucked out of a Viennese cafe just like one you see in the film. I actually have this tune on more than one CD and think of my mom who was in her early 20’s during this time living in the ruins of Germany, Düsseldorf I think. This is in my top 10 of favourite films because it evokes all the intrigues of that time. The girl loves the wrong man...typical, but shows the fear that many had. My mom was illegal at first since she escaped to the west. As you can tell, this film is close to my heart. I can see what you mean about the characters but it is very minimal in my book. Harry Lime is charismatic and I’m glad he was exposed midway through the film. When I was in Vienna, I stood at that same spot where Lime was exposed by the pussy cat. Love this film!!

    1. It was for me. In some scenes it felt so out of place and weird! Anyway, I can see why I you this movie.

  2. This is definitely one of the finest films that I had ever seen as I just love the visuals and offbeat score. Plus, Orson Welles as he's just awesome.