The Third Man

I watched this film again recently and it confirmed my opinion that this is the greatest film I have ever seen. I have never seen a film where the elements of filmmaking work together so perfectly: script, cinematography, acting, music. It’s throughly entertaining but it has larger themes too: the desperation and corruption that war had created in Europe, the conflict between personal loyalty and public duty. It doesn’t give any pat answers and the ending strikes just the perfect note.

 What struck me most about the film was its daring. Using an unknown musician playing an unknown instrument for the entire score was a big risk but Reed took and it worked beautifully. Shooting on location was a risk (particularly because Welles refused to shoot some of his scenes) but it worked. Tilting the camera in almost every other scene could easily have back-fired but it matches the mood of the film completely. The first two of these chocies were made by Reed against studio pressure.

There are so many memorable scenes that it’s hard to list them all: Harry Lime’s entrance, the ferris wheel and the sewer chase are of course classics. But also the scenes where the bystanders think Martins is the murderer and the scene with the balloon man towards the end. The scenes with Lime’s sidekicks are excellent; I particularly liked the icy exchange with the doctor. And of course the Crabbin scenes provide some great comic relief.

I could write a lot more but let me stop. What do you think of the Third Man?

I love it too. I hope Joseph Cotten was appreciated in his day; I tend to think he was underrated but I hope people let him know how great he was.

Can’t add anything to your perceptive description, except a warning to people to not buy the cheap DVD version of the movie. The one I have (had, I tossed it) has terrible staticky sound, the frames jump, and it isn’t even framed correctly.

Yes, the restored version is well worth the price.

Best. Last scene. Ever. This is in my top three. There have been nights when I - ahem - got home extremely late, woke up the next day and would have forgotten that I watched it at all except that I had that damn zither music in my head. (And there it is again).

You know the Sergeant who had read his crappy Western books and was a fan? You may remember him from such films as Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, etc. Bernard Lee. He was M.

And you may recognize Harry Lime as the guy from those Paul Masson wine commercials. Kidding.


sorry to hijack…
but can you check out This Thread

I saw that you went to huatulco… and I am looking for some information about it… I did a search for your name, and found your most recent post… Thanks

Tee me up as another fan. I love those films that are a product of a specific time and place… they have something that a re-creation doesn’t.

Add me to the list of major fans. The Criterion DVD is superbly restored and well worth the money. It’s amazing how Welles character dominates the movie even though he isn’t in it for the first 45 minutes or so.

When I visited Vienna a few years ago I made sure that I took a ride on the famous Ferris Wheel. I think I even quoted those lines about the Swiss and cukoo clocks to my wife while we were turning around.

This may as well be a chance to ask about a claim made in this recent Guardian article about film endings. Its main argument is that the hope of sequels is distorting the way Hollywood now does them, but it also includes a list of great endings. On The Third Man’s, it notes

Does anyone know if this is true? The IMDB entry lists an old US version that’s about ten minutes shorter than the original UK standard one, but doesn’t say what was cut. Elsewhere there’s a fair amount about how Reed imposed the outcome of the final shot against the wishes of Greene, including this article about the ending. Yet I haven’t found anything else about any cuts by the distributor.

Ebert has a nice review of the Third Man in his Great Movies series which lists some of the changes Selznick tried to make. Though he did make a few changes in the American version AFAIK the ending was the same.

“Reed fought with David O. Selznick, his American producer, over every detail of the movie; Selznick wanted to shoot on sets, use an upbeat score and cast Noel Coward as Harry Lime.”

Personally I think a happy ending would have been OK but not nearly as good as the actual one of course. It’s yet another example of Reed holding out against outside pressure and making a decision which lifted the film from a well-made thriller to a transcendent masterpiece.

One of my all time favorites. One of the little touches I love… Joseph Cotton’s character mis-pronounces just about everyone’s name (Callahan/Calloway, Winkel/Vinkel, etc.) but then when Valli calls him “Harly” instead of “Holly” he gets all upset!..Timmy

One of my favorite movies.

I love the clock line.

I loved that everyone spoke German, underscoring that Martins was completely out of his element.

That the movie did not have a ‘happy ending’ (I just love that final scene).

Was it based on a book?

I’m glad the thread was posted…anybody know:
-who was the british actor who played Major Calloway?
-Where harry Lime stole the pennicillin from?

Also, do funerals in Vienna still have those uniformed pallbearers?
Finally, there was a short-lived TV series in the early 1950’s called “The THIRD MAN”-it starred the late Michael Rennie as Harry Lime…does anyboy know if DVDs or tapes of this show still exist?

Sort of. Graham Greene wrote the screenplay to The Third Man before adopting it as a book. I believe the book version came out shortly after the movie was released.

Sort of. Graham Greene wrote the screenplay to The Third Man before adopting it as a book. I believe the book version came out shortly after the movie was released.

I was thinking that if it was a book it would have been a thriller no where near as good as the movie, but if Green ‘adapted it to novel form’, that isn’t likely.

Wasn’t Calloway one of the Howards? Trevor?

Anyone else notice a striking resemblance between the recurring zither motif in “The Third Man” and the recurring samba motif in “Brazil”? I’ve wondered whether this was a happy coincidence or a deliberate “Third Man” reference on Terry Gilliam’s part. (After all, he did name one of the characters “Harvey Lime.”)

“Wasn’t Calloway one of the Howards? Trevor?”
Yes, Trevor Howard.

“Where harry Lime stole the pennicillin from?”
There is a hospital employee who is in on the racket. That is the man who is buried instead of Lime.

Incidentally the Graham Greene treatment is played on one of the audio tracks on the Criterion release. It's quite interesting though I would have liked an audio-commentary as well.

Yeah, a great film. As well as the scenes mentioned, I love the half-teasing stereotypes of the arresting soldiers at Valli’s apartment and the monsterous child with the ball after the murder.