Set in post-war Vienna, The Third Man, released in 1949 is truly a classic film.
Starring that giant of the silver screen, Orson Welles and noted British actor Trevor Howard, it is the story of Welles’ character, the mysterious Harry Lime. Told through the perspective of Lime’s American friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), it starts off as a whodunit but ends up as a love triangle. Martins comes to Austria at the offer of a job from Lime but when he arrives things are far from what he expected them to be. There are lots of twists in the plot and like with “Captain America – The Winter Soldier” which we reviewed last week, we see Cotton facing the question of “Who can I trust?” and “What do I do when my friends let me down.” When he cannot find Harry, Martins go to the authorities who try to dissuade him from looking for Harry and they are none to complimentary about him.
One of the very clever and unusual things about the movie is that we do not see Orson Welles’ character from the very start of the movie. He does not show up until later on into the story and when he does it is a massive surprise. We also keep hoping that either what the authorities have told Martins about Lime is untrue or that he had been forced to do what they accuse him of because of extreme circumstances. The compelling thing about this movie is that the questions that are raised about the characters are never answered how we expect them to be.
Another key part of the movie is Alida Valli as Anna Schmidt. Martins comes across her in his search for the truth about Harry because she had been Harry’s girlfriend. At first she seems like someone very vulnerable – a victim of the war but she also turns out to surprise us quite a lot as the plot develops.
The film is almost as famous for the background music as for the storyline itself. Director Carol Reed found zither player Anton Karas in a beer house and his jaunty, upbeat playing is very unsettling against the tense plot and bleak backdrop of Vienna.
Vienna itself is a key player in the movie. Robert Krasker’s cinematography won an Oscar and rightly so. Director and film critic Peter Bogdanovich comments on how how can almost feel the wetness of the streets and how well it looks in black and white. All this only serves to add to the tension, suspense and bleakness of the storyline.
The late Roger Ebert, one the most respected film critic ever, said of this movie, “Of all the movies I have seen, this one most completely embodies the romance of going to the movies.” It certainly is full of drama and suspense. If you are a fan of lots of bangs and explosions then this is not the film for you but if you want something that makes you think about war, human relationships and the dark side of human nature then definitely give this a try.
By Andy McKinney