The Third Man

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“The Third Man” is a thriller film of 1949 directed by Carol Reed and written by Graham Greene. Set in immediate post-war Vienna, the film is considered one of the film noir masterpieces and a classic of British cinema.

The plot revolves around the character of Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotten), an American writer who comes to Vienna after the Second World War, invited by an old friend, Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles). However, once Holly arrives, she discovers that Harry has died in a car accident. Suspecting that there is something wrong with her friend’s death, Holly begins to investigate and uncovers a dark plot involving the trafficking of counterfeit penicillin.

During her investigations, Holly comes across Anna (played by Alida Valli), the woman who loved Harry, and local cop Calloway (played by Trevor Howard), who tries to stop the drug trade. The search for the truth puts Holly in a dangerous position, uncovering a web of corruption, betrayal and deception.

One of the most iconic elements of the film is the soundtrack by Anton Karas, composed mainly with the use of the zither, a particular musical instrument. The soundtrack helps to create a unique and haunting atmosphere, becoming a distinctive symbol of the film.

One of the most famous moments of “The Third Man” is the scene in which Holly finds herself chasing Harry through the tunnels of the Vienna sewers. This masterfully shot sequence has become an icon of cinema, and its tension and suspense have remained etched in cinematic history.

The film is also known for its innovative direction, which uses visually striking black-and-white photography and makes the most of the angles and environments of war-torn Vienna, creating a gloomy and oppressive atmosphere.

‘The Third Man’ received widespread critical acclaim and won the Grand Prix award at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival. It is regarded as a classic of the noir genre and has influenced many subsequent directors. Its complex plot, outstanding performances and unique atmosphere made “The Third Man” a landmark in world cinema.

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Plot

the-third-man

The plot of “The Third Man” revolves around Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), an American mystery writer who travels to Vienna at the invitation of an old friend named Harry Lime (Orson Welles). However, when Holly arrives in town, she discovers that Harry has died in a car accident.

Suspecting that there is something strange in his friend’s death, Holly begins to investigate to find the truth. He soon discovers that Harry was involved in illegal activities related to the trafficking of counterfeit penicillin. While gathering information, Holly runs into Anna (Alida Valli), a mysterious woman who was romantically linked to Harry.

Holly clashes with the local police, led by the stern Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), who try to stop the drug trade and expose Harry Lime’s corruption ring. Holly discovers that Harry has been involved in illegal activities that have claimed the lives of many people, but finds herself conflicted with her feelings for Anna.

Tensions mount when Holly realizes that Anna may be involved in trying to cover up Harry’s actions and finds himself drawn into a scheme to expose those responsible for trafficking counterfeit penicillin. The situation is further complicated when Holly is captured by Harry’s accomplices and forced to hide in the labyrinthine tunnels of Vienna’s sewer channels.

“The Third Man” is a story of deceit, corruption and betrayal set in a dark and war-torn atmosphere. The plot unfolds through Holly’s investigation as she discovers the truth about her deceased friend and is confronted with the moral dilemmas that this entails.

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Movie Characters

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Here are the main characters of the film “The Third Man”:

Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotten): He is the film’s protagonist, an American mystery writer who travels to Vienna to visit his friend Harry Lime. Holly becomes suspicious of Harry’s death and starts investigating to find out the truth.

Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles): He is Holly’s friend, but is introduced as an enigmatic and controversial character. Harry is involved in illegal activities, including trafficking in counterfeit penicillin, and his suspicious death sparks Holly’s investigation.

Anna Schmidt (portrayed by Alida Valli): She is a mysterious woman who was romantically involved with Harry Lime. Holly falls in love with Anna, but learns she may be involved in trying to cover up Harry’s actions.

Major Calloway (played by Trevor Howard): He is a British policeman who leads the investigation into Harry Lime’s drug trafficking and corruption ring. Calloway is determined to unearth the truth and stop those responsible.

Baron Kurtz (portrayed by Ernst Deutsch): He is an ally of Holly who helps him in his investigation. Baron Kurtz is a member of Vienna’s criminal underworld and provides Holly with crucial information.

Crabbin (played by Wilfrid Hyde-White): He is a friend of Harry Lime and a source of information for Holly. Crabbin gives details of Harry’s involvement in the illegal activities.

These are just some of the main characters in the film. “The Third Man” also features a variety of minor characters who contribute to the unique storyline and atmosphere of the film.

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Production

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“The Third Man” was produced by London Film Productions, a British production company, and was distributed by British Lion Films. The film was directed by Carol Reed, while the screenplay was written by Graham Greene, who based his work on an original story.

The production of the film was influenced by the post-war atmosphere of Europe and the post-war political and social situation. The story takes place in Vienna, which was divided between the Allied Powers and faced the devastating consequences of war. This background helped create the unique and oppressive atmosphere of the film.

The soundtrack of the film was composed by Anton Karas, who mainly used the zither, a traditional Austrian musical instrument. The distinctive soundtrack became an iconic element of the film and helped create a dark and mysterious atmosphere.

The cinematography of the film, by Robert Krasker, took full advantage of the Vienna setting, using unusual angles and the play of light and shadow to create a visually suggestive and eerie atmosphere.

“The Third Man” was filmed largely in Vienna, among its war-torn streets, sewers and buildings. The city itself becomes a major character in the film, providing a unique and atmospheric setting for the story.

The film was critically well received and won the Grand Prix award at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival. Over the years, ‘The Third Man’ has become a classic of film noir and a landmark for British cinematography. Its painstaking production and unique atmosphere have contributed to its status as a cult film.

Distribution and Reception

“The Third Man” was released in the UK on September 2, 1949 by British Lion Films. In the United States, the film was released by the Selznick Releasing Organization on October 12, 1949. It was initially released in a slightly abridged version in the United States, but later restored to the full version.

The film received positive reception from critics and audiences. It has been praised for its innovative direction, atmospheric cinematography and distinctive soundtrack. “The Third Man” helped define the noir genre and influenced many subsequent filmmakers.

The film was a commercial success in both the UK and the US. It grossed more than £600,000 in the UK, making it one of the most successful British films of the time. In the United States it has had a great impact, both financially and culturally.

“The Third Man” won the Grand Prix at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival and received three Academy Award nominations in 1951, including Best Director for Carol Reed and Best Editing. His influence in the field of cinema has been recognized over the years, and the film has become a point of reference for many directors and filmmakers.

Even today, “The Third Man” is considered one of greatest movies of all time. In 1999, it was placed third in the British Film Institute’s 100 Greatest British Films list. Its complex storyline, fine direction and unique atmosphere continue to be appreciated and studied by film enthusiasts around the world.

Style

The style of “The Third Man” is a distinctive element of the film and has helped to make it a classic of film noir. Here are some highlights of the film’s style:

Cinematography: The cinematography of “The Third Man,” directed by Robert Krasker, was acclaimed for its visual artistry. The film was shot in black and white, making full use of the use of shadows, contrasts and unusual angles. The scenes set in Vienna’s sewer canals, in particular, create a claustrophobic and eerie atmosphere. The cinematography helps to emphasize the film’s dark atmosphere and themes of deception and corruption.

Direction: Carol Reed’s direction has been acclaimed for its ability to build tension and suspense. Reed effectively employs the use of camera shots and camera movements to create a sense of angst and to bring out significant plot details. The famous chase sequence in Vienna’s sewer tunnels is an example of directorial mastery, with incisive framing and tight editing that adds to the suspense.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack of “The Third Man”, composed by Anton Karas, is a distinctive and recognizable element of the film. The main music is played on the zither, a traditional Austrian musical instrument. The soundtrack helps to create a unique and sinister atmosphere, amplifying the element of mystery and tension present in the film.

Post-War Atmosphere: “The Third Man” is set in immediate post-war Vienna, a city devastated and divided between the Allied Powers. The atmosphere of post-war despair and confusion permeates throughout the film, contributing to a sense of decay and instability.

Dialogue and narration: Graham Greene’s screenplay features sharp dialogue full of innuendo. The characters effectively express their emotions and thoughts through words, and the narrative is full of memorable phrases. Dialogues are an important tool for revealing characters’ secrets and motivations.

All of these stylistic elements help to create a unique and disturbing atmosphere in “The Third Man”. The film’s distinctive style made its viewing an immersive experience and influenced film noir and British cinema in general.

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Director

Carol-Reed

The director of “The Third Man” is Carol Reed. Born December 30, 1906 in London, United Kingdom, Carol Reed was a very talented British director and screenwriter. He is regarded as one of the most important British directors of the 20th century.

Reed began his film career in the 1930s, working as an assistant director before moving into directing. He has directed several successful films throughout his career, but ‘The Third Man’ is regarded as his most celebrated and influential work.

His ability to create taut and suggestive atmospheres, combined with a keen eye for visual aesthetics, helped define the style of British film noir. Reed was able to effectively convey emotion and tension through the skillful use of framing, camera movement and lighting.

Following the success of ‘The Third Man,’ Reed went on to direct several successful films, including ‘Speak to the Jurors’ (1957) and ‘Oliver!’ (1968), the latter winner of several Academy Awards, including Best Director.

Carol Reed passed away on April 25, 1976, but her impact on the world of cinema is lasting. His mastery of directing and his ability to create immersive atmospheres made him one of the most influential directors of his era.

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