ming movie reviews

in about 100 words or less

The Third Man (1949)

UK 104m, B&W
Director: Carol Reed; Cast: Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard

Reminiscent of Hitchcock’s finest, The Third Man is the quintessential British film noir. Set at the beginning of the Cold War in occupied Vienna, the story follows the suspicious death and the wrong-doings of an American named Harry Lime, whose black market activities are the subject of an intense military investigation. This expressionist-styled thriller employs unusual camera angles and plays with shadow and harsh lighting in ways that provide a highly stylized look. Likewise, the use of the zither in the score provides a most memorable sound which further establishes the film’s disquieting atmosphere. The Third Man is also notable for one of the screen’s most memorable entrances by any actor – that of Orson Welles as the mysterious Harry Lime, who glibly appears in a darkened entrance – only to vanish as mysteriously as he appeared (Klaus Ming April 2011).

10 comments on “The Third Man (1949)

  1. Anthony Lee Collins

    Wonderful film, with a great performance by Joseph Cotten. He has to be so naive and innocent, and yet not lose the audience by being a chump. Not easy to carry that off for a whole picture.

    In addition to the doorway and the cat (yes, one of the greatest character introductions ever), especially notable for the “cuckoo clock” speech on the Ferris wheel (rumor is that Welles wrote that himself, but who knows?), and the ending, watching her walk down that long road. Wonderful, moral, unromantic ending. Altman echoed it in The Long Goodbye.

    • Klaus

      Fantastic ending for sure! Subtle, but very surprising for a movie from 1949. This was only the first time seeing The Third Man – i can appreciate that I will pick up on other subtitles with repeated viewing.

  2. Dave B.

    LOVE this movie! Welles is tremendous in his brief role (and I believe he did, in fact, write at least the Cuckoo Clock part of that dialogue. It’s supposedly something from a play he once appeared in, and director Carol Reed has himself credited it to Welles).

    • Klaus

      Welles’ role was so small, but had such an impact. I’m hard pressed to say why without taking another look at the film – although i’d initially attribute it to the terrific screenplay.

      I was also lucky enough to pick up a used Blu-Ray for under $10. I love finding deals like this 🙂

  3. Anthony Lee Collins

    Welles said once in an interview that the best gift you can be given as an actor is to have your character not appear for the first hour of the play, but to have all the other characters talk about you all the time. Then, when you finally appear, the audience will think you’re great because of the big build-up.

    (Like many things Welles said, this is not entirely true. It can go the other way — I’m just watching Apocalypse Now — but it does work if the performance and the writing live up to the expectations. Another successful example would be David Carradine as Bill in Kill Bill.)

    • Klaus

      I was trying to think of a comparable entrance to Welles’ from another film – and yes, Carradine in Kill Bill is a great example. This is an interesting idea for a post: The 5 best “entrances” in film…

  4. Anthony Lee Collins

    If you’re doing “entrances” (rather than just “delayed entrances”) there may have to be more than five. 🙂

    Off the top of my head:
    Welles (again) in Touch of Evil
    Dietrich in Witness for the Prosecution (and in Touch of Evil, now that I think of it)
    Angela Bassett in Strange Days

    Some are also “a star is born” moments for the actor as well as the performer:
    The zoom in on John Wayne in Stagecoach (so quick the cameraman lost focus for a second)
    The zoom in — and the c-bomb — the first time Chloe Moretz appears in costume in Kick-Ass (I heard gasps in the theater for that one)

  5. John

    I’d add the Stay Puff Marshmellowman in Ghostbusters 🙂

  6. Anthony Lee Collins

    Well, comedy is a whole separate category. Groucho Marx had some great entrances. “Three cheers for Captain Spaulding,” of course. And the one where there’s a huge gala for his arrival and he comes in the side entrance and lines up with the honor guard (holding out his cigar) and then asks, “Why are we waiting for?”

    (Or maybe that’s the same picture. They sometimes run together in my mind, I will admit.)

  7. Dave B.

    @Anthony: No, your were right initially; it’s two different films. Captain Spaulding is from ANIMAL CRACKERS, and the gala entrance is DUCK SOUP.

    But the Marx Brothers films are so filled with anarchy that I can certainly understand your moment of doubt!

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This entry was posted on 04/11/2011 by in 1001 List, 1940s, All and tagged .
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