The Third Man (1949) starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee directed by Carol Reed Movie Review

The Third Man (1949)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Alida Valli and Joseph Cotten in The Third Man (1949)

Lime Life

Admittedly I am not the biggest fan of film-noir and I think that comes down to when I read reviews of classic film-noir the reviewers seem to go over the top when it comes to the depth. At times these reviews border more on a scholarly piece, examining every tiny detail from camera angles to the hidden meaning behind dialogue and whilst they are fine pieces of writing they become daunting for those who want to know whether a movie is worth watching rather than why a certain angle was used. That brings me to one of the icons of film noir "The Third Man", written by Graham Greene, directed by Carol Reed and not only featuring a scene stealing performance from Orson Welles but an instantly recognizable soundtrack thanks to Anton Karas' zither playing. Now there is a lot in "The Third Man" for those who like to sound clever throwing film terms around in their writing but more importantly for the average Joe this is an entertaining, stylish and even strangely amusing thriller, a film noir classic.

Having arrived in the divided post-war Vienna after being invited by Harry Lime (Orson Welles - Casino Royale) who lines up a job for him, author Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten - Duel in the Sun) discovers that Harry died in a traffic incident. As he talks to those he meets he begins to suspect all is not as it seems especially as the British Military Police lead by Maj. Calloway (Trevor Howard - The Way to the Stars) were monitoring Harry before his death due to his shady dealings. Unsure of who is telling the truth as no one's stories seem to match Holly sets about finding the truth for himself.

Orson Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949)

So "The Third Man" is in many ways the classic film-noir, we have a man investigating a crime who likes a drink, we have a mysterious woman, even more mysterious people lurking in the shadows and various people from police to shady characters all interested in Harry Lime and so interested in Holly. But whilst Graham Greene constructed this story which contains a lot of film-noir cliches it doesn't feel cliche at all and is a wonderful mystery. From the slightly amusing moment when Holly learns that Harry's coffin has just left it grabs your attention and when he reaches the funeral and we immediately see a variety of characters from a beautiful damsel, a shady looking gangster as well as police are curiosity is spiked. And thanks to Greene's writing that level of curiosity is maintained as we discover through Holly that things don't make sense, from how Harry died to the mysterious third man at the scene.

But this clever storyline is just one of the reasons why "The Third Man" is not only very entertaining but also held in high esteem by film-noir fanatics. A big part of it's success is the vision from the on the slant camera angles which are used to the strangely bubbly zither soundtrack by Anton Karas. It makes it visually stimulating and with the strange almost comical zither music fascinating because it gives it almost a comedy feel about it, not what you expect from film-noir. But then you also have the expected film-noir aspects, the heavy use of shadows, the stereotypical characters such as Holly being persistent in his search for answers who finds himself falling for a dame.

And talking of the dame "The Third Man" has some great performances especially Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins giving us this writer/investigator who is a cliche but a more normal, less extreme cliche than you will find it other film-noir. Cotten leads the movie nicely and is wonderfully supported by the likes of Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee and Alida Valli who all add to this strange thriller but one which has a lightness to it. Yet they are all outshone by Orson Welles who the first time we set eyes on him steals the movie, delivering this character who looks like a wide boy but then there is something more sinister about him which makes his performance intoxicating.

So what this really means is that "The Third Man" is a great thriller, a brilliant piece of film-noir because everything about it works and works together. And in working together it features what for me is the best series of sewer scenes you will ever see, exciting, dramatic, visually brilliant and equally full of brilliant acting. I won't tell you what happens but trust me it is probably one of the best endings to a film-noir you will ever watch.

What this all boils down to is that "The Third Man" is a great movie an iconic movie and it is understandable why some see necessary to wax lyrical about it, analysing every aspect in detail. But for those who like me want to know whether a movie is worth watching I say yes, "The Third Man" is entertaining if you are in need of a thriller and you will be glad you watched it.