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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

The Third Man (1949)


  • Carol Reed, Director

  • Graham Greene, Writer

  • Anton Karas, Music

  • Orson Welles as Harry Lime

  • Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins

  • Alida Valli as Anna Schmidt

  • Trevor Howard as Major Calloway

  • Paul Hörbiger as Karl

  • Ernst Deutsch as "Baron" Kurtz

  • Erich Ponto as Dr. Winkel

  • Siegfried Breuer as Popescu

  • Hedwig Bleibtreu as Anna's old landlady

  • Bernard Lee as Sergeant Paine

  • Wilfrid Hyde-White as Crabbin


  • The Third Man opened on September 1, 1949.

  • The film would be the most popular in the UK of 1949 eventually grossing approximately $1.1 million dollars in 1949.

  • Outside of Austria, the critics were overwhelmingly positive and the film would be nominated for three Oscars for Best Director (Reed) and Film Editing winning for Cinematography in Black and White. It was also the first solo winner of the Palm D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

  • "The Third Man Theme" was so popular it was released as a single in 1949/50 (Decca in the UK, London Records in the US); it became a best-seller; and by November 1949, 300,000 records had been sold in Britain.

  • In 1999, the British Film Institute voted The Third Man the greatest British film of all time.

  • In 2011, a poll for Time Out ranked it the second-best British film ever.

  • Besides its top ranking in the BFI Top 100 British films list, in 2004 the magazine Total Film ranked it the fourth-greatest British film of all time.

  • In 2005, viewers of BBC Television's Newsnight Review voted the film their fourth favorite of all time, the only film in the top five made before 1970.

  • The film also placed 57th on the American Film Institute's list of top American films in 1998, though the film's only American connections were its executive co-producer David O. Selznick and its actors Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten. The other two executive co-producers, Sir Alexander Korda and Carol Reed, were Hungarian and British, respectively.

  • In June 2008, the American Film Institute (AFI) revealed its 10 Top 10, and The Third Man was acknowledged as the fifth-best film in the mystery genre. The film also placed 75th on AFI's list of 100 Years...100 Thrills and Harry Lime was listed as the 37th-greatest villain in 100 Heroes and Villains.

  • The Third Man currently holds a 99% rating among critics on RT, a 97 score on Metacritic, and a 4.3/5 on Letterboxd.

What is this movie about?/Elevator Pitch: Trust was as big a commodity in post-war Europe as anything else. But also its about the post-war Europe that people don't often think about anymore.

Plot Summary: "The Third Man" is a cinematic masterpiece that seamlessly blends noir intrigue with post-war disillusionment, creating a gripping tale of mystery and moral ambiguity. Set against the atmospheric backdrop of post-World War II Vienna, the film follows pulp novelist Holly Martins as he investigates the suspicious death of his old friend Harry Lime. Director Carol Reed masterfully crafts a world of shadowy alleys and crumbling architecture, enhancing the film's sense of unease.

Joseph Cotten delivers a compelling performance as Martins, an everyman caught in a web of deception and betrayal. However, it's Orson Welles who steals the show as the enigmatic Harry Lime, a charismatic and morally complex figure whose presence looms large over the narrative. The iconic zither score by Anton Karas adds a haunting and distinctive layer to the film's atmosphere, creating an unforgettable sonic backdrop.

As the narrative unfolds, "The Third Man" becomes more than a mere whodunit by delving into the moral ambiguity of its characters and the bleak aftermath of war. Reed's masterful use of light and shadow, coupled with Graham Greene's sharp screenplay, elevates the film beyond the confines of traditional noir, making it a timeless classic that continues to captivate audiences with its gripping storytelling and cinematic brilliance. In the hands of Reed and his talented cast, "The Third Man" remains a haunting exploration of loyalty, deception, and the shadows that linger in the aftermath of conflict.

Did You Know:

  • The Vienna Police Dept. has a special unit that is assigned solely to patrol the city's intricate sewer system, as its network of interlocking tunnels make great hiding places for criminals on the run from the law, stolen property, drugs, etc. The "actors" playing police officers in the film were actually off-duty members of that unit.

  • There are many oblique angles in the movie, where the camera is tilted so the horizon line is not horizontal, to give a feeling of awkwardness and uneasiness (in film theory these are called Dutch Angles). After he saw the movie, William Wyler, a friend of Carol Reed, sent him a spirit level with a note: "Carol, next time you make a picture, just put it on top of the camera, will you?"

  • Somewhat apocryphal stories abound regarding Carol Reed discovering musician Anton Karas while scouring Vienna bars and nightclubs. Reed actually heard Karas playing at a production party and insisted the Austrian zither player come to Reed's hotel room and record songs to use for the contract. Later in production, Reed realized he wanted to use Karas' music for the whole film and flew Karas out to London to record the score. Karas became a top-selling musician thanks to the film and opened a nightclub called "The Third Man" in Vienna, which he ran to the end of his days.

  • Orson Welles initially refused to do the sewer sequences because he was convinced the bad air would give him some disease. Carol Reed claimed there was nothing to worry about as the smell was a result of disinfectant, not excrement. According to Reed, the apprehensive Welles didn't believe him. And so, since Orson Welles refused to be filmed in Vienna's sewers, his close-ups were shot in London Film Studios, while a body double was used for wide shots. The resulting footage is said to be about 85% Vienna, 15% London.

  • A huge fan of the film, Martin Scorsese wrote a major thesis on it while in film school. He got a B+ for it, his tutor remarking "Forget it, it's just a thriller".

Best Performance: Robert Krasker (Cinematographer)/Carol Reed (Director)

Best Secondary Performance: Joseph Cotten (Holly)

Most Charismatic Award: Alida Valli (Anna)/Anton Karas (Composer)

Best Scene:

  • Martins Arrives

  • Porter Murdered

  • Calloway Reveals Lime's Crimes

  • Lime Appears

  • Lime Meets Martins

  • Anna Won't Go

  • Sewer Chase

Favorite Scene: Lime Appears/Porter Murdered

Most Indelible Moment: Sewer Chase/The Score

In Memorium:

  • Conrad Chase, 58, American actor, singer and reality TV contestant (Gran Hermano)

  • Herbert Coward, 85, American actor (Deliverance)

  • Chita Rivera, 91, American actress (Chicago, Sweet Charity, and Tick, Tick...Boom) The recipient of a record 10 Tony Award nominations, and winner of two for “The Rink” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” Rivera’s unparalleled Broadway career spanned decades, from playing Anita in “West Side Story” and opposite Dick Van Dyke in “Bye Bye Birdie” to signature Bob Fosse musicals like “Chicago” and “All That Jazz.”

  • Jesse Jane, 43, American pornographic actress (Pirates, Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge) and host (Naughty Amateur Home Videos), she had an uncredited appearance in Baywatch: Hawaiian Wedding and appeared in the reality tv series Family Business. She was a guest star on the HBO dramedy series Entourage. She also appeared in the reality series Bad Girls Club and Gene Simmons Family Jewels.

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Harry Lime: Don't be so gloomy. After all, it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Holly Martins: Have you ever seen any of your victims?

Harry Lime: You know, I never feel comfortable on these sort of things. Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays.

Holly Martins: As soon as I get to the bottom of this, I'll get the next plane.

Maj. Calloway: Death's at the bottom of everything, Martins. Leave death to the professionals.

Holly Martins: Mind if I use that line in my next Western?

Harry Lime: Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don't. Why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about the suckers and the mugs - it's the same thing. They have their five-year plans, so have I.

Holly Martins: You used to believe in God.

Harry Lime: Oh, I still do believe in God, old man. I believe in God and Mercy and all that. But the dead are happier dead. They don't miss much here, poor devils.

Anna Schmidt: A person doesn't change just because you find out more.

Holly Martins: Oh, Anna, why do we always... have to quarrel?

Anna Schmidt: If you want to sell your services, I'm not willing to be the price. I loved him. You loved him. What good have we done him? Love. Look at yourself. They have a name for faces like that.

Holly Martins: Who was the third man?

Anna Schmidt: Oh, please. For heaven's sake, stop making him in your image. Harry was real. He wasn't just your friend and my lover. He was Harry.

The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 6.75

Impact/Significance: 8

Novelty: 9

Classic-ness: 8.75

Rewatchability: 8.25

Audience Score: 8.8 (83% Google, 93% RT)

Total: 49.55

Remaining Questions:

  • Was Harry always a heel, or did he turn out to be that way?

  • Does Martins stay permanently in Vienna?

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