Monday, 9 November 2015


“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” - Sun Tzu

“The Third Man” is a 1949 British-American film noir, directed by Carol Reed and starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles and Trevor Howard. It is considered one of the greatest films of all time, celebrated for its acting, musical score and atmospheric cinematography. Novelist Graham Greene wrote the screenplay and subsequently published the novella of the same name (originally written as preparation for the screenplay). Anton Karas wrote and performed the score, which used only the zither; its title music “The Third Man Theme” topped the international music charts in 1950, bringing the then-unknown performer international fame.

We watched this classic film again last weekend and yet again we were impressed by its merits, making it a film far ahead of its time. The black and white cinematography by Robert Krasker is superb and contributes greatly to the artistic merit of the film. The acting is wonderful, the music perfectly suits the locale, mood and plot, and the direction is great.

Graham Greene’s screenplay concerns an out of work pulp fiction novelist, Holly Martins (Cotten), who arrives in a post war Vienna divided into sectors by the victorious allies, and where a shortage of supplies has lead to a flourishing black market. He arrives at the invitation of an ex-school friend, Harry Lime (Welles), who has offered him a job, only to discover that Lime has recently died in a peculiar traffic accident. From talking to Lime’s friends and associates Martins soon notices that some of the stories are inconsistent, and determines to discover what really happened to Harry Lime.

One of the values of this film, viewed several decades since it was made is as a historical document and a social commentary of post-WWII Europe. The film was set in its own time when made, of course, but now we view it as a piece of history. Viewed superficially, “The Third Man” is a all about betrayal and corruption in a post-war, occupied Vienna; on the other hand, it is giving the audience a glimpse of the mood of Europe after the great war. The uncertainty that the Cold War was to generate is found throughout the film: Holly Martins is constantly trying to figure out whom to trust. Vienna is on the frontier of the new communist bloc. The shadow-filled images of a bombed Vienna are stark, mysterious and create a sense of anxiety and melancholy.

When the film was released in Britain and America, it received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Time magazine said that the film was “crammed with cinematic plums that would do the early Hitchcock proud—ingenious twists and turns of plot, subtle detail, full-bodied bit characters, atmospheric backgrounds that become an intrinsic part of the story, a deft commingling of the sinister with the ludicrous, the casual with the bizarre.” Critics today have hailed the film as a masterpiece. Roger Ebert added the film to his “Great Movies” list and wrote, “Of all the movies that I have seen, this one most completely embodies the romance of going to the movies.”

If you haven't seen this film, where have you been? It is a “must-see” movie for lovers of film noir and a wonderful movie for everyone who likes a meaty, well-made film that doesn’t underestimate the intelligence of the viewer.

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