Review: The Third Man

Something is rotten in Vienna and it seems that its newest arrival, US pulp writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), is the only one interested in finding out what it is.

The Third Man follows Martins as he journeys deeper into the bowels of Austria’s capital city to investigate the mysterious death of his childhood friend, Harry Limes (Orson Welles). As the story unfolds, Martins –a classic anti-hero; drunk and antagonistic- discovers not all is as it seems as conspiracy and profiteering abound in this shadowy tale about the quest for meaning and morality in a land corrupted by a network of greed.

Martin’s endeavours to avenge his friend’s death soon turn up a mysterious ‘third man’; a witness to Limes’ untimely demise. Trouble follows Martin’s every move as he haphazardly attempts to de-mask the ghost-like figure; He soon falls for Limes’ long suffering, but fiercely loyal squeeze, Anna (Alida Valli) and repeatedly upsets the city’s chief of police as each new hangover brings him closer to a world he cannot understand.

The now legendary cinematography of The Third Man bends and skews with each passing sin as director Carol Reed, along with complimented by Anton Karas’ famous score, carves an image of Vienna as a beautiful and darkly tragic allegory for the post-war world.  But it is Welles’ scene stealing performance as the dastardly Limes that elevates this film to the heights of ‘classicism’. Funnier and more ubiquitous that Charles Foster Kane, Welles blends a wonderfully dark humour with a tragic sense of narcissism and nihilism in one of the greatest cameo roles ever created.

The Third Man is truly a rare film of its time; thematically daring, visually individualistic, and borne far beyond the restraints of the prevalent Hollywood ideologies, yet wholly accepted as an American classic by critics and audiences alike.

For this effort, Welles, Reed and The Third Man fully deserve their stature in history.

Here’s Welle’s first scene:

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About craig shaw
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