“The Third Man” (1949)

Directed by Carol Reed
Production Company: British Lion Films/Selznick International Pictures
Language: English
Length: 104 Minutes

Features:

  • Video introduction by writer-director Peter Bogdanovich
  • Two audio commentaries: one by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Tony Gilroy, and one by film scholar Dana Polan
  • Shadowing “The Third Man” (2005), a ninety-minute feature documentary on the making of the film
  • Abridged recording of Graham Greene’s treatment, read by actor Richard Clarke
  • “Graham Greene: The Hunted Man,” an hour-long, 1968 episode of the BBC’s Omnibus series, featuring a rare interview with the novelist
  • Who Was the Third Man? (2000), a thirty-minute Austrian documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew
  • The Third Man on the radio: the 1951 “A Ticket to Tangiers” episode of The Lives of Harry Lime series, written and performed by Orson Welles; and the 1951 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of The Third Man
  • Illustrated production history with rare behind-the-scenes photos, original UK press book, and U.S. trailer
  • Actor Joseph Cotten’s alternate opening voice-over narration for the U.S. version
  • Archival footage of postwar Vienna
  • A look at the untranslated foreign dialogue in the film

 

“In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Renaissance…In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? …The cuckoo clock. So long, Holly.” – Harry Lime

There are some movies where we’re told how great there are. When people tell me how great a movie is I usually go into it very skeptically. I try my hardest not to build-up a movie in my mind before I see it, since that usually just leads to disappointment. However, with “The Third Man”, I’ve found that everything I read about it was true. This is one fantastic movie.
With all great movies, everything has to work. There must be some great synthesis of all aspects of filmmaking. This is particularly true with films like “Casablanca”, “Citizen Kane”, etc.… and with practically all the films you see on your standard, cliché ‘greatest movies of all time’ list. The thing with “The Third Man” is that it’s not always in the ‘top 10’s by all the professional critics. In my mind, though, it’s one of the best 10 films I’ve ever seen.
It’s also enjoyable, too. I’ve watched it about three or four times now and it never gets old. There’s always another Captain Calloway quip that you didn’t catch the first time or another little detail that proves just how stupid Holly Martins really is. The film never feels like a chore to sit through.
Of all the great performances, my favorite is Trevor Howard as Calloway. It certainly helps that he gets all the best lines (the best one: “I don’t want another murder in this case, and you were born to be murdered. So you’re going to hear the facts…”) and he just seems to act as the perfect contrast to Joseph Cotten’s bumbling fool, Martins. There’s also Orsen Welles’ performance as Harry Lime (how cool a name is that?) which, despite being in only about ten minutes of the film, is definitely a highlight. Of the main cast, Alida Valli is the only one I had a problem with. She just seems kind of flat to me, although she is gorgeous to look at.
Carol Reed’s directing is fantastic and it definitely shows that he learned how to place a camera from Welles and “Citizen Kane”. Sure, it might get a little disorienting, but that’s actually the point. Holly Martins is a drunken fool, wandering aimlessly around the war-torn streets of Vienna, a city he’s never seen before. It makes perfect sense for his perspective to be crooked and tilted. If you notice, when Martins is out of the picture, Reed uses the camera more conservatively.
It’s impossible to write up about this film without talking about Graham Greene’s amazing dialogue – probably some of the best ever written for the screen. However, there is that great Harry Lime speech about Italy and Switzerland that was actually by Welles, but that’s only one piece of the overall film. Greene was in full command of the story…Welles’ little addition only adds to the mystique of Lime. Greene, though, is the only one controlling Lime’s destiny.

As probably one of Criterion’s most popular releases, the two-disc 2007 set is jam-packed with stuff. Everything is useful and well worth watching. The best feature, aside from the two commentaries, is the BBC show Graham Greene: The Haunted Man from 1968. Although it never even references “The Third Man”, it’s a fascinating look into the mind of a great writer. There are also two ‘making-of’ documentaries, one full, 90 minute English documentary and a 30 minute Austrian documentary about what the film did for Vienna. I could go over all the features, but if I did, this would be twice as long. I would really sit through everything on the set. Criterion gives us all this stuff to watch. On top of that, for the price you pay for it, you should watch everything!
It’s a real shame that Criterion has been forced to bring this out of print recently. The only way you can get it now is to scour the internet for stores with remaining stock or pay the premium prices on eBay.               

The Conclusion: You already have this, right? If you don’t, run over to a local Barnes & Noble and see if you can pick up their last copy. Whatever you do, this is a great film that everyone needs to see.

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