The Third Man is a British film noir, which was originally released in 1941, and was directed by Carol Reed (Oliver!). The screenplay was written by Graham Greene (a novelist), and has a running time of 104 minutes. The movie has a cast of Joseph Cotton, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, and Alida Valli. This is Number Three in the ‘500 Films A Year Challenge’.
I had heard great things about this movie for several years. Before sitting down to watch the movie, I already knew important elements, particularly in reference to Orson Welles’ character, Harry Lime. With such fantastic reviews, I had to prepare myself beforehand by lowering my expectations, an important usage which allows me to review films fairly. So, it was on the 3rd January, I finally saw the classic noir film.
The beginning voice-over and montage sets up the film magnificently, a jovial tone by the narrator (Reed himself) juxtaposing with the images on display, slightly darkened depths of Vienna hinted at, which reflects upon the rest of the movie. Within the movie, appearances are deceptive, as is the montage, with nothing exactly as you expect, which is how the best noir movies should be. There is also a very jaunty tone, a distinctive soundtrack that should feel intrusive, but instead highlights the strangeness and dark tone of the movie. As the movie develops, there is a gradual build up from just a strange death, to the idea of murder, and finally, an hour in, the truth of Harry Lime.
The lighting within the movie helps create a haunting atmosphere, which when matched with the uncomfortable Dutch angles, the distinctive soundtrack, and top-notch performances from the ensemble cast, creates a masterpiece in direction. The final act also cranks up an almost unbearable amount of tension, the use of shadow, the set piece of Vienna sewer tunnels, the lack of music, all leads to a sobering ending. There is also some beauty derived from the sets around the actors, Autumn trees de-leaved and bombed down ruins enhancing the internal destruction of the characters.
Holly Martins, as played by Joseph Cotton, is a good leading man, he possesses an ‘everyman’ quality, as well as being depicted as the audience’s representative. We, as an audience, find ourselves just as confused and uncertain as Martins, Cotton grasping empathy from the audience for the ever-escalating situations he finds himself in. His early shock at his best friend’s death is dwarfed by the curiosity of the strange circumstances of the death of Harry Lime (Orson Welles), such as the chances of Lime dying on a road surrounded by all his friends, and whether death was instant.
When Orson Welles’ entrance into the movie occurs, a memorable moment due to its delayed build-up, with wonderful utilization of light and shadow, the movie escalates. Welles has a natural boyish charm that masks a veiled darkness, that showcases wonderful charisma as a character. Welles only appears maybe a total of fifteen minutes, but he squeezes every bit of life into his scenes as possibly, with his second scene including one of the most famous speeches in movie history, “The cuckoo clock”, a speech I found particularly fantastic, enforcing the outlook of his character. Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, and Alida Valli must also be mentioned for offering strong support to the main actors, keeping a high standard of performance between all of them, with Valli in particular a strong female presence, refreshingly.
Overall, it is easy to see why this movie is viewed as a classic of British cinema, the coalition of strong story, imaginative direction, and capable actors, leads to an intelligent but easily accessible movie, which deserves to be viewed by audiences.
Thumbs up, and an 8/10.
Next time, we meet four brothers in the search for truth.