A film noir set in post war Vienna, The Third Man is the story of Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), an innocent writer of Western pulp novels. Martins is invited to Vienna by his old friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Martins arrives from America to find that Lime has been killed in an accident and the British police suspect Lime of racketeering.
Martins: I was going to stay with him, but he died Thursday.
Crabbin: Goodness, that’s awkward.
Martins: Is that what you say to people after death? “Goodness, that’s awkward”?
At first Martins believes that Lime has been murdered, so with the help of Lime’s girlfriend Anna (Alida Valli), he starts investigating Lime’s death. The police convince Martins that Lime was in fact involved in racketeering, specifically stealing penicillin from military hospitals, diluting it, and selling it on the black market. Martins then discovers that Lime is alive, he had faked his death, and he isn’t the person he thought he was – the police have got it right.
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.
Orson Welles is magnetic in the short screen time that he is given, and Joseph Cotton holds the film together with a strong performance. The cinematography is noteworthy, Robert Krasker won the Oscar in 1951 for his work. The use of shadows and titled camera angles is stunning, so much so that the film has been described as black and white poetry. The narrative of the film reflects the fear, suspicion and distrust that was rife in post war Europe.
A classic film noir, definitely worth a watch.
Have you seen The Third Man? What did you think of it?