Movie Flashback: The Third Man

The Oscar-winning thriller The Third Man was recently released to Blu-Ray for the first time. It was also my first viewing of the classic, which won an Oscar for Best Cinematography, was nominated for Best Director and Best Editing and is currently ranked #57 on AFI’s Top 100 Movies and #75 on AFI’s Top Thrillers.

The Third Man isĀ about an out-of-work pulp novelist who travels to post-war Vienna to visit his friend Harry Lime but instead finds himself investigating the man’s seemingly “accidental” death. It’s a quintessential thriller from the early 60’s, with a beautiful woman, chases through the streets of Vienna and sizzling dialogue.

The movie succeeds primarily due to the superb direction by Carol Reed and cinematography by Robert Krasker. The Third Man is painted in vibrant contrasts of blacks, whites and grays. The sets and scenes are rich with life, many of them extremely memorable – especially the thrilling, climactic chase through the sewers.

But, I didn’t really like the movie. You heard me.

Perhaps because so many films have duplicated its plot elements in the last 50 years, The Third Man‘s big twist was surprisingly predictable. More importantly, I didn’t buy into the dynamic between Harry (Orson Welles) and lead Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), at least not to the degree I needed to for the third act of the movie to really work.

But really, my only big issue with the movie is the score, which the Blu-Ray box describes as a “worldwide phenomenon in itself.” While I’m quick to notice a strong score, I rarely notice one that detracts from the experience. But the score, by Anton Karas, is terrible. The zither gets old after about three minutes but persists throughout. It’s used during every action scene, but the music just doesn’t work to build tension.

The score is critically acclaimed, but it ruined The Third Man for me. I wanted to mute it.

As far as bonus features go, the Blu-Ray is packed with them: an audio commentary, an interactive video tour of Vienna, a radio version of the movie, an audio interview with Joseph Cotten and writer Graham Green, an interview and zither performance by Cornelia Mayer (needless to say I skipped this one) and the alternate opening voiceover narration, which was used in the original American release.

The Third Man is considered a classic, and in many ways it is. I’m clearly in the minority, but it didn’t live up to expectations.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Movie Reviews
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