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Carol Reed
Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Paul Horbiger, Ernst Deutsch, Alida Valli
Writing Credits:
Graham Greene, Alexander Korda

Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, Harry Lime.


Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 12/16/2008

• Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and Screenwriter Tony Gilroy
• Audio Commentary with Film Scholar Dana Polan
• Introduction by Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich
• Graham Greene’s Treatment
• “Shadowing The Third Man” Documentary
• “Graham Greene: The Hunted Man” Documentary
• “Who Was The Third Man?” Documentary
• Two Vintage Radio Programs
• “Insider Information” Illustrated Production History
• “US Vs. UK Version” Footage
• Archival Footage of Post-War Vienna
• “Kind to Strangers” Translated Foreign Dialogue from the Film
• Original UK Press Book

• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


The Third Man: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1949)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 7, 2016)

Given the title of the group behind it, the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movies focused on flicks considered to be US productions. However, it sometimes becomes tough to make such a differentiation, which means that a few flicks pop up on both the AFI chart and a similar listing created by the British Film Institute.

When this happens, they appear in different chart locations. For example, Lawrence of Arabia placed third on the BFI chart but fell to fifth on the AFI one. Interestingly, the BFI rated The Third Man as the greatest British film of all-time, but the 1949 classic only ranked as number 57 on the AFI version.

While I wouldn’t rank The Third Man as a better film than the remarkable Lawrence, I definitely wouldn’t place so many movies between the two on that AFI list. I might not consider it in the same league as Lawrence and some of the other top-ranking flicks cited by the AFI, but it nonetheless provides a thoroughly terrific and inventive experience.

Set in Vienna after the end of World War II, The Third Man quickly relates the facts of the era and the setting. We learn of a post-war black market that pervades the city, and we also find out that the four governing powers – American, British, French and Russian – split it into four different zones of control. However, an international domain resides at the heart of the city, and all four powers patrol it.

Into this setting steps American Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), the down-on-his-luck author of cheap Western novels who comes to Vienna to seek a job promised to him by old friend Harry Lime. Martins quickly discovers that Lime recently died in a car accident, and when he encounters British Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), he hears about Lime’s alleged illicit activities as part of the black market. Martins takes offense at Calloway’s statements, and though the Major wants the American to leave town, Holly sticks around to clear Lime’s name.

This becomes easier said than done, as Martins meets a long roster of shady characters who associated with Lime. None of them can keep the story of Harry’s demise straight, and Martins gets pulled in deeper when he learns of a mysterious “third man” present at the accident that killed his friend. As Martins investigates, he also gets to know Harry’s glum girlfriend Anna Schimdt (Valli), a cabaret performer who turned depressed after Lime’s death. Inevitably, Martins falls for her himself, which complicates matters.

On the surface – and based on my synopsis - The Third Man sounds like a fairly ordinary thriller. Nothing in that description hints at the depth and life that actually shows up in this splendid film. Well ahead of its time, Man fires on all cylinders and creates a vivid and enjoyable experience.

All of the acting seems strong. Cotten moves through a variety of moods and emotions neatly and doesn’t telegraph them. He displays a believable forcefulness and naïveté early in his pursuit, but he naturally turns less innocent as the tale progresses. The cynicism of the European characters contrasts with his more basic and forthright tone, but the distinctions never seem artificial or forced.

As I watched Man, I thought Martins offered a good generalization of the American frame of mind, especially from that era. He seems somewhat simplistic in his notions of right and wrong, but he seems committed to truth and justice, and he also appears persistent despite various setbacks.

However, my assumption that Martins acted as a representation of the US fell flat when I examined the disc’s extras; the character originally was supposed to be British, so there went that theory! Well, at least my interpretation allowed me to feel clever for a few minutes; that doesn’t happen very often, so I’ll continue to bask in my unearned glow.

Anna offers possibly the riskiest character in Man. Between her generally morose tone and her limited screen time, she easily could have come across as whiny and annoying. However, Valli brings her to life richly, as she makes Anna melancholy but not overwrought. She keeps the character at a distance but still allows us to see why Martins would fall for her.

While I liked the acting, The Third Man still would have worked well without able performers just due to the creative filmmaking and inventive storytelling. Graham Greene’s plot provides twist after twist, and many of these come across as genuine surprises. However, these variations never seem self-consciously quirky or forced, and they always delight the viewer. I won’t discuss the specifics – otherwise, they won’t offer twists anymore – but suffice it to say that you probably will encounter a number of wonderful turns here.

Director Carol Reed doesn’t telegraph these points, and he makes an excellent script even better with inventive cinematography and brisk pacing. Man spends just as much time as necessary on different elements and then it pushes us along. This never seems rushed; instead, the movie keeps us going forward in a logical and tight manner.

The shot composition of Man appears terrific. Reed doesn’t stage images in unusual ways simply to be weird or different. Instead, the visuals take on a life of their own and bring the film’s world to life in vivid and intriguing ways.

As with the story twists, these elements could have seemed forced or self-consciously arty, but they don’t. Instead, they flow naturally, as does the movie’s unusual zither score. The latter also allows Man to stand out from the crowd, but it blends smoothly with the action and helps accentuate the tale.

Quirky and creative, The Third Man deserves its place as a cinematic classic. Though close to its 70th birthday, the movie has barely aged. Despite many imitators, it remains a distinctive and lively piece of work that seems rich and well executed.

The Disc Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C+/ Bonus A

The Third Man appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not without concerns, as a whole the picture looked fairly good for an older film.

Sharpness was a positive, as the movie always appeared nicely crisp and detailed. Very little softness cropped up, and the image displayed fine accuracy and distinction. I noticed no moiré effects or jagged edges.

As for print flaws, they created the greatest concerns during Third. The picture demonstrated a smattering of specks, grit, blotches, and thin vertical lines. None of these issues became overwhelming, but they did cause some distractions.

Black levels appeared nicely deep and tight, and shadow detail looked positive as a whole. Contrast also seemed generally solid, though the picture came across as a little too bright at times. Overall, despite the various concerns I noticed, The Third Man usually presented a positive picture given its age, so it earned a “B-“ in that domain.

The LPCM monaural soundtrack of The Third Man seemed decent but ordinary. Speech came across as a little tinny but generally was reasonably natural and distinct. The lines lacked any significant edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music demonstrated fairly good range and definition, as the score mostly sounded bright and warm for its era.

Some effects seemed mildly harsh, but they usually appeared acceptably concise and accurate, and they even mustered some passable low-end at times; for example, the rumble of a car engine sounded moderately deep. Though erratic, background noise created some concerns. Much of the movie seemed clean, but at times, those elements became much more distracting. Without the latter issues, The Third Man would merit a “B”-level grade for audio, but the noisiness dropped my mark to a “C+”.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2007 Criterion release? Audio was fairly similar, as I didn’t notice any significant changes between the two. Visuals showed moderate upgrades, though, as the Blu-ray was better defined and a bit cleaner. I preferred this disc to the DVD, but it wasn’t as big a step up as I usually find from Blu-rays; the source just had too many problems.

The Blu-ray duplicates the 2007 DVD’s extras, and we find two audio commentaries. The first comes from filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Tony Gilroy, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific track. They look at a mix of production details as their own interpretation of the film and various cinematic insights.

This works pretty well, partially because Soderbergh remains a splendid audio commentator. He and Gilroy interact nicely, as neither man dominates in this balanced chat. Too much of the time they simply tell us how great various elements are, but they add good reflections on the project as they dig into the movie. While this never becomes a great commentary, it provides a good view of the flick from the filmmakers’ point of view.

For the second track, we get notes from film scholar Dana Polan, who also offers a running, screen-specific discussion. Polan gets into themes, characters and story along with allusions to other works and a few filmmaking details. The latter aspects of the track stay minor, as Polan really intends to interpret the flick for us.

That makes the commentary somewhat informative but also more than a little tedious. The dull parts come from Polan’s repetition of the same points. He prefaces many of his remarks with “again” because he’s telling us the same info he already related. This is a reasonably good look at the deeper side of the flick, but it’s not wholly satisfying.

The Graham Greene Treatment provides a reading of the author’s early draft. Narrated by Richard Clarke, this offers an entertaining version of the story, and it seems especially fun when we hear variations between the text and the final film. The “Treatment” accompanies the film, so it becomes a form of alternate commentary. In addition, a “Preface” written by Greene in February 1950 gives us a nice summary of different issues.

Orson Welles fan and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich provides a video Introduction to the film. The four-minute and 39-second piece gives us some good notes about the production. Unsurprisingly, Bogdanovich largely focuses on Welles, and he nicely draws us into the movie.

Next comes a documentary entitled Shadowing The Third Man. Narrated by actor John Hurt, this 93-minute and 14-second piece includes a mix of modern and archival comments. We hear from producer Alexander Korda, his nephew David Korda, writer Graham Greene, assistant director Guy Hamilton, 2nd unit continuity Angela Allen, producer David O. Selznick’s son Daniel Selznick, film historians Charles Drazin and Brigitte Timmermann, Shepperton Studios’ Malcom Conway, director Carol Reed, director of photography Robert Krasker, assistant director Gino Wimmer, Vienna Director of the British Council Simon Cole, runner Joe Marks, penicillin expert Professor Karl Hermann Spitzy, and actors Orson Welles and Herbert Halbik.

“Shadowing” looks at the state of Vienna after WWII and the development of the story and script. We also learn about casting, various collaborations and aspects of some participants, locations, music, some cinematic techniques, and a few other topics.

“Shadowing” takes a long way to make a short journey. Film clips fill much of its running time, and for the rest, we just get random tidbits. At no point does “Shadowing” start to form a coherent look at the film or post-war Vienna. Instead, it flits from one subject to another as it fails to explore any in a satisfying manner. Though some decent information emerges here, the format means it becomes awfully frustrating to wade through all the superfluous elements to get there. This is a slow, disappointing program.

Next we find an Austrian program from 2000. Who Was The Third Man? goes for 29 minutes, 15 seconds as it gives us notes from Wimmer, Drazin, Halbik, 1948 Cultural Attaché to US Military Marcel Prawy, assistant sound editor Kurt Miksch, musician Anton Karas Vienna Waste Water Management’s Heinz Krejci, retired municipal water worker Alfred Freihaut, and actor Paul Horbiger.

“Who” covers essentially the same territory as “Shadowing”, as it looks at the reality of post-war Vienna and various filmmaking issues. However, “Who” examines these subjects in one-third the time and with many fewer pretensions. It becomes substantially more useful, as it offers a concise, engaging view of the different topics.

Another documentary comes via a 1968 BBC program called Graham Greene: The Hunted Man. This 56-minute and 25-second piece presents remarks from Greene during an audio interview conducted during a journey on the Orient Express. We learn a little about Greene’s childhood but mostly examine his life, career and work. We also hear some thoughts about Greene’s writing from British students.

Though the program occasionally drags, it usually remains quite stimulating. Greene appears open and frank as he delves into a number of intriguing topics. This becomes a solid documentary.

For more audio features, we go to a section that includes two radio programs. The Lives of Harry Lime lasts 28 minutes and 45 minutes. Presented as part of a series that expanded the Lime character, Orson Welles reprises his role, though with a few changes. This Lime is much more heroic, unlike the shady personality of the film. The story itself seems somewhat lame, but it’s still cool to hear.

In addition, we find a 1951 radio show called Lux Radio Theater Presents The Third Man. This 60-minute, 31-second piece includes Joseph Cotten as Martins but brings in other non-film actors for the remaining parts. The piece omits some parts of the film and it can be somewhat badly acted; as Lime, Ted de Corsia seems especially poor. However, it still offers a neat historical novelty.

An “illustrated production history” entitled Insider Information lasts eight minutes, 47 seconds. This provides a mix of images accompanied by narration from voice-over actor Robb Webb. As we see photos, ads and other archival materials, we get a basic overview of the production. Through all the other elements, we already know a lot of the information, but I like the stills, and we find a nice little synopsis of the main issues.

After this we get a comparison of the US vs. UK Version of Third Man. The text mentions changes between the two cuts, and it also offers US and UK openings; the former lasts 83 seconds, whereas the latter goes for 94 seconds. Original US Trailer lasts two minutes, 24 seconds. It seems notable just because it’s so laughable; with lines like “he’ll have you in a dither with his zither”, it’s not a very good representation of the movie.

If the untranslated scenes in The Third Man bothered you, ”Kind to Foreigners” allows you to see them with English subtitles. This collection runs for five minutes, 24 seconds. I prefer the way it appears in the movie – it works better if we share Martins’ confusion – but it’s fun to learn the meaning of the dialogue.

“File” ends with the film’s Original UK Press Book. This covers 28 screens as we see the various promotional opportunities associated with the movie. Though some of the images are too small to allow us to read the print, we still get a good feel for the methods used to tout the flick.

Within the confines of From the Archives, three elements appear. Anton Karas at London’s Empress Club lasts two minutes, 56 seconds, as we watch the composer play the movie’s theme. In the Underworld of Vienna gives us one minute, 49 seconds of newsreel shots that feature the “canal patrols”. Neither of these seem especially compelling, but they provide some moderately interesting historical material.

Finally, The Third Man’s Vienna provides a collection of photos that show the city in the period depicted in the film. It comes with text to give us captions for the images as well as historical background. We find a lot of interesting shots here, and the text adds insight.

As with all Criterion products, this one comes with a Booklet. This 32-page piece features an appraisal of the film from film author Luc Sante, production notes from Charles Drazin, and thoughts about Graham Greene’s script from novelist Philip Kerr. Criterion makes great booklets, and this is another winner.

Ahead of its time during the era of its creation, The Third Man still seems innovative and inventive. After almost 70 years, it barely shows its age and remains fresh and wickedly delightful. The Blu-ray offers generally good picture and audio along with a very strong set of supplements. This isn’t a huge improvement over the prior DVD, but it’s still a nice release.

To rate this film visit the original review of THE THIRD MAN

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main