Film Notes: The Third Man (1949) directed by Carol Reed

This post is a contribution to Rich Westwood #1949book sign-up page at his blog Past Offences.

UK /104 minutes / bw / Carol Reed’s Production, London Film Productions (as A London Film Production) Dir: Carol Reed Pro: Carol Reed Scr:  Graham Greene Cine: Robert Krasker Mus: Anton Karas Cast: Joseph Cotten (Holly Martins), Alida Valli (Anna Schmidt), Orson Welles (Harry Lime), Trevor Howard (Mayor Calloway), Paul Hörbiger (Porter), Ernst Deutsch (Kurtz), Erich Ponto (Dr. Winkel), Siegfried Breuer (Popescu), Bernard Lee (Sgt. Paine), Wilfred Hyde-White (Crabbin), Geoffrey Keen (British policeman), Annie Rosar (Portress), Hedwig Bleibtreu (Old woman), Herbert Halbik (Hansel), Alexis Chesnakov (Brodsky). Release Date (UK) 31 August 1949.

ThirdManBD_original Synopsis: Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, post-war Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, black-market opportunist Harry Lime—and thus begins this legendary tale of love, deception, and murder. Thanks to brilliant performances by Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, and Orson Welles; Anton Karas’s evocative zither score; Graham Greene’s razor-sharp dialogue; and Robert Krasker’s dramatic use of light and shadow, The Third Man, directed by the inimitable Carol Reed, only grows in stature as the years pass. (Source: The Criterion Collection)

The Third Man is considered one of the greatest films of all time, celebrated for its atmospheric cinematography, performances, and musical score. Novelist Graham Greene wrote the screenplay and subsequently published the novella of the same name (originally written as preparation for the screenplay). Anton Karas wrote and performed the score, which used only the zither; its title music “The Third Man Theme” topped the international music charts in 1950, bringing the then-unknown performer international fame. (Source Wikipedia)

My earliest memory of this film is associated with Anton Karas music, which I used to hear in an old gramophone at home when I was a child, probably between 1955 and 1957. I also remember clearly the first time I went to see the movie in the former Cinema Tívoli in Madrid located on Alcalá 80, about 1964 (or was it Cinema Benlliure on Alcalá 106). Since then, I watched the film several times and I believe I will never get tired of seeing it.

Recommended reading:

Roger Ebert review

The Criterion Collection

Carol Reed on directing Orson Welles in THE THIRD MAN

April 2015 Round-Up and Pick of the Month

Crime fiction books read and reviewed

Double Indemnity (Orion, 2005) First published in serial form for Liberty magazine in 1936, by James M. Cain (A+)

The Human Flies (Mantle, 2014) Translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson. Originally published in 2010 as Menneskefluene, by Hans Olav Lahlum (B)

The Hummingbird (Arcadia Books, 2014) Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston. Originally published in 2013 as Kolibri by Kati Hiekkapelto (A)

The Postman Always Rings Twice (Orion, 2005) First published in 1934 by James M. Cain (A)

The Silence Of The Sea (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. Originally published in 2011 as Brakid by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (B)

And The Game’s Afoot pick of the month is James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity.


“I stared into the darkness some more that night. I had killed a man, for money and a woman. I didn’t have the money and I didn’t have the woman. The woman was a killer, out-and-out, and she had made a fool of me. She had used me for a cat’s paw so she could have another man, and she had enough on me to hang me higher than a kite. . . . I got to laughing, a hysterical cackle, there in the dark.”

A true roman noir classic in my view and a must read.

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