The Third Man

The Third Man, 1949, 5 stars

The Third Man  is second to none


Image copyright London Film Productions

From The Orlando Weekly, August 11, 2016

“There was a third man. … I didn’t see his face. He didn’t look up. He was quite ordinary. He might have been just anybody.”

That intriguing premise, which is just one of the fascinating plot elements of 1949’s The Third Man, involves Holly Martins’ (Joseph Cotten) quest to find out exactly what happened to his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Holly has journeyed to bombed-out Vienna to work for Harry’s medical charity but upon his arrival learns that Harry has met an untimely demise after apparently being involved in black-market dealings common during the post-war years.

That plot would be enough for almost any movie. But The Third Man isn’t just any movie. It’s often described as the best British-produced film ever made, and that’s actually an understatement, as it’s an easy addition to any critic’s list of the top 10 movies of all time. So it’s little wonder that, in addition to the aforementioned plot, the film noir incorporates romance, social and political commentary, comedy and perhaps the most memorable and brave final scene ever – accompanied by the most unforgettable score you’ll ever hear. (If you’re not familiar with the zither, you will be after watching this movie.)

Shot on glorious black-and-white nitrate film on the real streets and sewers of Vienna, the movie glows and glistens like no other, providing viewers with not just a unique cinematic experience but an astonishing Viennese time capsule. Adding to its beauty are its askew angles, otherworldly lighting, Graham Greene screenplay and Welles sensibility. (Though directed by Carol Reed, who is perhaps best known for his 1968 Oliver!, it was clearly inspired by Citizen Kane, The Stranger and The Lady from Shanghai, and it’s better than all of them!) But Welles certainly makes an actorly impact, as his entrance is second probably only to Norman Bates’s mother in the annals of cinema.

The film recently underwent a 4K restoration and is being shown at Maitland, Florida’s Enzian Theater on August 13 at 12 p.m. Though the Enzian doesn’t have a 4K projector – that’s one improvement that will apparently arrive with the proposed expansion – it should still look spectacular, even if projected digitally instead of on film.

If you’re an Enzian member, reserve your table now. If you’re not, buy your ticket online right away and arrive early. And prepare yourself for a religious experience.

(If you’re not in the Orlando area, look for the film this fall at your own local art theater.)

© 2016 Orlando Weekly / MeierMovies, LLC