My all-time favourite film is ‘The Third Man’, it’s an absolute classic and really stands the test of time, although watching it now is almost like watching a documentary about war-torn Europe in the late forties. It also shows how culturally we’ve changed, the main characters, really show how different things are, the way people speak, manners, smoking… it’s fascinating just to watch without even a thought for the plot – which is superb anyway!
It’s a British film, made in 1949, set in Vienna. It was written by Graham Greene who later published a novel of the story, directed by Carol Reed and had a galaxy of stars, Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Geoffrey Keen and Eric Pohlmann, but dominating the whole thing, even though he doesn’t appear until late in the film. Even though I have seen it so many times, the appearance of Welles still shocks!
The story is of Holly Martins going to Vienna in search of his old chum, Harry Lime… only to discover Lime is dead, and died in mysterious circumstances. Martins is warned by the military police that Lime was in fact a criminal… Just in case you haven’t seen it I will say no more!
One of the most striking things about the film is the way it was shot; it’s a black and white film, ‘expressionist cinematography’, often with the camera tilted at odd angles. This gives the atmosphere of a seedy, broken, desolate city, a city where there is little law and order apart from what is imposed by the military occupying force. Watching it now we know that before long the Cold War had cast its shadow across the world, centred on eastern Europe.
The other thing which remains long after the film is ended is the music. it is performed on a zither by Anton Karas who also composed it.