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The Third Man

  • Film
  • 5 out of 5 stars
A still from the black and white film The Third Man or Orson Welles in a black coat against a wall
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Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Re-released as part of the NFT’s Carol Reed season, ‘The Third Man’ continued the director’s collaboration with Graham Greene and, like ‘The Fallen Idol’, it’s about secrets, lies and the tension between naiveté and loyalty. The location, however, has shifted from London. Summoned to occupied post-war Vienna by his schoolfriend Harry Lime, brash American pulp writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives to find his old chum being widely mourned, especially by the actress Anna (Alida Valli), though less so by British Major Calloway (Trevor Howard). In this quartered, ruined, double-talking city, however, it’s as well to take nothing at face value…

A considerably more harmonious collaborative effort than Allied powersharing, ‘The Third Man’ remains among the most consummate of British thrillers: Reed and Greene’s sardonic vision of smiling corruption is deliciously realised with superb location work, a roster of seasoned Viennese performers and the raised eyebrow of Anton Karas’ jaunty zither score. Although his screen time is famously scanty, Orson Welles’ Harry haunts each scene: everywhere and invisible, he’s a smirking Cheshire cat of a villain, a superb case study in shameless charisma as poisonous contagion. Audiences, like many of the characters, have tended to fall for his charms, fondly recalling the privilege of being taken into his confidence rather than the rotten core it conceals. The film, however, is less charitable, pursuing the performer backstage into the sewers, sick bowels of the city he lords it over. Playing American heroics against British pragmatism, elements of noir against horror (the empty grave, the burning torches), ‘The Third Man’ is suffused with irony yet ultimately serious-minded: without personal responsibility, it says, there is no hope for civilisation – however charming the smirk.

Written by Ben Walters

Release Details

  • Rated:PG
  • Release date:Friday 26 June 2015
  • Duration:104 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Carol Reed
  • Screenwriter:Graham Greene
  • Cast:
    • Joseph Cotten
    • Orson Welles
    • Alida Valli
    • Trevor Howard
    • Bernard Lee
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