This week in The Best of Film Noir, we’re examining a classic noir, The Third Man. Directed by Carol Reed and starring Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Orson Welles and Trevor Howard, The Third Man is considered by many to be a masterpiece not just in film noir but in all of film. The Third Man is filled with great performances, excellent cinematography, and a musical score that used only the zither.
The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Hero
I’m going to give the barest description of the plot, as there is a lot to this story. In a nutshell, Joseph Cotton plays pulp novelist Holly Martins. Martins travels to post-war Vienna to hook up with his childhood friend, Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles. Upon arrival, Martins finds out that Lime is dead. Martins finds out that Lime was not the man Martins thought he was, and a fast-paced plot ensues. Martins is a great noir hero, a man caught up in circumstances beyond his control. Even more fitting of the hands of fate theme, Martins is in a foreign land and literally at a disadvantage. He gets caught up in black market dealings, crime and more.
The Best of Film Noir – Not The Femme Fatale
Rather than focus on the femme fatale, I want to discuss Orson Welles. He delivers a fantastic performance as Harry Lime. Welles isn’t in very many scenes, but he absolutely nails the ones he’s in. Welles was not the first choice for the role of Lime (Cary Grant was being considered as well as James Stewart), and what a shame it would’ve been if he hadn’t been in the movie. He is ruthless and acts as a true sociopath, just what the role called for.
The Best of Film Noir – A Fine End
The Third Man is a unique story based on a novella by Graham Greene. One of the things that makes the movie so great is the ending. I don’t want to spoil it but the ending that Greene had written was much more upbeat and positive. Director Carol Reed changed the movie ending into a much darker and not-at-all-happy ending. The leading man, Martins, does not win in the end. It’s a brilliant finish to The Third Man. Add to this the fine cinematography that leaves you feeling tilted, much like the noir hero Martins feels throughout the movie, and you have a true masterpiece.
The Best of Film Noir – Trivia
In one shot in the Wienkanal, a security officer passes by a wall with the engraving O5, which was the secret symbol of the Austrian resistance against Nazi occupation. (O5 represents OE or Ö, the first letter of Österreich, the native name for Austria).
The Vienna Police Dept. has a special unit that is assigned solely to patrol the city’s intricate sewer system, as its network of interlocking tunnels make great hiding places for criminals on the run from the law, stolen property, drugs, etc. The actors playing police officers in the film were actually off-duty members of that unit.
The scene showing the waning moments of Harry Lime’s life in which he extends his fingers futilely towards freedom through a grate in the sewer was suggested to the director by Orson Welles. The hands actually used in that shot belong to director Carol Reed.
Thanks to imdb for this information.
The Wiener Riesenrad, the Ferris Wheel in Vienna, has been featured in other films, such as the 1973 spy thriller, Scorpio, and the 1987 James Bond film The Living Daylights. I rode the Ferris Wheel when I visited Vienna a few years ago. Don’t miss this attraction if you’re in Vienna.
The Third Man is truly a must-see if you like film noir. So grab your popcorn and soda and hunker down to enjoy a true classic.
If you like mysteries and film noir, check out The Maltese Felon, Reed Ferguson’s latest adventure.
5 Star Review
THE MALTESE FELON provides clever plotting, a definite sense of urgency and, for your reading pleasure, a deliciously twisted ending. That alone gets five stars from me.
Reed Ferguson is the newest cool detective on the bookshelves. Reed is the best kind of detective; he’s one of us. He hasn’t got massive muscles and wields a gun with ease. He takes a licking, but keeps on ticking. He uses good old fashion brains to solve cases. This is a great series that I am sure will garner many fans and hopefully we’ll be reading for years to come.