Over the years, as I've watched and re-watched The Third Man, I've grown to enjoy the contrast of tone the zither provides in this film. Regardless of how much you like the soundtrack, though, you have to admit that scoring this movie with a zither was a distinctive choice.
Holly Martin (Joseph Cotten), a none-too-successful writer of American Western dime store novels, has just arrived in post-World War II Vienna to meet up with his childhood friend, Harry Lime. Harry has offered Holly a job, which is good because he has just about zero dollars. Unfortunately, Harry died just the other day; he was killed by a car when crossing the street. After the funeral, Holly is approached by someone claiming to be a friend of Harry's, who offers to pay for Holly's flight home. Similarly, the local British MPs seem keen to ship Holly back home, too. Since he has no money and no prospects for making any, Holly is ready to leave --- he just wants to commiserate with Harry's grieving girlfriend, Anna (Alida Valli), first and get a clear picture of his pal's later life.
|Commiserate, be a creeper --- to-may-toe, to-mah-toe|
|"You're probably not the third man, but I'd like to do some more inspecting"|
For the most part, I don't think the acting in The Third Man is anything terribly special. Nobody is bad, but there is only one truly great character in this film. Unfortunately, that character is not Holly; thus, Joseph Cotten's acting here takes a back seat to the thankless task of propelling the plot. Cotten turns out a solid performance --- aside from his unfortunately cartoonish drunk scene --- but his innocent character was never intended to be the focus of this film.
|Tip to appear drunk: Don't maintain the flawless quaff|
|Or a cross between the two|
What does stand out, though, is the direction of Carol Reed. Reed, along with his cinematographer Robert Krasker, made one of my favorite movies to just...watch. Sure, there are probably too many angled shots, but they are all framed gorgeously; I (obviously) haven't been to post-WWII Vienna, but they captured an interesting blend of majesty and rubble.
|Gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. Even if he is peeing.|
The Third Man is, for me at least, one of the best film noirs ever made. Exactly what separates it from, say, The Maltese Falcon or Double Indemnity? I think that boils down to just two scenes. The first is the Ferris wheel scene. Aside from being a great image, this scene also has a fantastic monologue from Orson Welles, one which has been referenced a number of times since, even in two separate episodes of Law & Order.
|Moral: all ants need to die, and die horribly|
And check out this cool The Third Man poster made by some random dude on the interweb! It's good stuff.
|Find more here|