An American author goes to Vienna to work with his childhood friend, but arrives in the moment of this friend’s burial, after his sudden and mysterious death.
After the end of the Second War, the allies (France, Great Britain, Soviet Union, and the United States) divided Vienna into zones administered by each country, keeping a central district administered by the Allied Control Council.
Austria remained occupied by the allies from 1945 until 1955, when a treaty of independence was signed, granting the country its sovereignty and democracy.
During this period, there was another noticeable event in another European country.
In 1948 Czechoslovakia went through a Communist Coup, and because of it, there was a massive exodus of people, fleeing the poverty and oppression of the regime(1). One of the destinies of these refugees was Vienna, although not in large numbers(2).
Even though it is known that the Soviet Union and other socialist-oriented countries were not the biggest emigration enthusiast, I didn’t find any reference of Czechoslovaks being extradited by the Soviets.
The extradition of a Czechoslovak character is a big deal for the plot of “The Third Man”, and it will become clearer later in the review. If you know something about extraditions of this kind, let me know in the comments.
Traumatic events, like wars, tend to leave scars and that’s the background of “The Third Man”.
The Third Man
Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) is an American pulp author, who goes to Vienna, invited with a job offer by his childhood friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Unfortunately, in his arrival, he is told about Lime’s death in a car accident.
After attending to his old friend’s funeral and burial, he meets Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), who tells him about Lime’s racketeering.
Not believing that his good friend turned into a scoundrel before his death, Martins begins to investigate about his life in Vienna, talking with Lime’s friends, including Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), a beautiful stage actress.
The more he learns about Lime’s death, more he suspects that the accident was actually a murder, and like in his pulp stories, he plans in uncovering the truth about the odd incident.
During his investigation, two major things happen. The first, he falls in love with Anna and the second, he learns that there were three men with Lime in the moment of his death. The men were two of Lime’s friends the Baron (Ernst Deutsch) and Popescu (Siegfried Breuer) and the third man (get it?!) is unknown.
I don’t know if I was sleepy when I first watched it, but I couldn’t remember anything about the movie until I watched it again to write this review. Probably for the same reason, my emotional response to the movie was not as positive as it is now.
“The Third Man” won the Academy Award for “Best Cinematography, Black-and-White”, leaving names like “Sunset Blvd.” and “All About Eve” behind. I’m a sucker for cinematography, and I absolutely loved this one, especially the use of shadows.
The expressionism cinema is more associated with the German movement from the 20’s, but film noir, in general, has its cinematography inspired by this style. “The Third Man” is an excellent example of this.
The musical theme of the movie became widely recognized to this day, but it’s my least favorite aspect of the movie. It’s perfect for some, more comic scenes, but I didn’t like it in the serious scenes.
Talking about the comic scenes, it really works here, a cynic humor in a very gloomy and melancholic environment. The humor is present especially in the beginning, so when the seriousness works better, in contrast with the lightness of earlier.
I think most of the characters are nice given their respective context, no one is in the movie more than it should be, the characters that already served their purpose don’t make unnecessary extra-time in the screen.
Talking about characters, I will enter the Spoiler Zone for a moment.
Anna is actually a Czechoslovak living in Vienna with a fake passport, made by Harry Lime as an act of kindness. She thinks the only thing against the law he ever did was this, but she is wrong, and still in love with him even after his death.
Once she learns of his fraudulent ways and the evil he has done, even to kids, she is disappointed, but not for long.
Later we, and the characters, find out that Lime is alive and well living in the underground, and he was actually the third man. He faked his own death and the man buried we can only assume was killed by him.
From the point of revelation of Lime’s life, Anna becomes more and more a shitty character. Instead of a deep disappointment and anger towards Lime, she still feels for him and even tries to help him.
End of Spoilers
Even with this irritating fact I mentioned in the spoiler zone, the movie is near perfect, and I’m glad I watched it again. Now, I have a clear memory of the movie, and it’s various aspects and much more affection to it.