The Third Man

From Academic Kids

Template:Infobox Movie The Third Man (1949) is a film noir directed by Carol Reed. The screenplay was written by novelist Graham Greene.




The story is set in a bomb-damaged Vienna just after the Second World War and is told from the point of view of a mildly successful pulp author, Holly Martins, who is searching for his friend Harry Lime.


At the beginning of the film, Martins discovers that his old friend Harry Lime, whom he had not seen in several years, has died under mysterious circumstances just prior to Martins' arrival in Vienna. He finds that there was more to Lime than he knew and that he was accused of being a black-market racketeer, trafficking in poor quality penicillin. Martins is told that Lime was struck by a truck while crossing a street. On several accounts, two of Lime's friends carried Lime's body off the street after the accident. All eyewitnesses to the accident happen to be friends or associates of Lime. Martins' investigation leads to another eyewitness not associated with Lime who claims that there was a third man who helped carry Lime's body. It is this "third man", Joseph Harbin, that the title of the film (which is essentially an elaborate MacGuffin) refers to. It is a common misconception that Harry Lime himself is the "third man".

Alternate version

The US version of The Third Man emphasises Martins' point of view much more strongly than the cut that was shown in British cinemas. This probably served to reduce the strongly anti-American tone of the original. Most noticeably, the opening monologue, spoken by Reed himself in the original, was re-recorded by Joseph Cotten.

Adaptation of the source material

Before writing the screenplay, Greene worked out the atmosphere, characterisation and mood of the story by writing a novella. This was written purely to be used as a source text for the screenplay and was never intended to be read by the general public, although Penguin Books later published it.

The narrator in the novella is Calloway, which gives the book a slightly different emphasis from the screenplay. A small portion of his narration (given to Martins in the American release, and to an unidentified, unseen and never-returned-to character voiced by Carol Reed in the British release) is retained in a modified form at the very beginning of the movie, the part in which a voiceover declaims: "I never knew the old Vienna..."

Other differences include the nationality of both Martins and Lime (they are English in the book. Martins' first name is Rollo rather than Holly. Popescu's character is an American called Cooler.

Perhaps the most fundamental difference is the end of the novella, in which it is implied that Anna and Rollo/Holly are about to begin a new life together, in stark contrast to the unmistakable snub that makes the end of the movie so memorable. Anna does walk away from Lime's grave in the book, but the text continues: "I watched him striding off on his overgrown legs after the girl. He caught her up and they walked side by side. I don't think he said a word to her: it was like the end of a story. He was a very bad shot and a very bad judge of character, but he had a way with Westerns (a trick of tension) and with girls (I wouldn't know what)."


The atmospheric use of black and white cinematography (by Robert Krasker), harsh lighting, distorted camera angles, combined with the unique musical theme and excellent performances from the cast, all serve to convey the atmosphere of post-War Vienna, creating the tension inherent in the story, and making this one of Reed's best-loved films.

The distinctive musical score was composed and played on the zither by Anton Karas (19061985). A single, The Third Man Theme, released in 1950 (Decca in UK, London Records in USA) became a bestseller, and later an LP was released.



The film won the 1949 Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the Cannes Film Festival, a British Academy Award for Best Film, and an Academy Award for Best Black and White Cinematography in 1950.

The film was also voted the best British film of all time by the British Film Institute, and in public opinion polls is consistently placed in the top ten British films of all time. In 1999 it came first in a BFI poll of British films, while in 2004 the magazine Total Film named it the third greatest British film.

Adaptations and spin-offs

  • A radio drama series called The Third Man and centring on the adventures of Harry Lime (voiced by Welles) prior to his "death in Vienna" ran for a number of seasons.
  • A television series was later created out of the film, with Michael Rennie starring as Harry Lime.


Template:Wikiquote Looking down upon the people beneath from his vantage point on top of the Riesenrad, the large Ferris wheel in the Prater amusement park, Lime compares them to ants. Back on the ground, he makes the now famous remark:

"In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed — they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Greene has confessed that this remark was not his own invention, but rather Welles' contribution to the script. (The impact of Lime's statement is in some ways enhanced by the fact that the cuckoo clock is in fact a German invention, and the Swiss do not even have that to their credit.)

Other alterations to the script

As well as Welles' contributions, there were other significant changes between Greene's screenplay and the film. The character of Crabbin was originally meant to be two characters, to be played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, who were an established comedy duet in films.

Common misconceptions

  • Many people erroneously believe that Orson Welles directed the film himself. This is due in part to the greater fame of Welles, and also to the fact that the film's photography is heavily influenced by Welles's style.
  • Although it can be said that because Joseph Harbin was actually the one that was hit by the truck, and Harry Lime apparently helped carry Harbin away, perhaps it is not entirely unreasonable to refer to Harry as the "Third Man."

External link

ja:第三の男 lb:The Third Man


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