The Third Man (1949)

Third Man

Director: Carol Reed Cast: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee

A man travels to post-war Vienna to visit an old friend, whom upon arrival he discovers to be dead. However, after a little digging the man thinks there’s more to his friend’s death than meets the eye. A classic film-noir thriller.

The Third Man is a great film to watch from a cinematographic point of view. The film has a really eerie and haunting feel due to the debris all across post-war Vienna, which is accentuated by the black and white shadows. The film certainly wouldn’t have the same impact if it were filmed in colour, especially the moment when we first see Orson Welles’ character, which is made hugely dramatic by the use of darkness to hide his face followed by light for the big reveal. The shadow make the buildings appear grand and looming, which makes the famous chase scene towards the end feel suitably disorientating.

In terms of plot, it’s a good story and I like the characters being morally ambiguous. However, I did figure out the plot almost immediately- even my mum worked it out, and that is saying something. I think this detracted away a little from the “thrilling” aspect of this classic thriller, as I wasn’t really on the edge of my seat. However, the story covers a number of interesting political and historical aspects, such as post-war corruption in the defeated nations such as Austria, the uncertainty of post-war Europe, and what it means to be “moral”. The following line sums up nicely the film’s mixture of black humour and thought-provoking messages: “Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

This is definitely a film for adults, not because of any inappropriate content but rather because its messages which might be easily missed. The plot also builds slowly so it’s not for those who want fast-paced action from start to finish, plus there’s a lot of dialogue which I found required a lot of concentration. The obvious storyline loses it a star from my perspective, but visually it’s a lovely film to watch and appreciate.

4 stars

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