Why I Love… The Third Man

A few weeks ago I was asked to pick my favorite film as part of a getting to know you exercise. While some people agonized over their choices, I found it to be a really easy question to answer because that film has been my favorite since I first discovered it in my teen years. In fact, it was a sufficient draw for me that I bought my first Blu-Ray player specifically to watch it when Criterion reissued it a number of years ago.

Of course once I gave it as my answer I felt drawn to rewatch it again and, in doing so, I was left with a strong desire to post about it here. As it happens I already planned to discuss the novella Greene wrote (while he was commissioned to write a screenplay, he found it easier to write a story that he could then adapt – a practice Disney would use a few years later on Lady and the Tramp). This struck me as an ideal opportunity to play around with the video camera a little bit more and explain my thoughts about the film.

So, here they are – my thoughts on what I consider to be my favorite film and one that I think mystery fans ought to watch. I did keep my comments spoiler-free and if you haven’t seen it yet I would strongly suggest avoiding reading anything else about it before you do – even the blurbs tend to spoil the film’s biggest moment…

Whether you agree with me or not, I would love to hear your own thoughts about the film and, if not, of course I’d be interested in your own picks!

23 thoughts on “Why I Love… The Third Man

  1. A masterpiece, indeed. The cinematography is absolutely superb. And, as you note, the mystery and characters draw you in, the movie is extremely atmospheric, and the casting and acting are excellent as well. Your comments on Trevor Howard’s performance were spot on.

    Have you seen the 1947 noir movie T-Men? Not quite as good, but the cinematography by John Alton is superb and, unless my memory plays me tricks, it has a sequence towards the end that nearly rivals the uber-classic sewer sequence in The Third Man.

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    1. I am glad to see more love for the film and for Howard who I feel often gets forgotten when people talk about the film but provides a wonderfully solid foundation.

      I have not seen T-Men but I will make an effort to track down a copy based on your description. It sounds like it would be my sort of thing! Thanks. 😁

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  2. When it comes to Reed, I think I prefer Odd Man Out just a bit more. But who doesn’t love The Third Man? Orson Welles entrance is the moment I always think of. Then there’s the cuckoo clock speech and the chase in the sewer. My dad took me to see it at The Music Box in Chicago when I was 12.
    I’m not as particular about genre when it comes to film so a lot of my favorites aren’t crime films, but I love Brighton Rock, The Big Combo, and a lot of the typical stuff like Out of the Past, Kiss Me Deadly, and The Big Clock. American cinema in the ’40s and ’50s consisted mostly of westerns, musicals, and noir. The list of great films is endless. And, I’ll second the recommendation for T-Men.

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    1. I just acquired a copy of T-Men so I am excited to take a look at it based on both of your recommendations!

      That entrance is spectacular. A few years ago I showed the movie to my wife for the first time and that moment made her jump out of her seat in surprise. Brilliantly played with a fantastic, cheeky twinkle in the eye.

      There are several of those titles you list that I have seen and enjoyed but amazingly I haven’t seen Brighton Rock. I really should given it is another Greene story!

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    2. Out of the Past and Kiss Me Deadly are among my favorites as well. I do not remember ever watching Odd Man Out. Thanks for mentioning it.

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  3. I’ve just added it to my Netflix streaming queue. I tried it years ago, and didn’t like it, but I’m going to give it another chance, and then I’ll come back and watch your video! Thank you.

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  4. I love The Third Man too. What a great achievement (I had heard about it for years before getting to see it, and it nevertheless surpassed my expectations). I occasionally go on a bit of a rant on behalf of Carol Reed when talking movies with friends. Because you’re quite right! — he doesn’t often turn up on the lists of “all-time great directors,” partly because (again, you nailed it) he doesn’t have a signature technique or obsession that he puts in all his movies. Rather, he serves the material beautifully and presents it masterfully.

    Reed has a series of superb movie achievements to his credit: The Third Man certainly, but also Odd Man Out (already mentioned in a comment), The Fallen Idol, Outcast of the Islands, and Oliver! (seriously, anyone inclined to turn up their nose at it should take another look). Even more commercial projects like Trapeze and The Agony and the Ecstasy are beautifully made and have something distinctive about them. Reed is securely positioned in my own Top 10 Directors list.

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    1. Thanks! I am happy to hear more love for Carol Reed – not least because Oliver! was one of the first films I can remember loving.

      I definitely need to take some time and work through more of his filmography because I was in my teens the last time I watched a lot of his movies!

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  5. I will watch this later. I am at the cottage with a bad internet.

    It’s a great movie. It’s remarkable how many good movies Joseph Cotton is in, compared to how few bad ones.

    There are dozens of great mystery/thriller movies from the era. B&W lends itself to great cinematography. As a whodunit fan you must see Green For Danger.

    My uncle played a zither.

    My favorite movie is from 1944, The Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek. A woman realizes she is pregnant but cannot remember who the father is. A comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges. This was the top grossing movie of the year.

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    1. There are a couple of clunkers I have seen from the very end of his career – Lady Frankenstein stands out as one of the worst films I have ever seen. He did have a remarkable run though and did make some superb pictures, particularly in the suspense genre.

      I totally agree about the black and white photography. Peter Bogdanovic quotes Welles in one of the extra features on the Criterion Blu Ray saying “name me a great performance in color” and after a brief moment of eye-rolling I sort of got what he meant. The black and white really focuses you on intensity of the actor’s eyes and enhances those signs of guilt and anxiety.

      I haven’t heard of The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek but I will keep an eye out for it. Thanks for sharing!

      I will definitely make an appointment to watch Green for Danger soon.

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    2. Green for Danger is indeed great. Another wonderful Joseph Cotten performance is in Shadow of a Doubt. Many Hitchcock classics aren’t blessed with memorable acting performances, but this one has two, Cotten and Teresa Wright. (The plot had better not be put through the Plausibility Meter, but the movie survives that, just as the fabulous Laura does.)

      Another fine suspense/mystery film of the era in B&W is, of course, And Then There Were None. With all its imperfections one can poke at, it still survives handsomely. I imagine everyone knows the online comparison of the five movie versions of this Christie book, role by role and element by element — indeed, one of you may have written it. I used to know where to find it, but I haven’t yet found it in its new home if it has one.

      The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (not in the suspense or crime genre BTW) is certainly one of a kind. (For one thing, the only movie in which I can stand Betty Hutton.) It had great troubles, and release delays, getting past the Production Code, and the reasons are obvious. It must have been extremely titillating back then, and it remains surprising and hilarious. It was Paramount’s top-grossing film of 1944, and is said to have audience members standing at some showings, after all seats were filled.

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      1. I remember feeling similarly about Shadow of a Doubt though I probably last saw it nearly 15 years ago.

        I have seen other film adaptations of And Then but I don’t think I have seen the one you are talking about. Another one for my list!

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