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January 10, 2003

The Third Man (1949)

Posted by Mike on January 10, 2003 10:01 PM

This pocket review kicks off the Winter '03 season as I have one class on "Spy Movies of the '60s" and another on "Asian-American Cinema."

Not a spy film, and not made in the '60s, The Third Man stands on the cusp of the genre as a Cold War thriller without spies but with many of the eventual trappings of a spy flick: a divided city (Vienna), intrigue, doublecross, faces appearing out of shadows, looming silhouettes on the walls, and a dawning sense of confusion over the new political rules of the post-war world reflected through canted camera angles and bizarre, gnome-like children. Orson Welles is menacing in a chipper sort of way.

The first and second acts are fine and engaging storytelling, but the third act is a gorgeous series of night chases and a remarkable denouement that communicates pages without even moving the camera as the last bit of cowboy pretension our hero indulges is brushed aside by a woman's scorn.

Graham Greene wrote the screenplay and a novella of the same title. The film plays better than the book reads, but the akward and mildly ridiculous main character is lost to a hair too much leading man gravitas by Joseph Cotten, who simply doesn't look like the permanent adolescent Greene intended.

The soundtrack, zither music by Anton Karas, is also excellent.


This is a really amazing film. I dunno how you saw it, but, if you have a chance, make sure you check out the Criterion DVD. Lots of extras and fun stuff including a mini-documentary about the zither playing.

Stop by sometime and borrow my copy :P

Posted by: Sam at January 11, 2003 6:36 AM

If the Criterion DVD is the one with Peter Bogdanovich offering commentary, I think that's what I saw... I'll have to go look for one to rent so I can look at the extras.

Posted by: mph at January 11, 2003 9:41 AM