The Third Man

The Third Man

Director: Carol Reed Cast: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles

DVD (Black & White)

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The Third Man was one of the more abused movies of the early home video era, having been pirated mercilessly by thieves (and, yes, they are thieves, under a federal court ruling from 1984) and made available in substandard videocassettes by the hundreds of thousands throughout the 1980s. The one exception was the Criterion Collection's laserdisc (and accompanying videocassette) edition, produced under license from the original studio and transferred off of the best 35 mm fine-grain elements known to exist in the early 1980s. Criterion's new DVD release runs circles even around their earlier laserdisc, benefiting from a pristine (and sparkling) digital video transfer and a restored soundtrack. The opening shots of Vienna accompanying the introductory narration (spoken by director Carol Reed) are the cleanest they've ever looked, and are a valid representation of the rest of the movie. At the first major scene, Harry Lime's "funeral," the details on the fur collar of the coat worn by Erich Ponto's Baron Kurtz, the shiny leather of intelligence officer Trevor Howard's overcoat (both in medium-shot), and every strand of Alida Valli's hair in her close-up all show up in perfect clarity. One could go on about the richness of the visual details -- the smoke rising from Howard's cigarette at the cafe, as a drunken, depressed Martins recalls his supposedly deceased friend, the skin textures of every character -- but that would be a distraction from the story line, which is only enhanced by the clarity of the image. The Third Man has held audiences spellbound for more than 50 years through its mix of exotic (yet depressing) postwar Viennese locales, its clash of innocence and cynicism, and its outrageous sense of humor, elements that are easier to enjoy on this DVD. The audio restoration is even more impressive, with the dialogue in crisp detail and the Anton Karas zither score fairly leaping out of the speakers. Indeed, one of the stranger minor flaws of this DVD is that the separate introduction by Peter Bogdanovich has such low volume that it must be pumped up to double the level needed for the film. The film itself, thanks to its own virtues and partly to the success of the video bootleggers, is one of the most familiar adventure yarns ever committed to the screen. Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), a down-on-his-luck writer of dime Western novels, arrives in Vienna soon after the war at the invitation of his boyhood friend Harry Lime, only to find that Lime died hours earlier in a street accident. He also finds out that his boyhood friend was an alleged black marketeer, part of a ring dealing in stolen penicillin and responsible for the deaths of dozens, perhaps hundreds of innocent victims. Martins, not believing the accusations of the British army's Major Calloway (Trevor Howard), decides to prove his dead friend's innocence. He mixes himself up with Lime's paramour Anna (Alida Valli) and his business confederates -- a motley bunch of conniving Viennese and foreigners who are not above murder to protect their interests -- all while juggling the hovering presence of the occupying British, American, French, and Soviet authorities. In the process, Martins finds out that his friend may not be as dead as he seemed, and might be everything he's been accused of being. All of this is accompanied by the presence of a solo zither, played by native Viennese Anton Karas, who offers a wildly diverging array of melodies on the trilling stringed instrument. The DVD is loaded to the gunnels with audio supplements, beginning with actor Richard Clarke's reading of author Graham Greene's original prose treatment of The Third Man (published as a short novel); this can be accessed independently or played over the film, and gives the viewer a chance to see how the story and characters changed and evolved from screen treatment to finished film. Orson Welles' portrayal of Harry Lime was so memorable that he later returned to the role on a successful radio show, with the character reshaped from a glib-tongued murderer to a glib-tongued adventurer. Viewers get a complete installment of The Lives of Harry Lime, the resulting radio series, as well as the Lux Radio Theater presentation of The Third Man. The latter starred Joseph Cotten and Evelyn Keyes, with Ted De Corsia (who often played gangsters in movies) as Lime and Ben Wright as Calloway. All of these radio treatments made use of Anton Karas' zither music -- Karas himself is seen playing Third Man music in a Viennese cafe in a three-minute excerpt from a Pathé newsreel from around 1950 or thereabouts. Karas later claimed that the secret behind the theme music lay in his overdubbing of his instrument twice over; no ordinary zither or zither player could recreate the theme exactly, but he does a good job in this vignette. The DVD includes a short documentary newsreel clip about the Viennese sewers, which shows police ferreting out criminals and derelicts from their labyrinth-like tunnels. The movie The Third Man existed in two distinctly different editions: the original 104-minute British version and the U.S. release clocking in at 93 minutes, with a more wide-eyed opening narration read by Joseph Cotten and a somewhat different emphasis on the characters and the relationship between Cotten's Holly Martins and Howard's Major Calloway. The producers had hoped to include both complete cuts of the movie, but the U.S. version prepared by distributor (and co-producer) David O. Selznick evidently hasn't survived in any archival-quality source. Two trailers are included -- an original American release preview from 1950 and the 1999 re-release trailer. The supplement also includes a frame-by-frame production history prepared in conjunction with Charles Drazin, the author of In Search of the Third Man and accompanied by a wide range of behind-the-scenes stills. Curiously, the history goes into Selznick's resistance to casting Orson Welles as Harry Lime but doesn't mention the actor whom Selznick did want to use, Noel Coward. The only component missing from this release, which would have made it perfect, is a film-length narration and discussion of the movie, shot-by-shot. The information is there, and it would have been fascinating to hear about the moments of improvisation and filmmaking on the fly, as well as of the rewrite that kept Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne (best remembered as Charters and Caldicott, the two cricket enthusiasts in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes) from playing two key comic relief roles (which were compressed into the part of Crabbin and played by Wilfrid Hyde-Whyte), the places where assistant director Guy Hamilton (later the director of Goldfinger doubled for Welles, and a thousand other cinematic and literary details. As far as it goes -- which is very, very far -- this DVD is the ultimate viewing experience of the movie. The supplements between them offer enough diversion to keep viewers busy for days.

Product Details

Release Date: 11/23/1999
UPC: 0037429141625
Original Release: 1949
Rating: NR
Source: Criterion
Region Code: 0
Presentation: [B&W]
Sound: [Dolby Digital Mono]
Time: 1:44:00

Special Features

Luminous new transfer, with digitally restored image and sound; Video introduction by writer-director Peter Bogdanovich; Abridged recording of Graham Greene's treatment, read by actor Richard Clarke; The Third Man on the radio: (1) the 1951 "A Ticket to Tangiers" episode of The Lives of Harry Lime series, written and performed by Orson Welles; and (2) the 1951 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of The Third Man; Joseph Cotten's alternate opening voiceover narration for the U.S. version; Archival footage of composer Anton Karas and the film's famous sewer location; A collection of rare behind-the-scenes photos, with a brief production history; Original and re-release theatrical trailers; Restoration demonstration; English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired; Optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Joseph Cotten Holly Martins
Alida Valli Anna Schmidt
Orson Welles Harry Lime
Trevor Howard Maj. Calloway
Paul Hoerbiger Porter
Bernard Lee Sgt. Paine
Ernst Deutsch Baron Kurtz
Wilfrid Hyde-White Crabbin
Siegfried Breuer Popescu
Erich Ponto Dr. Winkel
Hedwig Bleibtreu Anna's "Old Woman"
Nelly Arno Kurtz's Mother
Leo Bieber Barman at Casanova
Martin Boddey Man
Alexis Chesnakov Brodsky
Thomas Gallagher Actor
Herbeil Halbik Hansel
Paul Hardtmuth Hall porter
Geoffrey Keen British Policeman
Martin Miller Actor
Eric Pohlmann Actor
Annie Rosar Porter's wife
Paul Smith MP
Jenny Werner Winkel's Maid

Technical Credits
Carol Reed Director,Producer
Ivy Baker Costumes/Costume Designer
Joseph Bato Production Designer
Denys Coop Camera Operator
George Frost Makeup
Graham Greene Screenwriter
Oswald Hafenrichter Editor
Guy Hamilton Asst. Director
John Hawkesworth Production Designer,Set Decoration/Design
Anton Karas Score Composer
Alexander Korda Producer
Vincent Korda Production Designer
Robert Krasker Cinematographer
Hugh Perceval Associate Producer
David O. Selznick Producer
Dario Simoni Set Decoration/Design
Graham Greene Source Author

Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Logos/Opening Credits [:26]
2. Vienna Greets Holly Martins [1:53]
3. "A Fellow Called Lime" [2:56]
4. "My Name's Calloway" [2:29]
5. Mr. Crabbin and Mr. Kurtz [2:33]
6. Scene of the Crime [4:11]
7. Backstage at the Josefstadt [3:27]
8. "There Was a Third Man" [4:22]
9. "Leave Death to the Professionals" [4:58]
10. "Vinkell" [5:01]
11. Popescu at the Casanova Club [4:37]
12. "One of Those Bad Days" [6:07]
13. A Date With the Porter [3:20]
14. A Literary Celebrity [4:15]
15. The Harry Lime File [4:39]
16. The Author as Romantic [3:50]
17. The Cat in the Doorway [5:40]
18. Men Underground [2:22]
19. An International Police Action [2:48]
20. The Prater Wheel [4:28]
21. The Price of Penicillin [8:00]
22. "Balloon, Mein Herr?" [:18]
23. The Ghost in the Sewers [6:45]
24. Last Respects [3:10]

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The Third Man 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
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edgar-rosemary-poe More than 1 year ago
Awesome film noir. Fantastic performances and Orson Welles, as usual, the ignimatic character. A suspensful, wonderful film revealing the world of "spywork." RJW
Cinemaniac More than 1 year ago
Film buffs have a reason to celebrate.

Carol Reed's "THE THIRD MAN," perhaps the most highly-regarded film in world cinema is now available in a jaw-dropping Blu-ray transfer.

This wondrous movie has never looked better and it is hard to imagine anything more that could possible be done to improve the image quality. It looks like a first viewing directly from the lab. I doubt Carol Reed ever saw it in such a pristine condition! The blacks are velvety and the grays and whites shimmer with a silvery sheen. Even the intentional fine grain is sharper! And the retro mono sound is sharp. This ultimate edition deserves a special place on the small shelf of great world cinema.

The plot is minimal. American pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) travels to post WW II Vienna to see his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). But instead ends up investigating the apparent death of the black market operator in a city of fractured, shadowy loyalties. It is a tale that, on the surface, is about love, deception and murder. The dark trinity of great noir mysteries.

But it is not so much the plot that makes this remarkable film so highly-regarded but rather the extraordinary sense of time and place. Graham Greene's acerbic dialogue seduces and cuts. There's the brilliant black and white photography by Robert Krasker -- often slight askew and reminiscent of German expressionism.

Perhaps most memorable of all is the audacious zither score by Anton Karas. It perfectly frames the mood and atmosphere of this unforgettable film that somehow burns itself into one's own experience.

If the story is secondary, what is this film really "about"? Perhaps it is about being lost in a fractured landscape where old ideals and values have evaporated. Where meaning is ephemeral. It is a post-modern amorality tale awash in the frisson of deception and cynicism of our time.

But whatever the metaphor, it is a hypnotically compelling film that is much greater than the sum of it's masterful parts. Unquestionably a great film as well as art. A rare achievement indeed.

This hi-def disc is a transfer of the previous, restored, two-disc edition. The watchable bonus material -- great documentaries and archival material -- is generous (see product description). I especially enjoyed the enthusiastic and insightful commentary by Steven Soderbergh and Tony Gilroy. Film scholar Dana Polan provides a second remarkably detailed commentary.

This Blu-ray upgrade is one for the digital library.
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