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Cast & Crew
After they had completed The Fallen Idol (1948), director Carol Reed and writer Graham Greene dined with Alexander Korda, who was anxious for them to work on a new film together. Although they agreed on a setting - post-war Vienna - they were stuck for a story until Greene produced an old envelope on which years before he had written a single sentence:
'I had paid my last farewell to Harry a week ago, when his coffin was lowered into the frozen February ground, so it was with incredulity that I saw him pass by, without a sign of recognition, among the host of strangers in the Strand.'
This became the basis of Reed's The Third Man, a film that was to take the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and earn him a third successive British Film Academy Award for Best Picture.
Greene drafted the story as a novel and then, workiking closely with Reed, turned it into a screenplay. Although it is in many ways a classic Greene tale, with its themes of guilt and disillusionment, corruption and betrayal, Greene himself was quick to accord Reed credit for many of the film's memorable qualities. It was Reed who insisted on the bleakly uncompromising ending where Anna, as she leaved Harry's funeral, walks not into Holly's arms in the conventional final clinch, but passed him, staring impassively ahead. It was Reed who discovered the zither-player, Anton Karas, whose Harry Lime theme gave the film a special haunting quality. It was Reed who prevailed on a reluctant Orson Welles to play the comparatively small but pivotal part of Harry Lime. Welles became so enthusiastic about the film that he contributed to the script a much-quoted justification of Harry's criminal activities:
'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 they produce - the cuckoo clock. So long, Holly.'
It was, of course, also Carol Reed who gave remarkable visual life to Greene's brilliantly wrought script, a perfect marriage of word and image, sound and symbol. Holly's odyssey in search of a truth that is to destroy his oldest friend, the girl they both love and, in a sense, Holly himself, is conducted against the background of post-war Vienna, unforgettably evoked by Robert Krasker's powerful chiaroscuro photography which won him a deserved Oscar. The vast, echoing, empty baroque buildings that serve as military headquarters and decaying lodging houses are a melancholy reminder of the Old Vienna, the city of Strauss waltzes and Hapsburg elegamce, plunged, in the aftermath of war, into a nightmare world of political intrigue, racketeering and murder. The shadowed, narrow streets and the jagged bomb-sites are the haunt of black marketeers, vividly portrayed inhabitents of a disclocated society. There is a powerful symbolism, too, in the places where Harry makes his appearances: a giant ferris wheel from which he looks down contemptuously at the scuttling mortals, and the Viennese sewers where, after a breathtaking and shraply edited final chase, he is cornered, rat-like, and dispatched.
The angled-shooting, atmospheric locations, and sombre shadow-play eloquently convey the pervading aura of tension, mystery and corruption. It is an aura enhanced rather than dissipated by flashes of black humour, such as the sequence in which Holly Holly, bustled by strangers in a car and believing himself kidnapped, discovers he is being taken to address a cultural gathering, the members of which think he is a famous novelist.
The cast is superlative, with the four stars outstanding: Joseph Cotten as decent, dogged, simple, faithful Holly; Alida Valli as the wonderfully enigmatic Anna; Trevor Howard as the shrewd, determined, quietly spoken military policeman Calloway; and Orson Welles as the fascinating Harry Lime. The Third Man was one of the peaks of post-war British film-making and remains a flawlessly crafted, timelessly perfect work of art.
Holly Martins, a writer of hack Westerns, arrives in Vienna to look for his friend Harry Lime, only to be told Harry has been killed in a street accident.
Holly attends the funeral and is questioned by military policeman Major Calloway, who tells him that Harry was a racketeer selling penicillin so diluted that it caused the deaths of sick children.
Holly sets out to find the truth and visits Harry's girlfriend, actress Anna Schmidt, who suggests that Harry's death may not have been accidental. An elderly porter reports seeing a mysterious third man at the scene of the accident; next day the porter is found dead. Holly is chased by two thugs but escapes. Leaving Anna's apartment, he sees Harry in the shadows and realises he is 'the third man'. Harry's coffin is exhumed and found to contain the body of a police informer.
Harry arranges to meet Holly and offers to buy his silence. But when Calloway arrests Anna (who has a forged passport) and plans to deport her behind the Iron Curtain, Holly, who is in love with her, betrays Harry to the police in return for her release. A chase through the sewers underneath the city, ends with Holly shooting Harry dead. Anna attends the funeral and then walks away past Holly without speaking to him.
Cast & Crew >> Making >> Plot >> Mini Photo-Stills >> Trivia >> The 3rd Man Film Poster Gallery >> Carol Reed >> Graham Greene >> Trevor Howard >> Alexander Korda >> Alida Valli >> Orson Welles >> British Dvd War Collection >> Advertise >> 3rd Man Dvds available @ amazon.com