the Thinking Chicks Guide to Movies

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The Third Man (1949)

Reviewed on 2007 August 6

Some older movies age poorly and seem dated, with outmoded dialogue or other issues that distract from what’s going on. Others are classics that stand the test of time. This early Cold War piece from director Carol Reed is unique because it’s more like a stylized vintage piece: it’s so distinct, from it’s opening shot of a skillfully played zither segueing into the streets of war-torn Vienna, that it transcends these issues. That’s not to say it’s flawless — parts of it drag a bit and after a while even the amazing zither score can grate — but with Reed’s direction and Graham Greene’s screenplay, it’s pretty close.

Right after WWII, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) comes from the U.S. to Vienna because his friend Harry Lime promised him a job. As soon as he arrives he learns his friend was killed in an accident. He tries to adjust to the loss of a friend, the unfamiliar country, and the seeming apathy of the police when he uncovers evidence that Lime may have been murdered. Lime’s sometime girlfriend Anna Scmidt (Alida Valli) is horribly depressed at Harry’s death, but she tries to help Martins too. Soon Martins becomes involved in something that could get him in trouble with people on either side of the law.

This is not a mile-a-minute piece. It unfolds slowly, sometimes a bit too slowly, but the depth of the characters and the twisting of the plot make up for it. If you’ve never seen it before, hold out for a crisp remastered DVD so you get the full effect of the cinematography.

Three chocolate morsels and a Viennese coffee.


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