The Third Man - Blu-ray Review

'all angular shadows, cacophonous footsteps echoing against propaganda posters'

The Third Man is a great film, featuring one of cinema's best ever individual scenes. It is complex, yet simple; satisfying yet obtuse; memorable and always new. It is one of a rare crop of films about which everything has been said and yet about which you can never say enough.

This new 4K digital restoration and Blu-ray release provides a welcome opportunity to discover the film all over again. As ever, you find yourself noticing new things.

The shadows, for example, seem blacker, whether heightened by the restoration efforts or dim memory. There are several chases during the film, down Vienna's dark alleyways, as protagonist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) pursues or is pursued. Somehow, director Carol Reed manages never to make them boring. Perhaps it is because they are so beautiful.

The chase sequences are one of several moments during which Reed's visuals, shot by Robert Krasker, look to German Expressionism; they are all angular shadows, cacophonous footsteps echoing against propaganda posters. In one, Martins this time as pursuer, the quarry seems to never get further away, yet Martins cannot catch up. Like the post-war Vienna of the film, Martins constantly feels as though he is on top of things, yet the audience is allowed to see that he is anything but. The impeccable zither music, by Anton Karas, adds to the otherworldly nature of Reed's offering, tempting us to see it as an expressionist relic.

Reed, in fact, lets us in on secrets all over the place. It is easy to forget that the film's most memorable scene, a reveal in a doorway, is entirely known to us before we see the character's face; a tease Reed sets up with Anna's (Alida Valli) cat letting us in on the secret. It's part of the reason the film feels so satisfying.

Once that character is revealed Orson Welles enters the fray, but it is important to correct the marketing material and remember that this is not Welles' film. Yes, he has the two most memorable moments (the Ferris wheel speech being the second), but The Third Man does not rely on him for its charms and successes.

For those looking for it, the film can have plenty to say about the US and US foreign policy. The metaphor of Martins as the Wild West invader, blundering in with six guns drawn, could hardly be played up more, but Reed manages to slide another hint in right at the end with the outcome for Bernard Lee's character, entirely Martins fault.

Graham Greene's screenplay, of his own novel, lays the groundwork for over fifty years of perfectly underplayed spy drama that we have not seen enough of. The Third Man has the confidence to build character, not over-egging the conflict. You can't imagine the recent John le Carré Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy adaptation would have been handled in quite the same way, had this not done so, so many moons ago. If only we could have more like it.




The Third Man is released on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Monday 20th July 2015.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review. One of the best movies ever made.

    ReplyDelete