The Third Man (1949) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Third Man (1949)



Critic Consensus: This atmospheric thriller is one of the undisputed masterpieces of cinema, and boasts iconic performances from Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles.

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In this Cold War spy classic, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), a third-rate American pulp novelist, arrives in postwar Vienna, where he has been promised a job by his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Upon his arrival, Martins discovers that Lime has been killed in a traffic accident, and that his funeral is taking place immediately. At the graveside, Martins meets outwardly affable Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) and actress Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), who is weeping copiously. When Calloway tells Martins that the late Harry Lime was a thief and murderer, the loyal Martins is at first outraged. Gradually, he discovers not only that Calloway was right but also that the man lying in the coffin in the film's early scenes was not Harry Lime at all--and that Lime is still very much alive (he was the mysterious "third man" at the scene of the fatal accident). Thus the stage is set for the movie's famous climactic confrontation in the sewers of Vienna--and the even more famous final shot, in which Martins pays emotionally for doing "the right thing." Written by Graham Greene, The Third Man is an essential classic, made even more so by the insistent zither music of Anton Karas. The film is currently available in both an American and British release version; the American print, with an introduction by Joseph Cotten, is slightly shorter than the British version, which is narrated by director Carol Reed. Nominated for several Academy Awards, The Third Man won Best Cinematography for Robert Krasker. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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Joseph Cotten
as Holly Martins
Alida Valli
as Anna Schmidt
Orson Welles
as Harry Lime
Trevor Howard
as Maj. Calloway
Ernst Deutsch
as Baron Kurtz
Erich Ponto
as Dr. Winkle
Bernard Lee
as Sgt. Paine
Geoffrey Keen
as British Policeman
Paul Hardtmuth
as Hall porter
Hedwig Bleibtreu
as Anna's "Old Woman"
Nelly Arno
as Kurtz's Mother
Annie Rosar
as Porter's wife
Jenny Werner
as Winkel's Maid
Leo Bieber
as Barman at Casanova
Frederick Schreicher
as Hansel's Father
Eric Pohlmann
as Waiter at Smolka's
Thomas Gallagher
as Taxi Driver
Walter Hertner
as Barman at Sacher's
Martin Miller
as Headwaiter
Holga Walrow
as Josefstadt Theatre Actress
Harry Belcher
as Man Chasing Holly
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Critic Reviews for The Third Man

All Critics (76) | Top Critics (19)

Krasker's camera reveals a dank, matte, defeated city - so dully vivid as to be a character unto itself - except that this Vienna becomes something altogether different seen at night or underground.

Full Review… | August 6, 2015
Boston Globe
Top Critic

Reed and screenwriter Graham Greene let the story unfold slowly and deliberately, like the cigarette smoke that floats around the characters, and keep us guessing at every step.

Full Review… | July 2, 2015
Seattle Times
Top Critic

Like many, I have loved this thriller of conscience and betrayal most of my moviegoing life.

Full Review… | July 2, 2015
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

"The Third Man" is important not just because of its technique but because of its theme ...

Full Review… | June 26, 2015
Top Critic

A lot funnier than you remember it, Carol Reed's immortal 1949 film noir seems to exist in the space between two worlds: an earlier time when thrillers were mostly serious affairs, and a future one, when such supremely witty entertainments felt passé.

Full Review… | June 24, 2015
Time Out
Top Critic

The Third Man is a movie of sobering pleasures.

Full Review… | June 23, 2015
Village Voice
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Third Man

Despite its distracting overuse of Dutch angle shots, this is a classic film noir crafted beautifully by Reed and Graham Greene (who worked on it by writing his excellent novella), with a fascinating villain, a fabulous post-war Vienna as its location and a perfect choice for a score.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

The absolute in spy classics, and Carol Reed's best directorial effort, "The Third Man" remains one of the most interesting and politically driven films of all times. The performances are amazing, to say the least. Joseph Cotten is Holly Martins, an expatriate from America, who comes to war torn Austria to find his friend dead, his job gone, and an unraveling mystery all set up for him to solve. As Martins (a mystery novelist) starts looking into his old friend's (Welles) death, he discovers a man he desperately doesn't want to admit knowing, and a conspiracy that extends to murder. Martins is so subdued and dark that he instantly fits into the everyman facade and runs with it. Alida Valli as Anna Schmidt was intriguing as well, fighting for the man she loves but also being shocked into empathy. Anna Schmidt is one of the more complex and interesting characters of the entire film, and though her motivations are clear, she still steals the show from time to time. The plot is interesting, the suspense is taut, and the cinematography is out of this world amazing. A must see, a classic, and a thriller worth being thrilled about.

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer


If you take away Welles it wouldn't be that memorable, and even with him, the movie is still not that memorable. What do you remember about this aside from Welles lines, the photography, and the theme song? Having trouble remembering anything else? That's because most of the story dances around a "plot twist" or discovery or whatever it is that is hardly exciting, and all too predictable (Lime is alive, duh) and our main lead is a doofus, and not exactly the charming type, just a helpless goon going around from one point to another. The switch he has at the end in his confrontation with his old friend ends up feeling like a super moralistic preachy lesson about "doing the right thing". I can see why this movie has stand the test of time, but it's merits are rather shortcoming. Not bad, just not great.

Tsubaki Sanjuro
Tsubaki Sanjuro

Super Reviewer

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