The Third Man

Critics Consensus

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



Total Count: 80


Audience Score

User Ratings: 53,936
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Movie Info

American writer, Holly Martins, arrives in post-war Vienna to visit his old friend Harry Lime. On arrival, he learns that his friend has been killed in a street accident, but also that Lime was a black marketer wanted by the police.


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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News & Interviews for The Third Man

Critic Reviews for The Third Man

All Critics (80) | Top Critics (24) | Fresh (79) | Rotten (1)

  • Seventy years on such sombreness seems timely, as does Harry Lime, Welles's deliciously elusive antihero.

    Sep 7, 2019 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

    Ed Potton

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • 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.

    Aug 6, 2015 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Jul 2, 2015 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • Like many, I have loved this thriller of conscience and betrayal most of my moviegoing life.

    Jul 2, 2015 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • This is a film which does away with such cretinous inanity as offering up goodies and baddies, instead presenting its cast of characters as doing things which they believe to be good, but are not seen as such through the eyes of observers.

    Jun 26, 2015 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • "The Third Man" is important not just because of its technique but because of its theme ...

    Jun 26, 2015 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Third Man

  • Feb 16, 2018
    All is absurd. The war is over, Vienna is in ruins, and the black market reigns. The Allies have divided the city into zones, and the long reach of the Soviets is beginning to assert itself. When a pulp fiction writer (Joseph Cotten) arrives looking for his friend but finds he's died under what seem like suspicious circumstances, he doesn't know who to trust. His friend's associates are shady, and the authorities uncaring. Morality itself also seems to be in ruins. Strong direction from Carol Reed, excellent cinematography Robert Krasker, and a musical score from Anton Karas based entirely on the zither make for a unique, and very good film. Cotten, Alida Valli (the girlfriend), and Trevor Howard (the investigating major) all turn in solid performances, but it's Orson Welles who is absolutely brilliant, though his role is smaller. His acting is fantastic in the scene at the top of the Ferris wheel, where, among other things, he comments so blithely on doing harm to his fellow man by saying "Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me, would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays." It's the rationalization of evil, made easier when done from a distance, which is truly horrifying. Hitler had just been defeated after almost unimaginable sacrifice and human cost, a real triumph, and yet, evil is still alive and well with humanity. The existential absurdity of it all is accentuated with frequent camera shots which are tilted at odd angles, and that zany zither music. To be honest, I'm still not sure how I feel about the music. At times it seemed to provide a nice counterpoint to the action, such as a chase scene through dark streets, highlighting how crazy this nightmare of a situation is, and at other times, it seems comically wacky, and out of place in a noir film. The film is a little methodical in the first hour, but I thought the dry dialog was stylish, and loved the shadows and street scenes. The international flavor and hearing German was nice. Even if you suspect who Welles might be when he shows up, I believe the film effectively wrong foots us, in the sense of who is evil in this story. It turns out that it may just be your old chum, the biggest nightmare of all. It also wrong foots us with that ending, which Reed had to fight for, and which is outstanding.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • May 06, 2014
    Taking an unromantic view of the aftermath of war, the Third Man takes us into the moral decay left after the great battles had finished.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 02, 2014
    Directed by Carol Reed, The Third Man is an enjoyable adaptation of the novella of the same name by Graham Greene. Interestingly, the novella was originally intended to serve as a screenplay of sorts as its author hoped it would be picked up by Hollywood execs and be turned into a feature film. It is for this reason that the story effortlessly translates onto the screen and play as a very well done adaptation. The film, like all good films should, draws from a number of different sources to use varying techniques to tell its story. Like the novella, the film is about a struggling writer who intends to find who killed his friend he was supposed to be staying with during his stay in Italy. The backdrop of a post WWII Italy doesn't add too much to the plot directly, aside of fleshing out the world and giving it a sense of believability. The performances by the film's cast are all top-notch, playing to conventions of the Film Noir genre, and having immense fun while doing so. Reed shows his craft skills in a film that never slows down and always keeps its audience interested. I have much more to say about the film creatively as its visual language for me is the much more rich aspect of the film. Drawing from the Western, German Expressionism, and Italian Neo-Realism, it runs at a rampant pace from the very opening sequence, and thankfully never slows down. The pace of even the establishing sequence is frenetic, and may be confusing to some. However, it makes sense in the grand scheme of the film, as it's meant to set up the pace for the film's climatic sequence in the sewers. We expect to come back to a frantic scene like the opening, and Reed gives us just that. Our hero is decked out in all the Noir staples - fedora, trench coat, and a nice suit. He loves a good glass of liquor and isn't afraid to approach a woman he's enchanted with. By making him a "convention" The audience is immediately comfortable with our hero. Sure he's not perfect and in no way a "good moral" character, but we know what he's about just by looking at him. Reed is smart in playing to staples of the Noir genre so that he can focus his attention on the plot - the mystery, what happened to Henry Lime? Ms. Schmidt is another example of this. Almost every scene has some sort of double entendre going on, usually through the dialogue. Ms. Schmidt as a character for example, is an actress, which is almost always used to echo someone's own character arch in the plot. Actors are people who pretend, and become other people - and as the plot thickens, we see Schmidt do this herself, wanting to become one thing for Holly while holding onto the life she had with Lime; we're never really sure if she's leading Holly on until the last act. In the scene in which Holly and Schmidt go to a bar, they both drink whiskey, and one of the villains, Baron Kurtz, orders two double whiskeys. This is an implication that he is a double-crosser, one who isn't honest with Schmidt or Holly. "The third man" in question is portrayed wonderfully by Orson Welles, who conveys a tragic man who wants to be left alone and hold onto Schmidt, his love. This motif of "having your cake and eating it too" is in some way portrayed by every character. Visual motifs are used constantly, through alcohol, a small boy, and animals. Cats seem to be associated with the protagonist, but shown in a scene of calm, while a small dog belongs to Kurtz, an antagonist, implying that he is a "dog". Lime and Holly meet at a rundown carnival - a place of fun juxtaposing this dramatic, intense moment between friends as their friendship is coming undone. They hop aboard a Ferris wheel and as they reach the top the wheel, so does the height of their conversation. The final shot of the film combines all of the film styles that Reed employs. It is a long shot, composed to let the audience notice the background, a landscape; this is a western convention. It shows our hero, smoking, waiting for his woman, leaving his airplane ticket for love; very much a noir setup. And finally, instead of running to his arms for the smooch that would seal it all, she rejects him, off to fulfill her own life. She doesn't need a man right now; employing realism. This is fantastically executed film and one for any who enjoy Film Noir and its charming conventions.
    Joshua H Super Reviewer
  • May 09, 2012
    A novelist investigates the suspicious death of his friend in Vienna. A masterpiece in noir stylistic tricks with its layered mystery, shadowy shots, and ever-present dutch low angles, this film is a delight for the eyes. Each shot is reminiscent of the best of the old black and white noirs, especially the film's final shot; men just look better with fedoras and cigarettes. Occasionally hard to follow, the plot is well-crafted, full of a few unexpected twists, and it's a pity that Orson Welles's fantastic performance is so short; the film comes alive when he's on the screen. Overall, this is a wonderful popcorn film and a classic of its genre.
    Jim H Super Reviewer

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