Top 250 Tuesday #075 – The Third Man (1949)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #075 on the list, Carol Reed’s The Third Man. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

third_manOrson Wells, it seems, is in many ways all about shadows and influences.

Whether we’re talking about his iconic work as Old Time Radio’s The Shadow, his portrayal of Charles Foster Kane in the classic Citizen Kane, or his influence as a director and auteur, he is a man whose presence can be felt whether he is on screen or off, and nowhere is this more true than in the character of Harry Lime in Carol Reed‘s 1949 adaptation of Graham Green’s screenplay/novella The Third Man.

Though the “stars” of the movie are Joseph Cotten, who portrays Lime’s “school chum” Holly Martins and Aida Valli, playing Lime’s lover (and perhaps Martins’ love interest) Anna Schmidt, it is the for the most part off-screen presence of Harry Lime which is the driving force of this film. His “shadow”, if you will, overhangs the entire enterprise, not only  providing the reason for Martins coming to Vienna in the first place (Lime has offered him a job), but also the motivating force behind the mystery which enshrouds the rest of the film – when Martins arrives he soon finds out that his friend is dead, but he cannot quite piece together the “how” or “why” of it

This, of course, fits in very well with the aforementioned Wells roles, where the shadow is a presence more often seen than heard, and where even though Citizen Kane begins with Kane’s death, that is, once again, the motivating force behind the entire movie.

Also, even though The Third Man was directed by Carol Reed, it actually feels more like a Welles movie. Of course, it’s hard to know what kind of discussions the two might have had before or during the filming, but one certainly comes away with the feeling that the more acclaimed Welles certainly had some input onto the final product.

Anyway, here’s the trailer for the film:

One final note: Despite his apparent death in the movie, Harry Lime was a character that Orson Welles seems to have really taken a shine to, since he subsequently portrayed the character in a 52 episode British radio series which was broadcast in the US as The Lives of Harry Lime. Here’s a sample episode:

There was also a television series which ran in the US for five seasons and starred Michael Rennie, Again, a sample episode for your enjoyment:

So what are your thoughts on The Third Man? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Also, I’m curious about what you think about my argument that some movies simply have to be seen on the big screen before one can even really judge them. And if you agree with it, what films you would put into that category. Let me know in the comments below.

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