The Third Man (1949)

By Sweeney, Kenneth | American Cinematographer, September 2007 | Go to article overview

The Third Man (1949)


Sweeney, Kenneth, American Cinematographer


The Third Man(1949)

Special Edition

1.33:1 (Full Frame)

Dolby Digital Monaural

The Criterion Collection, $39.95

Devastated from the fallout of World War II, the crumbling city of Vienna is the destination for American pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten). It's 1949, and Martins is seeking his friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), who has promised him work. When he arrives at Lime's home, he discovers that his friend recently died in an accident. Upset and confused, Martins heads to the funeral, where he meets several of Lime's acquaintances, including the mysterious Anna (Alida Valli). As Martins begins asking questions about Lime's accident, he learns more than he expected, particularly from pushy military police officer Calloway (Trevor Howard), who suspected Lime of terrible crimes. While Martins pursues Anna, Calloway pursues Martins, searching for a possible link to Lime's criminal activities. The more people Martins speaks to, the more deceit he uncovers, and the strangest mystery of all is the identity of the "third man" who was reportedly at the scene when Lime died; two other witnesses are known, but no one can identify the third.

In 1948, British producer Alexander Korda commissioned renowned writer Graham Greene to write a treatment dealing with post-war intrigue. Greene chose war-torn Vienna as the backdrop for his story, which eventually became The Third Man. Korda partnered with producer David 0. Selznick on the project, and they offered it to British director Carol Reed. Determined to give the picture a unique style and sensibility, Reed tapped cinematographer Robert Krasker (Brief Encounter, El Cid), with whom he had collaborated on Odd Man Out. Krasker, who won an Academy Award for his striking, richly detailed black-and-white photography on The Third Man, later credited Reed with suggesting the many canted camera angles that give the film a quality Krasker described as "lewd." The filmmakers' efforts to give The Third Man a unique visual texture included having three separate camera units shoot almost 24 hours a day for several weeks on location in Vienna. Krasker carried out the intense night shooting and carefully supervised the day unit and "sewer unit" headed by cinematographers John Wilcox and Stanley Pavey, respectively.

The Criterion Collection released an excellent DVD of The Third Man in 1 999, and the company recently reissued the title as a two-disc special edition that includes a slew of new supplements and a new transfer of the feature. Compared to the 1999 pressing, the new release has a slight edge, with better depth of field and a more broadly visible gray scale. …

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