Vienna, 1949. Author Hollis Martin (Joseph Cotton) arrives in the partitioned and occupied city to accept a job from his boyhood friend Harry Lime, only to find out that Lime was just killed in an auto accident. Hollis sticks around for a little while, and soon begins to suspect that Lime's death may not have been an accident.
In fact, Lime is not dead at all, a plot twist that can't come as a surprise to anyone these days. Moreover, Martin finds out that Lime, played by Orson Welles, is a major mover and shaker in Vienna's underground, and may be responsible for selling poisoned medicine to hospitals. The film's climax is an unforgettable chase through Vienna's sewers.
Rightly considered a classic, The Third Man manages to overcome some shabby scripting (the third man of the title is a red herring, quickly forgotten) with great atmosphere and terrific acting from its leads.
Criterion's DVD features a new transfer done from a restored print. The image (1.33:1) is detailed and clear, though the movie definitely shows it's age, as there is patchiness evident throughout the film. The sound, Dolby Digital Mono, is as good as you can expect from a film this old.
The Third Man continues Criterion's excellent series of special editions.
In the place of an actual audio commentary there is an actor reading author Graham Greene's original treatment for the movie, which tells the story from the perspective of the British military commander Calloway (Trevor Howard's character). As such, it is an interesting if not vital supplement.
There are two trailers. One is the original theatrical trailer, which makes a big deal of the film's romantic angle. And then there's a re-release trailer that lets you know from second one that Harry Lime is still alive.
Also included is a taped introduction from director/film historian Peter Bogdanovich and a collection of behind-the-scenes photos with a brief history of the production. There is also newsreel footage of zither player Anton Karas and the Vienna sewer patrol. And there is a comparison of the differing opening scenes the film had in the US and Britain.
Finally, and perhaps best of all, The Third Man has two complete radio shows related to the movie. The first is an adaptation of the movie done for Lux Radio Theater, and the second is an episode of radio show The Lives of Harry Lime, which tells a story from earlier in Lime's career. This episode was written by and stars Orson Welles. Oddly, the reprehensible villain was reformed for the radio series, and is portrayed as having scruples, even if he is a scoundrel.
Scott Hamilton, 4/17/00