Film of the Week, The Third Man -25.3.21.

My choice this week is the British classic film noir-The Third Man- made in 1949 but still regarded as one of the Best British Films ever made. It is based on a novella and script by Grahame Green and is set in post- war Vienna at the start of the Cold War. Green visited Vienna and experienced the devastation of the war, the proliferation of the Black Market and explored the city, the nightclubs and the famous sewers.

A hard -up American writer, Holly Martin, arrives in the divided city to meet up with his old friend Harry Lime who has offered him work. But he finds that Harry has been killed in a road accident and attends his funeral where he meets some of Harry’s friends, his lover Anna and two British military police officers who confirm his suspicions over the circumstances of Lime’s death. Remaining in Vienna to investigate he is drawn into a dangerous web of Black- Market criminals and the perilous situation of Anna as an illegal resident with false identity papers.

Directed by Carol Reed, the film brilliantly creates the mystery of Harry Lime and the hidden secrets of the city superbly captured by Oscar Winning monochrome photography from Robert Krasker using distorted angles and expressionist use of deep focus, shadows and harsh close-ups.

Joseph Cotton is superb as the disoriented Martin with Alida Valli as the distressed Anna torn between her love for Lime and the reality of his personality. Trevor Howard and Bernard Lee are excellent as the stoical British officers. But it is Orson Welles who dominates the film with his presence even though he is not on screen for much of the film. His famous ‘Cuckoo clock’ speech on the Prater Ferris Wheel is a classic as is the chase through the sewers. Apparently, he was absent frequently and for most of the distance shots the assistant director Guy Hamilton acted as a body double. He went on to direct four Bond films and Bernard Lee was ‘M’ in the early ones.

Of course, the film would be equally famous for the zither theme composed and played by Anton Karas who was unknown until Carol Reed discovered him playing at a party in Vienna.

The Third Man is on BBC 4 on Thursday 1 April and on the I- Player for a month.

Bill Cunningham