The Third Man – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #64 (a J!-ENT Blu-Ray Disc Review)

October 26, 2009 by  

“A true masterpiece!  ‘The Third Man’ just looks absolute gorgeous on Blu-ray and for those who love the film, which has been regarded as one of the top films of all time, THE CRITERION COLLECTION releases a definitive version which is absolutely loaded with special features.  Overall, a fantastic release that cinema/CRITERION COLLECTION fans will want to have in their collection.”


DURATION: 104 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 Aspect Ratio), Monaural, Black & White



RELEASE DATE: December 16, 2008

Directed by Carol Reed

Based on a story by Graham Greene and Alexander Korda

Screenplay by Gramah Greene

Produced by Carol Reed, Alexander Korda, David O. Selznick

Associate Produced by Hugh Perceval

Music by Anton Karas

Director of Photography: Robert Krasker

Editing by Oswald Hafenrichter

Set Decoration by Dario Simoni


Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins

Alida Valli as Anna Schmidt

Orson Welles as Harry Lime

Trevor Howard as Major Calloway

Bernard Lee as Sergeant Paine

Ernst Deutsch as Baron Kurtz

Erich Ponto as Dr. Winkel

Paul Horbiger as Karl – Harry’s Porter

Wilfrid Hyde-White as Crabbin

Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, black-market opportunist Harry Lime—and thus begins this legendary tale of love, deception, and murder. Thanks to brilliant performances by Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, and Orson Welles; Anton Karas’s evocative zither score; Graham Greene’s razor-sharp dialogue; and Robert Krasker’s dramatic use of light and shadow, The Third Man, directed by the inimitable Carol Reed, only grows in stature as the years pass.

In 1950, Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” would gain worldwide recognition for its story, cinematography and it’s soundtrack.  Winning the 1949 Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, the film would win a British Academy Award for Best Film and an Academy Award for “Best Black and White Cinematography”.

Directed by Carol Reed (The Running Man”, “Oliver!”, “Follow Me”), “The Third Man” is an adaptation of a novela by Graham Greene (“The Quiet American”, “Double Take”, “Strike It Rich”)  who also penned the original screenplay.  The film would feature music by Anton Karas and cinematography by Robert Krasker (“The Criminal”, “Cry Wolf” and “The Quiet American”).

But the film would also receive top honors with the film being selected by the British French Institute as the best British Film of the 20th Century, 57th on the American Film Institute’s list of top American films and  is regard by cinema fans as one of the great films made of all time.

Although released on DVD from THE CRITERION COLLECTION in the past, the film has now underwent through modern restoration and was released on Blu-ray in Dec. 2008.

The film takes place in post-World War II Vienna, Austria (actual scenes of destruction shown in the film) where an American pulp Western author Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotton, “The Hearse”, “Casino”, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, “It Takes a Thief”)  who comes to the country to find his friend Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles, “Casino Royale”, “Napoleon”, “Moby Dick”, “Citizen Kane”).

When he goes to the residence of Harry, Martins finds out that his friend recently died in a car accident and his funeral is happening right now.  When Martins arrives at the funeral, he sees a few people and one grieving woman.  He is greeted at the funeral by Major Calloway (played by Trevor Howard, “Gandhi”, “No Country for Old Men”, “Time After Time”) who learns that Harry was not well-liked by the British Royal Police.

While getting situated in Vienna, he receives a call from Baron Kurtz (played by Ernst Deutsch), a friend of Harry who explains to him about how Harry died.  He is told by the Baron that he was walking with him and when he went on to the street, he was hit by a car.  Immediately, the Baron and another friend Popescu (played by Siegfried Breur) were there and enough to carry him to the side of the road where he gave a final message for his friends to take care of his girlfriend Anna (played by Alida Valli) and his friend Martins.   His doctor then arrived and declared Harry dead.

Harry has a hard time believing his friend died from a car accident and then starts to visit those who were close to Harry include his girlfriend Anna.  Anna explains to him about how they were close and in love but also through their conversation, feels that perhaps Harry was killed by no accident but by murder.

This leads to Harry conducting his own investigation and realize the truth of what happened to Harry.


“The Third Man” is presented in 1080p High Definition with an aspect ratio of 1:33:1.  According to Criterion, “The picture has been slightly windowboxed to ensure that the maximum image is visible on all monitors.  On widescreen televisions, black bars will appear on the left and right of the image to maintain the proper screen format.  This high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a restored 35 mm time-grain master positive.”

As with most Criterion Blu-ray releases, the company also had thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System.

The picture quality, although in black and white, looks incredible for a film created in 1949.  Black are nice and deep but you can see a lot more detail in the surroundings.

Suffice to say, THE CRITERION COLLECTION releases films with how the director intended the film to be.  There is no DNR (digital noise reduction) and no softness and the film keeps the grain and retains its film-like quality.  The film just looks beautiful on Blu-ray!  I didn’t own the previous Criterion release on DVD, fans of the film have commented that this Blu-ray release features the definitive picture quality for the “The Third Man”.

Although Robert Krasker’s cinematography was criticized at the time for using an tilted/angled view, fans have shown their appreciation for Krasker’s artistic style.  I personally enjoyed the cinematography of the film.

As for audio, the soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack and audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss and crackle.  The audio has an uncompressed monaural soundtrack.  My Onkyo receiver received a multichannel signal (via bitstream) but overall, audio dialogue is understandable and clear.  And Anton Karas’s music sounds absolutely beautiful.

Subtitles are featured in English.


“The Third Man” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio commentary by filmmaker Steve Soderbergh and screenwriter Tony Gilroy – A commentary that is quite complimentary of the film and also discussing about the film and some factual tidbits.
  • Audio commentary by film scholar Dana Polan – An informative and entertaining commentary by the film scholar Dana Polan.  No slowdown, Polan is very good at describing each scene quite well.
  • Peter Bogdanovich Introduction – (4:39) An introduction by Peter Bogdanovich about why he enjoys the film, a discussion with Orson Welles and more.
  • The Third Man Treatment – (1:45:12) Novelist Graham Greene composed the first draft of “The Third Man” in story form.  The treatment, abridged is read by Richard Clarke.
  • Shadowing “The Third Man” – (1:33:14) Frederick Baker’s 90-minute documentary shown at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival and narrated by John Hurt.  Revisiting locations and interviews with assistant director Guy Hamilton and archival footage of Alexander Korda, David O. Selznick and Carol Reed.
  • Who Was the Third Man? – (29:14) The 50th Anniversary of the Austrian premiere of “The Third Man” commissioned by the Vienna Sewer Department (Wien-Kanal) and was written by George Markus and directed by Beat Talberg and aired on Austrian and German television back in 2000.
  • The Third Man On the Radio – Featuring “The Lives of Harry Lime: A Ticket to Tangiers” (an episode written by Orson Welles in which Harry Lime would recall an adventure from his past) which was broadcast on August 24, 1951.  The second radio program included is “Lux Radio Theatre presents The Third Man” (a radio show featuring Joseph Cotton, Evelyn Keyes, Ben Wright, Edgar Barrier, David O. Selznick starlet Irene Winston and Ted De Corsia as Harry Lime).  This aired back on April 9, 1951.
  • Insider Information – (8:46) A production history featuring writer Charles Drazin who wrote “In Search of the Third Man” featuring a gallery of rare behind-the-scenes photos.  Voice-over by Robb Webb.
  • U.S. vs UK Version – Because their were a difference of opinion between the US and UK release, US producer Daniel O. Selznick had eleven minutes cut from the US version and there are slight differences.  For the first time, both the US(1:23, featuring Joseph Cotton’s voice-over) and UK opening (1:41, featuring Carol Reed’s voice over) are featured.
  • “Kind to Foreigners” – (5:24) Scenes from “The Third Man” left untranslated to show Holly Martin’s confusion of the surroundings of postwar Vienna.
  • Original U.S. Trailer – (2:22) The original theatrical U.S. trailer.
  • Original UK Press Book – Using your remote, you can cycle through images from the UK press book of “The Third Man”.  From the archive of director Carol Reed’s papers at the BFI Special Collections.
  • From the Archives – Featuring Anton Karas at London’s Empress Club (2:56 – Classic footage of Anton Karas performing “The Third Man”), In the Underworld of Vienna (1:50 – Classic footage of the command brigade who capture criminals in sewers) and The Third Man’s Vienna (using your remote, you can cycle through images of post-war Vienna).
  • Graham Greene: The Hunted Man – (56:25) A rare profile from 1968 of novelist and screenwriter Graham Greene which was shown on the BBC arts program “Omnibus”.

After watching “The Third Man”, I must admit that so many things were going through my mind.  For one, the talents were well-cast, the cinematography and the amount of cuts and smooth editing was fantastic, the music was memorable and most of all the storyline was well-planned.

Because the film took place right after World War II, the destruction of Vienna and what was going on at the time with people having to sell their jewelry and belongings just to get bread and butter due to the heavy rationing at the time is captured.  The penicillin stolen from American medical areas and were meant to take care of the wounded and sick but being sold in the black market and that story of racketeering is captured in the film.  Also, how Vienna was separated into four zones is integrated into the storyline of the film through the various shots of key locations was well-planned.

So, in some sense, this film is also a snapshot of a time in history and why it remains so popular in the minds of many cinema fans but also a sign of pain for some who live in Austria and seeing how things were at the time the film was being shot.  Even many historians on Vienna’s history are impressed of how much the film captures that difficult time in Vienna history and also has actual footage from that time.

But there are just so many memorable scenes that stick in my head.  From the music (which was #1 in the charts and started a zither craze) to certain shots where shadows were effectively used, Vienna was well integrated into the film and who can forget the child screaming after his father is killed and trying to place the blame on the wrong person.  Or even the final shot of the film.  There are so many moments in this film that stay strong in your head.

But what I found so fantastic about this release from THE CRITERION COLLECTION was the amount of bonus content.  It’s one thing to get audio commentaries but two documentaries, radio shows and many more.  That’s awesome to receive so much content for an older film such as “The Third Man”.   Bonus content that actually is quite entertaining, especially when you find out how volatile things were behind-the-scenes.  Surprising to say the least.

Overall, “The Third Man” is a film and a Blu-ray release worth having in your HD collection.  It’s also important to note that because THE CRITERION COLLECTION has recently lost the rights to this film, if you want to own the definitive version of this film, you better get it now before the prices skyrocket for the Blu-ray or DVD release.

“The Third Man – THE CRITERION COLLECTION” is highly recommended!

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