The Right Coast

January 13, 2004
Classic Movie Review: The Third Man
By Michael Rappaport

I recently watched the classic movie, The Third Man. The thriller, set in post-World War II Vienna, has been lauded as one of the best movies of all time, and Orson Welles’s performance in the movie, which is largely confined to the last 15 minutes, is certainly great. Watching the movie more than a half century after it was produced, it seemed well-crafted, but dated. The cinematographic techniques might have been innovative when the movie was released, but they were now familiar. One effect though that retained its power was the mysterious zither music running through the movie.

What I really liked about the movie was its story and the moral choice it presented. The main character (Holly Martins) must decide whether to support and protect an old friend out of loyalty or to turn the friend in to the police once he discovers the depraved actions the friend has taken. Martins considers refusing to help the police, but in the end decides to help capture his friend at some risk to himself.

This behavior is contrasted with the friend’s (former) girlfriend, who remains loyal to him, even though he has faked his death and left her grieving and at risk of being deported to communist controlled Eastern Europe. She not only refuses to cooperate with the police but attempts to protect him from capture.

The contrast in the way that these two characters respond to the friend is what gives the movie its power, and Wells plays the friend to perfection – portraying a person who could produce such strong attachments and yet be so despicable.