#97 – The Third Man
Year released: 1949
Genre: Film Noir, Mystery, Thriller
IMDb rating: 8.1
Summary: Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, Harry Lime.
Previously seen?: No
I have never heard of this movie. And looking at the cast list, the only person I'm somewhat familiar with is the legendary Orson Welles. But I like the mystery/thriller genre and the film summary has my interest piqued. What really happened to Harry Lime? Let's find out.
What a pleasant surprise! The Third Man was a suspenseful and exciting thriller that was straight to the point and easy to follow. This is the fourth movie I've watched on the Top 100 list, and so far, all of them were released prior to 1960. Generally, I've felt that the dialogue in all three of the vintage films was stilted and not believable. This is the first time that I was not distracted by the dialogue. It felt natural and realistic.
Character building be damned, the movie wastes no time jumping into the plot. Within a few minutes, Holly Martins has arrived in Vienna to discover that Harry Lime, the friend who was meant to be picking him up from the train station had been killed in a car accident days earlier. Holly is a late arrival to Harry's funeral to solemnly pay his respects.
It doesn't take long for Holly to become suspicious of his friend's death. He talks with the investigating police officer, Harry's girlfriend, and a man who works at the hotel where Harry was staying and witnessed part of the accident. The big mystery is that the hotel worker insists that he saw three men carry his dead friend out of the street and onto the sidewalk following the accident. But all the other witnesses say there were two. So who was the third man? Holly is on a mission to find out.
Pretty interesting, right? What follows is the typical mystery/thriller plot progression. Holly is suspicious of everyone and everyone is suspicious of Holly. The hotel worker agrees to tell Holly everything he knows, but ends up dead before Holly can meet with him. Harry's grieving girlfriend keeps calling Holly by Harry's name, and accompanies Holly on his quest to figure out what really happened.
"A person doesn't change just because you find out more."
Just when you think that Holly is on the verge of figuring out the truth, the detective shares the real tea on Harry Lime: he was a con artist and overall a terrible person who made a living stealing penicillin from the hospitals, mixing it with water to make it stretch, and selling it on the black market to those who desperately needed it. This scheme resulted in the deaths of a lot of people, including children. The detective finally convinces Holly that his friend was trash and he should stop involving himself in the investigation of the supposed third man.
Holly is taking a requisite sad walk down the street at night to mourn about having such a horrible guy as a friend and looks up to see his friend standing there in the shadows! Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles) is alive after all. And guess what, he's been the third man all along. (Harry apparently murdered one of his co-conspirators, helped carry the dead man out of the street with two others, and had him buried in his stead).
This was a satisfying plot twist. Not only was it a surprise to learn that Harry had been such an awful person, but the movie kept up the pace with the reveal that Harry is alive and still plotting from the shadows. There's an intense scene between Harry and Holly on a giant Ferris wheel (who knew they had such monstrous rides in the 1940s?) and while it's clear that Holly recognizes Harry is trash, he has trouble turning his longtime friend in. "I know he deserves to hang, you've proved your stuff. But 20 years is a long time. Don't ask me to tie the rope."
In a last ditch effort, the detective takes Holly to a hospital and shows him a room full of ill babies, all injured by the bad batch of penicillin Harry has been selling. Holly relents, and agrees to help the police catch Harry.
Harry's girlfriend disagrees with this decision, and does everything she can to help Harry escape (smh, do better). After an exciting chase through the sewer system, it ends with Holly and Harry in a one on one confrontation; Harry badly injured from a gunshot wound. We hear a gunshot ring out, and moments later Holly, like a total bad ass, walks out from the shadows and toward the police. Holly killed his friend.
A very satisfying end: the bad guy gets what he had coming, and Holly has some closure on his tainted relationship with his friend. Holly doesn't get the girl; Harry's ex who Holly has been pining over the entire movie walks past him in silence after the second (real) funeral. But everything feels it is how it should be.
The only thing I was left wondering was where is the remake? A quick Google search revealed that Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire were in talks to re-do the movie (as Harry Lime and Holly Martins, respectively), but that was in 2009 and not a peep since. I'm surprised that such a popular classic hasn't been redone, but maybe I should take that as a blessing and leave it be.
Overall, it was two thumbs up, would recommend, and would watch it again.
Up Next: Rear Window