The film critic David Thomson wrote about tonight’s movie: “How easily the great works of film become anthologies of their own highlights. How seldom we actually watch a picture like The Third Man again from start to finish – because how are we to muster the proper surprise when we know it inside out?" Maybe some of you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it as often as Mr. Thomson evidently has, so I’ll leave out, as I always try to do, any plot spoilers. Welles biographer Simon Callow wrote that in The Third Man, “Welles gives arguably his finest performance.” David Thomson also wrote, “when you put Joseph Cotten and Welles together, just those few years after Kane, it was impossible for the picture not to be a continuation of the Leland-Kane debate.”
The story, and the exemplary script, were by Graham Greene. Carol Reed produced and directed, though production was supported by Alexander Korda and David Selznick, two major figures in the picture business at that time. The cinematography was by the Australian Robert Krasker, who had also photographed Olivier’s Henry V and David Lean’s Brief Encounter. The music was by Anton Karas. The movie also features essential performances by Alida Valli and Trevor Howard. It was filmed on location in Vienna and in studios in England from October through December 1948. Film critic Michael Wilmington wrote “This Vienna is a movie milieu as densely evocative and haunting as Curtiz’ Casablanca or Sternberg’s Morocco – yet, unlike them, it is primarily the real Vienna, the real streets, the real rubble.” It was released in August, 1949 in the U.K. and February, 1950 in the U.S. The narration monologues on the two releases were different. Reed spoke the narration for the British version and Cotten spoke the narration for the American version. The American version was eleven minutes shorter than the British. Those cuts have been restored in the version we’ll see tonight.
The film won the grand prize at the Cannes film festival. Krasker won an Oscar for his cinematography, Reed was nominated for an Oscar as best director, and Oswald Hafenrichter was nominated for an Oscar for best film editing. The unusual camera angles Krasker and Reed chose led director William Wyler to send a level to Reed, with a note, which read “Carol, next time you make a picture, just put it on top of the camera, will you?” Graham Greene later wrote "One of the very few major disputes between Carol Reed and myself concerned the ending, and he has been proved triumphantly right.” Michael Wilmington also wrote “This was the one time Reed, as a director, reached perfection; and he did it as much by assembling and marshalling a brilliantly talented company as by the power of his own vision.” The picture did very well, both critically and commercially, and it has been appreciated as a masterpiece by many, many critics since then. Please enjoy watching it with me tonight.