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The Third Man(1949)
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.
For more about The Third Man and the The Third Man Blu-ray release, see the The Third Man Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on September 25, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, Paul Hoerbiger
Director: Carol Reed
» See full cast & crew
The Third Man Blu-ray Review
With the multiple Criterion releases of this title, and now this new StudioCanal version, I think we're probably up to at least The Fourth or Fifth Man by this time.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, September 25, 2010
How do you feel about double dipping? What about triple, quadruple, or even quintuple dipping? We've already had two SD-DVDs from Criterion of Carol Reed's brilliant The Third Man, and a previous Criterion Blu-ray of the film which was released a couple of years ago. Now StudioCanal has released a new Blu-ray of the film. What's a consumer to do? Let's cut to the chase: the Criterion release has inarguably the stronger transfer, with better contrast and especially inkier blacks, as well as less print damage. It also has a bounteous supply of extras, only a few of which are ported over to this new StudioCanal release. On the other hand, it's one of an increasing number of Criterion Blu-rays to go out of print (typically Criterion is only able to license products for a couple of years before the rights revert to their original licensors), and you're going to shell out big bucks to pick up that particular release now. The StudioCanal release, while it indeed has a moderately subpar image (at least with regard to the Criterion Blu-ray), is more than acceptable, features lossless audio, and has its own slew of extras, including one of the best commentary tracks to accompany any of the many Third Man home video releases, as well as a couple of other interesting and informative supplements. Its list price is significantly less than what you're probably going to end up paying for the Criterion release. It's a quandary that may not rise exactly to the heights of this film's "Who is the third man?," but it may leave ardent consumers scratching their heads and counting the bills in their wallets.
Few films have caught the tenor of their times as did Reed's 1949 opus The Third Man. While most people probably associate Berlin's travails and division as the leading example of post-World War II nascent Cold Warfare, this film depicts the equally bizarre and almost comical chaos which dividing Vienna created. While Berlin at least had the excuse (if one can call it that) of being divided between forces which, while once allies, were quickly growing into nemeses, Vienna suffered its vivisection among at least three of its four occupying forces (France, the United States, and the United Kingdom) being still firmly in the Allied camp. In the bombed out ruins of what was once one of Europe's most glamorous and sophisticated cities, people scavenged for the simplest of goods, and a lucrative black market soon took hold. Enter Harry Lime (Orson Welles), a mysterious figure who in The Third Man is presumed dead until about three quarters of the way through, as his erstwhile friend, author Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) attempts to put together the pieces of what may have led to his putative demise.
While The Third Man has often been called one of the most iconic and memorable film noirs ever made, it actually defies easy categorization. Director Carol Reed had amassed a long and at least sporadically impressive oeuvre prior to this film (including Night Train to Munich, perhaps stylistically and thematically the most linked of the director's work to The Third Man). Here, perhaps under the influence (if not the outright tutelage some ascribe) of Welles, Reed fills his film with crazy angles, shadow-strewn shots and an overall dark and moody ethos which never quite erupts into the Grand Guignol tendencies of some noir, but which manages nonetheless to create a completely uneasy ambience which ably reproduces the turmoil of postwar Vienna.
Cotten's Holly Martins is our American Everyman, caught in a world of intrigue and a foreign culture he never completely understands, despite the ostensible help of his comely if icy cold "tour guide," Anna (Alida Valli, here billed simply by her surname). While the mystery of what (if anything) happened to Lime plays out in the background, the real gist of the film, as subtle as it may be, is the odd and awkward interaction between our American hero and virtually everyone with whom he comes in contact, from Anna herself to the veddy veddy British Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) to a gaggle of supporting characters who are like the slightly more restrained versions of Fellini ensemble members.
This is a film which seemingly drowns in its own decrepitude, much like the characters caught in the Viennese sewers during the film's famous climax. Has any other high profile film featuring a cast of this magnitude and coming only shortly after the apex of filmdom's Golden Age ever captured the dissolute tendencies of mankind as does The Third Man? It's hard to think of another fitting example. From Robert Krasker's incredibly evocative black and white photography, to the completely odd yet somehow perfect zither score of Anton Karas (whose Third Man Theme topped the charts for months in 1950), this is a film which completely defies expectations at every turn, almost defiantly so at times.
That defiance is probably best personified in Welles' dismissive Harry Lime, a man who looks down on the teeming masses from atop Vienna's iconic ferris wheel and asks Holly if he would feel pity if one of the "dots" would stop moving forever. This is the cynicism of the postwar consciousness in a perfect, if ultimately disturbing, nutshell. How incredible then that scenarist Graham Greene, director Reed, and a sterling cast didn't shirk from the harsh reality of this era, instead choosing to "celebrate" it, for wont of a better term. It's a celebration swathed in bitterness and regret, and it's unforgettable.
The Third Man Blu-ray, Video Quality
As mentioned above, if you are making a choice solely on video quality, there's little doubt that Criterion's 2008 release is better. But this StudioCanal's AVC encoded 1080p image (in 1.33:1) isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if one had never seen the Criterion release, this version would probably be seen as mostly exemplary. While contrast is noticeably less well modulated here, and blacks especially don't bristle as they do on the Criterion release, sharpness is quite excellent. There may have been some minor digital noise reduction on this release, but there is still abundant grain noticeable, as is clearly evident on virtually all of the screen captures included in this review. The Criterion version has considerably less damage than this print, but, again, there's very little here to really complain about. If you don't feel like shelling out some major buckage to get the out of print Criterion version, don't feel like you're giving yourself short shrift with this release, because you're not.
The Third Man Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Third Man is presented by StudioCanal with a very good sounding lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. I spot checked against the Criterion Blu-ray, and while there are some very subtle differences, my hunch is those must be traceable to the stems or print utilized for this release. There are some very slight volume fluctuations on this release which do not seem to plague the Criterion release, at least not as much, but aside from that, this is a crisp and clear audio presentation. Especially effective is the expressive Karas score, which doesn't sound brittle or overly bright. There is some noticeable compression on the extreme highs of this track, leading to a bit of boxiness, but for a 60 or so year old recording, this sounds quite admirable, if one is willing to tolerate minimal hiss and a narrow soundfield.
The Third Man Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
While it may not be "Criterion sized," this StudioCanal release's supplements are quite respectable on their own terms:
The Third Man Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Third Man is an enduring classic for a reason, and it simply must be seen by anyone who cares about film. While this StudioCanal release isn't quite up to Criterion standards, it also won't cost you an arm and a leg. Don't be a Harry Lime-sized cynic; if you didn't pick up the Criterion Blu-ray of The Third Man, you won't be doing yourself a disservice by getting this version. Highly recommended.
The Third Man: Other Editions
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The Third Man Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Lionsgate Announces Delicatessen, The Third Man on Blu-ray - July 5, 2010
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced that it will release two films on Blu-ray on September 14 as part of its StudioCanal Collection: Delicatessen (Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, 1991); and The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949), which had previously been released ...
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