Classically Shitty: The Third Man

The Third Man? How will I understand this movie when I haven’t seen The First Man or The Second Man?

OK, you guys, I know exactly what you’re thinking. You saw the title of this post, and you immediately got upset. Perhaps a little butthurt. It’s fine if you did. Massage those ass cheeks, and you’ll feel better in no time. Before you scroll down to the comments section to leave me some typed diarrhea, just read this post with an open mind. I think you’ll discover that The Third Man is actually a giant piece of shit, and not the classic filmfags purport it to be.

This 1949 movie was directed by Carol Reed, a man with a woman’s name. It was written by British novelist Graham Greene (you’ve only heard of him because they read one of his books in Donnie Darko). It starred Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles. It also won a shitload of awards when it was released, and has perpetually been on many “Best of” film lists. You know, none of that impresses me. It’s easy to win the Cannes Film Festival award for Best Picture when your competition consists of nothing but a bunch of sissy French crap. Anyway, I digress. 

The Third Man is crap right from the start. They attempt to set the mood by serenading us with some ultra cheesy zither music. What’s a zither?  It’s a string instrument that sounds exactly like a fucking Ukulele. Nobody gives two fucks about the zither. It’s a shitty instrument that should only be played during Luaus. Its only claim to fame is that the entire soundtrack of The Third Man is composed on a single zither. It’s an annoying distraction. The movie asserts itself as a noir thriller. It certainly looks like a noir thriller. But when you have dark characters, dark camera work, and dark plotting all set to a fucking upbeat strumming Ukulele, the noir vibe is completely ruined. One character says something menacing to another, and then walks away to fucking “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” It just doesn’t work. It’s not an ironic juxtaposition, it’s absolute garbage. The director probably blew his entire wad paying to get Orson Welles in his movie, and didn’t have anything left over for a soundtrack.

Shot on location, on a studio set.

The story is about an American named Holly Martins, yet another man with a woman’s name, I’m seeing a pattern here. Martins arrives in post-WWII Vienna on an invitation from his friend Harry Lime. Martins is a shitty writer who can’t make a living in his preferred profession, so he has come to Europe because Lime offered him a job. Unfortunately, just before Martins arrived, Lime was killed by a car while crossing a street. Martins immediately thinks there is foul play at hand, and begins to investigate. Of course! Any time a completely non-descript person dies, it MUST be murder! There’s no chance he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time! You’d better exhaust yourself getting to the bottom of this very serious conspiracy!

Martins is fixated on a detail where someone tells him two men carried Lime’s body away. Later, someone tells Martins there was a third man who helped remove the body. WAIT A SECOND?! THREE MEN?! HOLY SHIT, THERE IS NO DOUBT THIS IS A CONSPIRACY! THREE MEN INSTEAD OF TWO OBVIOUSLY MEANS THERE IS SOMETHING TERRIBLE GOING ON HERE! IT CAN’T POSSIBLY BE THAT SOMEONE HAS A BAD MEMORY! AFTER ALL, POLICE THE WORLD OVER HAVE ALWAYS SAID THAT HUMAN MEMORY IS THE MOST RELIABLE SOURCE OF EVIDENCE! Anyway, Martins continues his investigation, believing that if he can find the third man, he can unlock the mystery of Lime’s death.

“Hey babe, wanna see my Third Man?”

What happens next is really inexplicable. Some people die in front of Martins. Martins is wanted by the police for murder. The police forget all about that a couple of minutes later. Viennese police are kind of lazy, I suppose. If you ever want to commit a crime and get away with it, go to Vienna. Some more shit happens, and eventually we learn that Lime is actually still alive. As it turns out, he’s been up to no good. He was stealing penicillin from hospitals, diluting it, and selling it on the black market. HOLY SHIT, GUYS, STOP THE PRESSES! WHAT A DASTARDLY, HORRENDOUS, EVIL CRIMINAL MASTERMIND! THIS GUY ISN’T INVOLVED IN DRUGS, GUNS, PROSTITUTION, RANSOM, OR TERRORISM! NOPE, HE IS SELLING PENICILLIN ON THE BLACK MARKET! YOU KNOW THERE IS A FUCKING GIGANTIC DEMAND FOR PENICILLIN ON THE BLACK MARKET! THE PRISONS ARE OVERFLOWING WITH CRIMINALS INVOLVED IN THE WORLDWIDE BLACK MARKET PENICILLIN RACKET! Yep, great idea for a noir story, Graham Greene. The criminal mastermind is a penicillin salesman. Wow. I’m quivering in my boots over here.

Orson Welles doesn’t show up until 3/4’s of the way through the movie. I saw his name in the credits, but by this time I had completely forgotten he was supposed to be in it. He barely is. It’s one of those bait-and-switch tactics where you expect one of the stars to play a prominent role, but then they have maybe 15 minutes screen time, tops. In the movie’s defense, Welles had a memorable moment with the now-famous “cuckoo clock speech.” Apparently, he improvised it. It did not come from the film’s writer or director. So, yeah, the only memorable moment was improvised by one of the actors. Maybe he should have directed the fucking thing. Maybe it would have been tolerable.

What is this, The Fugitive?

Hilariously, the movie ends in a sewer, which is exactly where this turd belongs. Lime shoots some people, Martins goes after him, and heroically shoots Lime in the back. The fucking end. What a tremendous adventure. A thriller on par with no other.

If you condensed this movie down into 30 minutes, it might be decent. But at 104 minutes, it’s a chore to watch. Each scene drags on and on, seemingly as if it would never end. The acting is flat and lethargic. Cotton expresses all the fear and emotion and urgency of an armchair. Welles in the only one who injects any life into the proceedings, and he only appears at the end. The upbeat zither music just turns the things into a complete farce. At times it feels like the movie is a parody of itself. Most of the blame lies with the director, Carol Reed. His decision to use the zither, to have horrendously slow pacing, to hire cheesy stone-faced “actors”, and to go ahead with the idiotic penicillin salesman plot were all his choices. He is the one most responsible for this cinematic shit-turd.

I suppose where Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles are concerned, they make a good source of Classically Shitty posts. Once again, these guys got the better of me. Welles/Cotton: 2 – BrikHaus: 0.

Verdict: Shitty

Check out these other entries in the Classically Shitty series:

Rio Bravo and High Noon


Raging Bull

Blazing Saddles

Citizen Kane

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

The Hustler

2001: A Space Odyssey

21 Responses to “Classically Shitty: The Third Man”

  1. 1 ge
    December 18, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Judging by the comments everyone either loves or hates your review so much they cant comment

  2. 5 xz03
    September 9, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    You’re so funny I am just in giggles. I must be sadistic.

  3. 7 Clint Westwood
    December 16, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    Your comments are absolutely perfect! How this garbage is considered a classic – I’ll never understand. What amazes me the most of all is that the late Roger Ebert (and so many others) gave this film a perfect score! And he said that there’s never been another film where the music so perfectly fit the movie…

    Are you kidding me? Was Ebert high when he wrote that drivel? The music (i.e. the single zither) is the single worst and most inappropriate music for any film I’ve EVER seen! Horrible music that in no way aids or even once reflects whatsoever the movie plot. “Music” that made me want to scratch out my eyeballs! And Ebert liked it? Simply astonishing!

    By the way, this movie has larger plot holes than most movies I’ve seen, and has some of the most inane dialogue ever written! Yet even Bodley Crowther of The NY Times loved this film as well. Maybe I’m missing a thing or two…or twenty…..but this is one of the most ridiculous films I’ve ever seen. One more thing – I agree with you that Cotton shows the emotional range of a scarf; some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen! Welles, as usual, is terrific, absolutely perfect. What a waste on such a piece of crap film!

  4. 9 Viilax
    March 18, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    The only redeeming quality of this film is the aesthetic, the way everything is shot and the setting itself are incredible. Unfortunately, the movie itself is a waste of time. Characters are one-note and almost none of their motivations make any sense, the story reads like a first grader with creativity issues wrote it and the scene in the sewer feels like it takes half of the movie’s run-time. I agree, the movie definitely should have been shortened because about 80% of it is filler. Worst of all, this film just has nothing to say. The audience never really learns a lesson, there aren’t any prevalent themes, and nothing is really accomplished. This is perhaps the least-inspired movie I’ve ever watched, after struggling to stay awake through half of it, I found myself wishing I had by the time the film concluded. Waste of time.

  5. 11 3rdManBlowsChunks
    May 13, 2019 at 8:00 pm

    I just had to watch this movie for a college class. I was blown away by the fact that it is rated so high on IMDb, including 26 perfect 100s by critics! Did they watch this movie? You are absolutely right, this movie is a flaming pile of horse shit in a dumpster fire. If I was given the choice to go back in time and fail my class, but not have to watch this fucking turd I would absolutely do that.

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November 2013


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