The Third Man, Historical Analysis Essay

The Third Man, was filmed in post World War II Vienna, releasing in 1949. The film was written by Graham Greene, directed by Carol Reed, and produced by the American David Selznick and the British Michael Korda. The black and white, pessimistic film “is one of the greatest British thrillers of the post-war era, in the best Alfred Hitchcock tradition, and beautifully produced….It was voted the #1 British Film of the 20th Century” (Tim Dirkes, Filmsite Review) Holly Martins, the unemployed American writer of western novels, comes to Vienna out of disparity.

Holly gets invited to Vienna to work by his childhood friend, Harry Lime: It is their friendship that illustrates the disparity in the post World War II era, it describes the deception in people, the lack of morality, and friendship: the underlying plot and theme of the film in The Third Man.

1) How do the producers utilize the setting to make the audience feel the hopelessness in Post-War era, to accent the themes of deception, friendship, and morality in the film? 2) How does the characterization of Holly Martins show the real-life historical attitude of the average person in the post war era,? 3) How does the conflict express the themes in the Third Man? 4) Why is the theme of the movie most important vs.

setting, conflict and characterization? In The Third Man, themes of the movie are expressed incoherently though setting, characterization, and conflict. The key element to understanding the theme throughout the movie is to see where and how the producers utilized the setting, conflict, and characterization to undertone the real meaning of the film. Theme is the most important literary element in The Third Man. It explores a basic understanding in the attitudes of the post World War Viennese people, and surrounding cultures: deception, friendship, and morality.

Setting: How do the producers utilize the setting to make the audience feel the hopelessness in Post-War era, to accent the theme of deception, friendship, and morality in the film? The Third Man takes place in 1949 Vienna, and begins with a montage showing the aftermath in postwar Vienna. The film begins with the unusual close up of a Zither, a small detail in understanding Vienna’s post war culture. It is played quietly through the montage to undertone the sarcastic sounding narrator. In the montage, Beethoven’s statue is seen, then immediately jumps to a shot of black-marketeers. The two shots quickly show the films contrast and depiction of Vienna in the late 1940s: a city of with a vast history of culture and crime. Before World War II, Vienna was especially known to the homes of the most classical artists. The establishing shot is made of Beethoven and shifts to contrast the destruction of change to the culture: sarcastically hinted by the jaunty Zither music in the background and narrator: “Wonderful! What a hope they had, all strangers to the place- and none of them could speak the same language…” (The Third Man, Scene I) Postwar Vienna was a changed city.

The Third Man depicted the theme though the usage of a realistic setting and life portrayal. Throughout the film, the settings are dark, cold, and damp. People are dressed in dark clothing, and the Viennese people seem pessimistic, much like the worlds attitudes of the people in the time. “. . . And the charming Viennese? Hard faces full of misery, fear, and suspicion. And the beautiful women of Vienna? The only real beauty is a foreigner”(Phillips, pg. 169) The producers filmed mostly at night, and used high contrast lighting, and powerful HMI floodlights to shine down streets and across the broken walls, (Richard Meisk, Wrong Geometries In Third Man) The Third Man combines the war damage, internally and externally (broken images) with darkness, with shadows and lights so sharply defined. Even though there is darkness in the setting, the recurring sound of the jaunty Zither still lingers. When linking back to the theme, for example: Holly Martins sees a dark figure under Anna’s apartment: Limes face appears out of the dark. The light and darkness exemplify the contrast of the deception and friendship Holly Martins feels for lime. The producers utilized the setting exceptionally to convey the feeling of a dark time, and Viennese hopelessness in the Post War era.

Characterization: How does the characterization of Holly Martins show the real-life historical attitude of the average person in the post war era?

In the beginning of the film, Holly Martins, the naïve American, has a strong and driven character of honesty, and power. He is motivated to find “The Third Man”, who killed his childhood friend. His attitude is much like the American civilian’s attitude in post WWII “Americans had great prosperity…rebellion and alternative lifestyles’” (Duke Edu.), unlike the pessimistic Viennese attitudes. Martin’s thinks the British authorities have not taken the Lime murder seriously, especially Major Calloway. The authorities are careless and oblivious to the importance of a “third man.” Due to Holly Martins drive for justice, Major Calloway reveals Harry Lime failed as a friend and failed morally. To Martins, this reveals what a dishonest friend he was to him. His character is so honest, and moral, he rebels, and becomes out of character. In a conversation to Anna, he says: HOLLY: Seventy pounds a tube. He wanted me to write for his great medical charity . . . . Perhaps I could have raised the price to eighty pounds for him.

ANNA: Oh please, for heaven’s sakes, stop making him in your image. Harry was real. He wasn’t just your friend and my lover; he was Harry.

HOLLY: Well, don’t preach wisdom to me. You talk about him as if he had occasional bad manners. Oh, I don’t know, I’m just a hack writer who drinks too much and falls in love with girls—you.

Holly Martins character flips around significantly towards the end of the film. He finds Harry, and shoots him. The producers showed incoherently the disorientation on life. He later turns into a confused, unjust man: sharing humanity’s common confusion of life.

Conflict: How does the conflict express the themes in the Third Man? The internal clashes in the film lie in the message of the film. Holly Martins and Harry Lime are thought to be friends. In the last scene, Martins is faces impossible conflict as a friend and as a person. Internally, he is the only one who can stop himself. He takes the gun alone and stands face to face with Lime for his immorality. He pulls the trigger, and kills. The external clash starts with hardship of war, and the physical destruction of life in Vienna, the human interest’s collided. Those changes, and Holly’s growing recognition of them, truly tests the friendship of the two; they test the morality of one another, and test the deception in one another. The films conflict depicts a real life situation in the time. It was new thing in the post-war era to depict real life situations, and to show the real individuality of people.

Theme: Why is the theme of the movie most important vs. setting, conflict and characterization? In The Third Man, the setting, characterization, and conflict illustrates a key understanding to the theme of the film. But the overall message the producers gave in the film was a big understanding to fundamental truths and attitude in post world war era. The setting, characterization, and conflict describes the lack of confidence and deception in people, the lack of morality, the lack of friendship, lastly the lack of love for humanity. Holly found that his friend was a dishonest con artist, his lover didn’t love him, and was still in shambles with out a job.

Similar to the worlds view: pessimistic view on government, life, and world issues. Holly twisted around and chooses to be a good person but violates the morality of friendship by betraying his friend and killing him. Just when Limes has hoped to get away, his life ends. The story begins again with the same scene, a funeral. A key element to seeing the hope that faded away, a simple disregard for the value of human life. When analyzing the film and history, the common theme and truths of the post war era are revealed in The Third Man.

By analyzing the setting, characterization, conflict and theme, the general historical attitude in the world was greatly depicted in the film, The Third Man. Fundamental truths of morality, deception, and friendship are revealed in a realistic dark, and twisted plot.

Reference Page

Dirks, Tim, (2012) Filmsite Movie Review, The Third Man
. AMC. Retrieved January 17, 2013. Richard, Misek and Rouge,( 2007, July) The Wrong Geometries in the Third Man Retrieved January 17, 2013. Maki, Mitchell (March 19, 2004) California, Change in attitudes after World War II Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum. Retrieved January 17, 2013 Unknown, ( 2012 ) 1943-1953 Years of Conformity: s war gave way to peace, America began a period of remarkable sameness, where media, corporations, and communities reinforced established norms. Duke University, Durham, NC, Retrieved January 17th 2013

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