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"The Third Man" {Blu-ray}
Wayne Klein
Studio: Lion's Gate
Release Date:
Special Features:

Audio commentary featuring assistant director Guy , Welles biographer and actor Simon Callow and script supervisor , interviews with Greene, Welles; featuette, "The Lives of Harry Lim" 1951 broadcast, interactive map Rated: NR


One could easily see the appeal of playing Harry Lime in "The Third Man" to Orson Welles outside of a free trip to Europe; Welles had wanted to do a film version of Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness only to have to abandon it for a variety of reasons. Lime is almost the urban version of Kurtz the elusive missing person in Heart of Darkness; in many respects author Graham Greene's novel works as a 20th centur parallel to Conrad's work. Lime has been driven mad in his own way by the paranoid changes in the world and by the power he can now have in it. As his writer friend Holly Martin (Joseph Cotton) discovers when he arrives in Vienna to meet up with his old friend and college chum Harry became quite a different person than he was earlier in their friendship. He's also either dead or simply vanished and Holly decides he must find out what happened to Lime and who he truly was. The question even to the conclusion of "The Third Man" remains--who IS Harry Lime? As Holly discovers he's different things to different people just as we are all but all of them some how consumed by the sickness of the world. **

Carol Reed's brilliant film of Graham Greene's post-War novel quickly turns into an existential noir mystery capturing the creepy look and feel of post WWII Vienna which has become a black cauldron of pararnoia as the Americans, British and Russians occupy the city each trying to outwit the other. It's one of the few effective noir influenced films produced in Europe during the popularity of the noir genre and Reed's sharp, intutive direction serves up a combination of social criticism at the same time as he piles on the suspenseful touches from the dimly lit exteriors to the enigmatic supporting characters.

Image & Sound:

This Blu-ray reissue from StudioCanal/Lion's Gate is inferior looking to the superb brief release by Criterion (before their license was up). That transfer was crisp looking with considerable repair work done in the digital realm to the film while the transfer itself was sharper with solid blacks, great fine detail considering the age of the film and grain management wasn't over-the-top. Digital noise reduction has been overused here often smoothing out the noir look of the film by robbing the film of the atmospheric grain resulting in an image that is occasionally softeened and smeared compared to the Criterion. ***

The one area where the transfer COULD have used more digital intervention is the audio track and while some work has been done it's as if the studio realizing they had overdone it with smoothing out the visual textures of the film were afraid to do so with the audio imperfections. The audio is decidedly inferior to the Criterion release; you can hear the pops and imperfections from the original analog soundtrack here whereas Criterion smoothed those out removing them and also did some leveling so that the dialogue and music is consistent throughout in terms of volume neither of which is the case with this new edition of the film. ***

That isn't to say that the StudioCanal/Lion's Gate version is horrible; "The Third Man" looks decent although there's evident damage to the print that hasn't been repaired that crops up throughout the movie. Compared to the Criterion edition from 2008, the StudioCanal/Lion's Gate version is inferior in every way but not a bad presentation of the film by any means and is worth the upgrade if you are a hugh fan of the film.

Special Features:

The extras here are different than the Criterion edition. The Criterion had among other things a 90 minute excellent doucmentary that "shadowed" the making of this terrific film as well as the original treatment by Greene, a radio episode of Welles' excellent series "The Lives of Harry Lime", two exceptional audio commentaries for the film and press booklet materials and an hour program on writer Graham Greene. ***

THIS edition has an excellent commentary track featuring Welles biographer and actor Simon Callow along with assistant director Guy Hamilton and script supervisor Angela Allen. It's a fairly lively and entertaining commentary track that covers everything from Greene's original script, issues they had shooting on location to working with Welles and Cotton (and disspelling some myths about Welles "directing" his own scenes). It's the best special feature here and kudos to StudioCanal/Lion's Gate for assembling it. I do wish more thought had gone into the other special features however. ***

We get an interactive tour of post WWII Vienna, interviews with Joseph Cotton (from 1987) and Graham Greene as well as a 1951 episode of "The Lives of Harry Lime" entitled "A Ticket to Tangiers". The Lux radio adaptation of "The Third Man" and a featurette on the zither played by Cornelia Mayer who played the instrument in the film. We also get the alternate opening narration, stills and other minor extras.

Final Words:

If you missed the chance to pick up the Criterion on Blu-ray, this edition is a good second choice. Although the film doesn't look quite as good in its presentation and while some of the extras are very similar we are missing the excellent 90 minute documentary on the making of the film as well as the other two audio commentary tracks from the Criterion, a 60 minute program on Greene and a 30 minute documentary from down under. Unlike the recent "The Stranger" on Blu-ray that was a public domain print, this edition of "The Third Man" is from similar elements (and perhaps the same print)as that provided to Criterion with just the clean up work and restoration that Criterion did missing here. ***

Still recommended but if you have the Criterion--keep it.


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