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Overall Grade
3 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
2 Stars
HD Audio Quality
2 Stars
Supplements
1 Stars
High-Def Extras
3 Stars
Bottom Line
Buy the Criterion

The Third Man (StudioCanal)

Street Date:
September 21st, 2010
Reviewed by:
Nate Boss
Review Date: 1
September 10th, 2010
Movie Release Year:
1949
Studio:
Lionsgate
Length:
105 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

Portions of this review also appeared in our review of the Criterion Collection release of 'The Third Man.'

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

There is no shortage of films about war. The subject has captured the minds and imaginations of the world, with the limitless amount of amazing first hand accounts, and the fictional dramatizations that hit the theaters on a yearly basis, telling the tales of the heroes, villains, great loves, miracles, and tragedies that have befallen the world in time of battle. The funny thing, to me at least, is that there aren’t anywhere near as many films that tell the story of the world recovering from the war, the men and women rebuilding their lives and families, or those who set out for their own selfish means, to become rich, in the areas hit hardest by the bloodshed. Carol Reed's 'The Third Man,' is one such tale, concerning a man who used the desperate post-war situation around him to further his own means.

The story follows Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), a fledgling writer, who arrives in Vienna, responding to a message from his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) that offered him a job. Nearly immediately, though, Martins discovers that Lime is dead, as the result of an auto accident just before his arrival. Wanting to find out what happened, Martins begins to probe Lime’s friends and neighbors, only to discover discrepancies in the stories, and is told that, contrary to the police report, there were three men who helped move Lime's body to a nearby statue, not just two. Martins sets out to find out about the third man, unraveling the shroud of mystery surrounding Lime and his racket, crossing paths with the police, and with Lime’s female companion Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), an actress who may know the truth behind the story.

To say that Welles steals this show is an understatement. The entire film up to his introduction leads up to discovering he is not as dead as his tombstone would indicate. This may be considered a *spoiler*, but anyone who knows Welles is in the film can figure out who he plays by his conspicuous absence through most of 'The Third Man.' His silent first appearance in the film is memorable and haunting. His diatribe in the famous ferris wheel scene is ominous, and disturbing. The film takes a drastic turn in tone upon his introduction, yet doesn't fall apart; instead, it draws viewers in, as a new level of tension is introduced. Instead of wondering what really happened, we are now curious to know why a man would go to the lengths that Lime went to fall off the face of the Earth.

The depths that man would go for material gain, to the point of losing one's humanity (and life), is a theme that is barely skimmed in 'The Third Man,' but it is an important plot point to consider when viewing the film, as one becomes informed of Lime's selfish transgressions, ones that did irreparable harm to others. As Lime's famous ferris wheel rant reveals, he places very little value on a human life if it is not his own.

The city of Vienna, the sole setting of 'The Third Man,' plays as important a part as any actor in the film. The bombed out city, with rubble scattered everywhere, had a powerful look, which presented the desperate situations of the inhabitants fantastically. Piles of bricks and dirt are stacked against buildings, playing an important part of a few crucial scenes in the film, while the labyrinth-like sewer system creates a setting of wonderful tension for the finale, where danger is lurking around any corner. These sewers can seen as a very thinly veiled analogy, especially the shots of the fingers protruding through the grates, desperate to escape.

I've always imagined the story told in the film to be the one that Martins later writes to recount the complicated affair. He makes numerous references, when discussing the situation with police, that he will use the situation in a novel he is working on, entitled "The Third Man." The story is told solely through Martins' eyes, and encompasses the perfect mix of intrigue and suspense, a mysterious love triangle, and a betrayal. Whether you romanticize the film in this matter, or not, there are plenty of ways to enjoy this bit of classic cinema.

The Disc: Vital Stats

'The Third Man' arrives alongside 'Delicatessen' as the first titles in the StudioCanal Collection to land Stateside since 'Contempt,' 'Ran,' and 'The Lady Killers.' That isn't to say that there were no other releases in this line in the meantime, as there are numerous other SC titles available in the UK as of present, released in the months between.

This marks the second release of 'The Third Man' on Blu-ray here domestically (though the UK release will mark its first appearance across the pond), as it was originally released through the Criterion Collection (as spine number 64). That release was one of the first Blu-rays to go out of print, due to the owners revoking distribution rights on the title, so that they may press their own, creating a competitive line to the famous collection. One non-disc extra with this release is a 20 page booklet, featuring article by Charles Drazin.

The disc itself is a BD50 Dual Layer Disc, housed in a cut-out eco-case that is held by a solid, dark black slipcover. Let's just avoid comment on the artwork for this release, as it is quite...unique. The packaging for this re-release indicates the disc as Region A locked, much like the Criterion release, and my LG BH100. The audio and subtitle options on this release vary from the concurrent UK release. There is no concurrent DVD release for this title, making the Blu-ray the only in-print offering at this time, domestically.

Upon inserting this disc into your player, you will be prompted as to what country you reside in, the USA or Japan. Previous SC titles had a pile of European countries listed, and this is further proof of the (inane) region coding for this title. The Amazon.com listing states that this is the first colorized version of the film, however, no such blasphemy is contained on this release. This is the classic black and white only version we've all grown to love.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'The Third Man' is presented with a 1.33:1 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer that varies significantly from the Criterion Collection release that bowed almost two years ago. That isn't necessarily a good thing.

There's quite a smattering of dirt, debris, and lines all over this release, significantly more than the previous version, with some amazingly large or heinous onslaughts leaving one to wonder how much it would have cost to license the Criterion supervised restoration. Brightness levels can still shift, as they did before, but shadow details take a humongous drop. Where black on black in the darkest shadows used to be quite easy to discern, now it's just one big mess. The picture retains some nice depth, but detail levels take a hit. Edges appear pretty clean, free from halos of any kind. Aliasing pops up from time to time in the jackets of the actors, in varying degrees (the tighter the pattern, the more problematic it can be).

Let me just say I wouldn't have minded a brown tint, caused by a layer of barbeque sauce smeared across the picture, compared to the sometimes blurry, borderline sterile and inhuman veneer found here. Early reports and screenshots showed this release having a significant amount of grain removed from the picture, and as much as I hate to give any credit to screenshots, they were right. Jackets and their intricate stitching appear smeared, while the stitching on Major Calloway's shoulders is illegible, even in a closeup of his arm. The sewers never looked cleaner, and that's just dirty. There is no disputing how different this release looks from the Criterion edition, but these changes, they're not for the better. Another blow to the StudioCanal Collection name. A big, big blow. If there weren't a previous release, this wouldn't have been as big a deal, but since we know the potential, it's downright unforgivable.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

I really, really hate to sound like a Criterion cheerleader, but this time, this one time, I cannot dispute the evidence. This time, the up and comer is a goner, by comparison. The Linear PCM 1.0 mix has been replaced with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 version, and it isn't even close.

Anton Karas' zither playing reaches highs that the rest of the film cannot, but when it gets loud, it gets rough. Really rough. Tinny, screechy, sometimes with notes and fast playing becoming an indistinguishable mess. Dialogue is for the most part clear, but some lines and scenes feel like the dialogue just isn't even attached, like it's in a different room harmonic, just awkward, disassociated. The amount of snap, crackle, and pop beneath the entire film puts Rice Crispies to absolute shame. Louder dialogue blares, and the entire sewer sequence that highlights the tense finale is incredibly difficult to hear properly. The opening of the grates to the sewer in the climax give a tiny clank, whereas before it was a loud, proper clang, reflecting their weight.

Just five minutes with the Criterion disc, after watching the StudioCanal Collection version, made me quite sad. Out with the good, in with the crap, in terms of audio.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

A huge smattering of extras from the Criterion release of this film did not find their way onto this release. It would take much less time and "print" to say what is still here from that pressing, but I'm getting to that in a second. The two audio commentaries are gone, as is the amazing 'The Third Man' Treatment reading. Bogdanovich's intro was axed, as was the full length documentary, and the Who Was the Third Man? feature. The Lux Radio Theatre radio presentation of the story is gone, as is the comparison between releases (though the alternate opening is found by its lonesome here). Kind to Foreigners, a take on the non-English dialogue, is gone, as is the press book, footage of Anton Karas, of Vienna police, a discussion through gallery of the city separation, and the hour long feature on the original writer.

  • Alternate Opening Voiceover Narration (SD, 1 min) - A different take on the opening voiceover, which is very interesting. That said, I still prefer the version found in the film.
  • Stills Gallery (HD, 2 min) - A series of black and white pictures from production on the film, with no musical accompaniment.
  • Trailers (HD, 5 min) - Two different vintage trailers for the film. Fun stuff!
  • 'The Third Man' on the Radio (SD, 29 min) - An episode of 'The Lives of Harry Lime' from 1951, entitled 'A Ticket to Tangiers,' set to a still photo. This is the very same episode found on the Criterion disc, but it's a goody, kinda. Starring Orson Welles, this story is a far cry from the film, in terms of suspense, and the dealings of Lime. Welles’ deep rumble is very hypnotic, and had it not been for his involvement, this radio play would have been dreadful.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

The severe loss of some amazing supplements doesn't make this a release completely devoid of content. There is a series of extras found here that haven't been found on any other domestic home video release of 'The Third Man.' It must be noted that the trademark Criterion Timeline has been removed.

  • Audio Commentary - With Guy Hamilton, Simon Callow, and Angela Allen. An audio commentary done right. The participants are in the same room, and aren't just composited interview recordings, despite the obvious age (hence why these are supporting technical employees, not writers, directors, stars, so on). The coverage is constant, the interplay and flow of the conversation plays off itself in a manner than makes for an enjoyable listen. The information passed on isn't too deep, but it is fairly informative, and quite unique, rather than just regurgitated statements or sentiments of others. Definitely worth a listen!
  • Audio Interviews - Two lengthy interviews! First, we get a Guardian/NFT interview with Joseph Cotten (47 min), from 1987. Cotten has laryngitis, so he's quite difficult to understand, but damn does he try, while his family helps him out. The charm and history found here is immeasurable. Second, there's a Guardian/NFT interview with Graham Green (8 min), from 1984. He's much less charismatic, but he does have some great information that sets the scene for the film, and its inspirations.
  • Interview & Zither Performance (HD, 5 min) - Cornelia Mayer plays The Harry Lime Theme, and Cafe Mozart Waltz on her zither, and gives a brief interview concerning the unique musical instrument, also discussing Karas's history. She's a bit difficult to understand, due to her thick accent, but it's a nice feature giving love to one of the most unique aspects of the film: its beautiful, curious music.

'The Third Man' Interactive Vienna Tour (HD)

Now this is how a special feature is made. Thankfully, it isn't given the next-gen bump, with picture-in-picture pop ups, as this feature acts much like a DVD supplement, with each choice on the map bringing up a video related to it. This is, by far, the highlight of the extras on this release. A shame it constantly jumps from 1080p (menu) to 1080i (each feature, with no play all), creating a ton of delays in viewing.

  • 'The Third Man' Museum (3 min) - Oh. My. God. Sorry to blaspheme, but I so want to live there! The walls are coated in vintage posters and publicity, there are records, articles, pictures, and tons of home video releases on display. It's tiny, but I just found the first reason I'd want to visit Europe. It's scary that our interviewer states that only 3,000 people visited this building in 2009. br>
  • Karlsplatz (3 min) - Hell yeah! The spiral staircase down to the sewer! A fun feature, about how some sets were made due to Welles' disdain for filming in a working sewer, and how some alterations were made for effect.
  • Zentralfriedhof (4 min) - The graveyard, which we visit a few times in the film, is shown, in the great long "corridor" shot we see in the film. Changes to the finale of the film, as well as methods of filming in this landmark are discussed.
  • Stadtpark (3 min) - The memorial for Johann Strauss is visited and given some time, even if the film only flashes by it. We get history about the film and situation of Vienna during the timing of the film. This is one of the only extras that really doesn't have much to show or discuss in regards to the location itself.
  • Sacher Hotel (5 min) - The hotel, which is a major player in the film, is discussed, as we learn its history, its famous tennants, and its place in the war. Most of this feature is about the creation and idea of the novel by Greene, not the hotel itself. Much like the Stadtpark visit, this one is just context, not specific.
  • Josefsplatz (3 min) - The building where Harry Lime was to have lived. There isn't all that much change here, as the statues remain by the door, and the historical context is brief at best.
  • Molkerbastei (3 min) - Ah, the infamous doorway where we, along with Holly Martins, first set our eyes on one Harry Lime/Orson Welles! Nostalgia value, high! After scoping that scenery, we also get some silly anecdotes about the animals in the film.
  • Am Hof (5 min) - The square where Holly loses Harry after seeing him for the first time, which was always one of the cleanest parts of the film, in terms of wear and debris, is shown, all these years later. Honestly, it looks infinitely better in black and white. We learn that the kiosk and sewer entrance were props, not actual parts of Vienna, and visit a similar kiosk, to show their historical significance. One of the best parts of this tour!
  • Maria Am Gestade (4 min) - What a difference sixty years makes, as we see the stairsteps leading to one of the oldest churches in Vienna. Yes, the ruins have been swept away, it's no longer a tripping hazard, but one is likely to bump their nose into a wall while walking, distracted by the beauty.
  • Hoher Markt (2 min) - A Baroque fountain that miraculously survived the ruins surrounding it is revisited. This fountain is in front of the cafe found in the final act of the film.
  • Stephansdom (2 min) - St. Stephen's Cathedral is visited, but the constant comments about its state for the filming compared to now are worthless, as they don't flashback for reference sake.
  • Morzinplatz (3 min) - This feature wants to take you back to a balcony scene, but cannot, as the balcony itself no longer exists.
  • Ruprechtskirche (2 min) - The shelled staircase, found in the second act mini-chase scene, is shown today, and we get its historical significance.
  • Prater (4 min) - Like the ferris wheel scene? Check it out, sixty years later, as we get a feature about one of the oldest ferris wheel's in the world, and the filming of the scene.

Final Thoughts

The StudioCanal Collection release of 'The Third Man' is definitely unique. It has great extras, but still falls short of the impossible to reach standard set by the amazing pile found on the Criterion Collection release. That release was among the first titles to go out of print from one distributor, to reappear in another library on the Blu-ray format. And it's so far removed from the presentation quality of the Criterion that it may as well be DVD.

This Collection has earned itself a not-so-good reputation among the Blu-ray community with their troubles with 'Ran' and 'Breathless,' and after some time away, they've come back with more of the same. Buy the Criterion release. Don't look at the price and get scared away. It's worth twice that much, content-wise. If you're on a tight budget, this release will be quite tempting, but we're talking about the best home video format to date here. Good enough just isn't good enough, anymore, especially when we already know the potential of a title from past releases. A big step backwards.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • 1- BD50
  • Region A locked

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.33:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
  • French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
  • Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Subtitles/Captions

  • Spanish, French, Japanese

Supplements

  • "The Third Man on the Radio" audio interviews with Joseph Cotton and Graham Greene
  • An alternative opening with voiceover from Joseph Cotton
  • An interview and zither performance from Cornelia Mayer
  • Stills gallery
  • Original trailers
  • 20-page collectible booklet written by film historian Charles Drazin

Exclusive HD Content

  • New audio commentary with assistant director Guy Hamilton, actor Simon Callow and crew member Angela Allen
  • The Third Man interactive Vienna Tour

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

List Price
$19.99
Amazon
$14.99 (25%)
3rd Party
$9.99
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