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The Third Man, a 1949 British film noir, was directed by Carol Reed and stared Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles. The film’s title, The Third Man, makes it clear that the film explores the idea of triangulation. Shot in brilliant film noir black and white, and set on location in the ruined post-war city of Vienna, the film explores several dualistic interactions. Most obviously are the interpersonal relations between the film’s main character and his two incomplete significant relationships discussed in the film. One existing but absent Harry Lime and the other a present but only potential lover, Anna. The Third Man also explores the indirect and shady economic relations of the black market, and the equally gray morality that seems a necessary means of coping with the world of crime and crooked business deals.

In the film, an unemployed pulp fiction novelist, Holly Martins, arrives in Ally-Occupied Vienna to find that it is divided into sectors, and that shortages of supplies has lead to a flourishing black market. He arrives at the invitation of an ex-school friend, Harry Lime, who has offered him a job, only to discover that Lime has recently died in a peculiar traffic accident. Holly concludes from talking to Lime’s friends and associates that some of the stories are inconsistent, and determines to discover what really happened to Harry Lime.

During this time period, after the end of World War II and the beginnings of conflicts in Vietnam and Korea, The Third Man served to illustrate the pattern of societal degradation due to war. The breakdown of usual laws and moral rules in the war-torn Vienna allowed British audiences to fully come to terms with the consequences of war and its meaning for society. The Third Man was made by men who knew the devastation of Europe after World War II first hand. Carol Reed worked for the British Army’s wartime documentary unit, and the screenplay writer Graham Greene not only wrote about spies, but actually acted as one during the war. The film was shot entirely on location in Vienna, where the real mountains of rubble stood next to gaping bomb craters, and the ruins of the previously powerful empire supported a desperate black market economy.

The Third Man provided American and British audiences alike with an accurate portrayal of life after the war in countries that were less fortunate than the powerful leaders of the conflict. The consequences of war, the sacrifice of justice, order, law, and culture, were made completely clear. This dark, sinister film served as a warning to the world against warfare and destruction upon the entering into conflict with Korea and Vietnam by the United States.

 

-Claire

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