Monday, June 7, 2010

The Third Man (1949) - Carol Reed - Criterion Blu-ray

The Third Man (1949)
Director: Carol Reed
Writers: Graham Greene, Alexander Korda
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee

Last year I finally broke down and bought a Blu-ray player and I must say that so far I am loving it. There are so many movies that simply look amazing in high definition. One of the things that has surprised me is just how great a lot of older movies can look on Blu-ray. When properly restored, older movies can look just as great in HD as newer movies can. In fact I have seen The Third Man (1949) in a theater and on Blu-ray and I'd say the picture looked better on the Blu-ray. With the restored blu-ray print you don't get any cracks or dirt on the picture like you do with a print that has been making its way through the theaters.

Criterion's The Third Man (1949) Blu-ray is the perfect example of just how great an older film can look on Blu-ray. Carol Reed's extensive use of contrasting light and shadow are perfectly showcased on this Blu-ray. Criterion is known for putting a lot of effort into restoring movie for release and this is no exception.

Since the movie is in black and white there are no colors for the HD picture of work with but all of the contrast between light and shadow in the film is extremely enhanced. Carol Reed has a great understanding of how to use light and shadow to set the mood in a film and the lighting scheme in The Third Man is used to its full advantage. There is a crispness to the contrast between the dark and the light in this film that isn't shown to its full extent when watching in standard definition.

It is also obvious that great care was taken to restore the original film print for this release. There is none of the dirt or cracks in the picture that are normally associated with watching older films. However, they didn't go too far and remove the natural grain of the film like many blu-ray releases seem to do. Leaving the film grain in tact really helps with the gritty nature of the film and also avoids making the film look overly polished and airbrushed.

Other than just looking great, the movie is just one of those classic movies that really needs to be scene. In the booklet that comes with the Criterion Blu-ray, Luc Sante writes that The Third Man is "not merely a movie that would go on to influence myriad other movies but a construct that would lodge itself deep in the unconscious of an enormous number of people, including those who'd never seen" it. This almost describes what I saw the first time I saw the movie. As I was watching it, I kept picking up little things that I had seen before even though I had never seen the movie before.

The movie has been so influential and mimicked so many times that you can't help but recognize pieces when you watch it for the first time. In my opinion this actually adds to the viewing experience. While you are enjoying you also get small moments of personal connection with the film. You really just feel like one of those comfortable movies that you have seen many times before. The film still manages to surprise you with its twists and turns though. It is a strange contrast of feelings to have while watching a film and makes for a very unique experience.


The story itself is extremely well told and quite suspenseful. Joseph Cotton is extremely wonderful as a man trying to solve the mystery of his friend's death. The highlight of the film though is Orson Welles. His portrayal of Harry Lime is probably one of the most memorable characters in all of film history. Welles hams it up just enough to create a perfectly larger-than-life portrayal of Harry Lime. While Harry is not a reputable character, he manages to still be charming and it is almost hard not to like him.


Rating: 10/10

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