‘The Third Man’ comes to Blu-ray with a good, although not remarkable, 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer framed in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
I’ve seen other transfers of classic black and white features and been impressed by the punchiness of the monochrome image, but sadly there was nothing about the picture quality of ‘The Third Man’ that really hit me between the eyes. There’s a bit of print weave during the titles, there's the odd sparkly but it’s generally clean enough with only the occasional light scratch to spoil it and contrast is perfectly acceptable. Some grain is evident, but you’d expect that from a film of this vintage and it fits in with the look of the movie. Black levels are a bit variable at times – and I guess this is partly where I’m disappointed. Some dark areas in the sewer chase look grey. By that I mean the overall shot takes on a greyness. Black and white film stock from the late 1940’s would not have the same ability to handle shadow detail as modern stocks, so you could think that a film that used shadows to effect would have large dense areas but you’d expect them to be black. This all makes me believe that the print used wasn’t the most recent. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. It’s just in a few scenes but they stand out like a sore thumb. My overall feeling is that the image from this transfer was not much better than we could expect to see on TV. Maybe I was hoping for too much as I was expecting the image to have some real bite and ‘wow’ factor due to it being released on Blu-ray.
The audio on ‘The Third Man’ comes in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix with the original mono sound duplicated on the left and right tracks. If you really wind up the wick you can hear what sounds like some optical track noise, but who listens to a movie like that? There is some low level hiss, snap, crackle and pop that could have been cleaned up for this release but in general, the sharp dialogue is clean and crisp, while the memorable zither music is pleasing on the ear. Footsteps echo down cobbled streets but this was never going to be on anyone’s demo material list. The original mix has survived and we have a very functional soundtrack here.
This is probably the best set of extras I have ever seen and heard to go with a production. None of it is PR puff or tacky freebie giveaway items. Serious film buffs will be delighted.
- Trailers (HD, 1min 46s and 2 mins 19s)
We get two different theatrical trailers to remind us of how the movie was sold to the public. The first (shorter one) interestingly shows this as a David O. Selznick production, so it’s obviously for the American market – complete with superimposed captions. It’s worth watching these to see the difference in quality between them and the main feature.
- Shadowing the Third Man (SD, 1hr 29 mins)
This fairly creative documentary is a real film buffs dream as it gives us lots of detail about the production and, most interestingly has Guy Hamilton (Assistant Director on the film) and Angela Allen (2nd unit Continuity girl) on a visit to Vienna and some of the locations. It’s great to hear from people who were actually involved in a film shot in 1948.
- The Third Man on the Radio (Audio only, 29 mins)
This is an episode from the American radio show ‘The Lives of Harry Lime’ from 1951 entitled ‘Ticket to Tangiers’ which features Orson Welles reprising the title role. It’s a classic piece of radio which uses the famous zither music and you can just imagine an American family gathered round the wireless set listening to it.
- Audio Commentary
Here we have a superb commentary from Guy Hamilton and Angela Allen, hosted by Thesp Simon Callow. This is a fascinating listen as Callow asks the kind of questions that film fans would like to ask. We get to hear of the problems of night shooting and they discuss the work of cameraman Robert Krasker, as well as how things were arranged by contacts in Vienna. It’s great to hear someone with Hamilton’s experience talk knowledgably on such subjects as Carol Reed’s way of cutting from shot to shot only in one direction for smoothness. Film makers can learn a great deal from this.
- The Third Man Interactive Vienna Tour (50 mins total)
This feature opens to a 3D aerial view of Vienna where you can choose individual locations from the movie by using the remote control and Dr Brigitte Timmermann, as Presenter to Camera, treats us to some history of the area and local colour. She’s obviously an expert on the movie and tells us a lot of interesting stories. Absolutely fantastic.
- Stills gallery
A lot of nice stills from the production shot on location and in the studio as well as a Press campaign book that would have been sent to cinema managers to be used to promote the film.
- Guardian/NFT Interview with Joseph Cotten (Audio only, 47 mins)
Cotton had bad laryngitis when this interview was recorded live on stage in 1987 with his wife Patricia Medina who tries to help answer questions to save his voice. It’s quite painful to listen to but it’s great to hear his recollections.
- Guardian/NFT Interview with Graham Greene (Audio only, 8 mins)
In an interview recorded in 1984, Greene clears up the ‘who wrote what’ argument caused by Orson Welles’ claims. He also explains how he came to discover the sewers of Vienna as a location as well as knowledge of the Penicillin racket that actually happened in real life.
- Alternate opening Voice over Narration by Joseph Cotten (SD, 1 min 20s)
In the UK cut of the movie, Carol Reed does the opening narration and to be honest it sounds much better (more world weary) than Cotton’s version here which was originally recorded for our colonial cousins.
- Interview & performance by zither player Cornelia Mayer (HD, 5 mins)
Ms Mayer plays ‘The Harry Lime Theme’ and ‘Cafe Mozart Waltz’ while she explains her fascination for the instrument as well as the work of Anton Karas. So now you know what a zither looks like.
- Booklet Essay by Charles Drain, film historian/biographer
I haven’t seen this as only a pre-production Blu-ray disc was supplied for review, but it will certainly round off the package nicely to have a printed booklet.
Carol Reed’s classic ‘The Third Man’ comes to Region B locked Blu-ray with a reasonably good looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer framed in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The print is generally quite clean with the very occasional light scratch and sparkly, but contrast is good with only the odd black level looking grey in the sewer chase sequence.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio contains the original mono mix (including some low level optical sound noise) on both tracks and dialogue is crisp throughout while the famous zither music is a pleasure to hear.
A whole host of fascinating extras accompany the film, not least of which is a commentary from then Assistant Director Guy Hamilton and Continuity Assistant Angela Allen. A chunky doco and audio interviews with Joseph Cotten & Graham Greene provide answers to many film buff’s questions.
The film itself is superb with great performances from Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard and Orson Welles. One for every movie collection.
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