NOIR | The Third Man 70 Years On by Janet Roger

Updated: Nov 12

In Vienna, winter is coming. Cold is falling out the sky in slabs. A veil of streetlight carves shadows out the old Jewish quarter, where a breathless nighttime foot chase is being shot for what often gets named the best British movie ever. Nowadays there’s a concrete stair with a handrail to mark the location, cutting across the old city wall to drop from the Ruprechtskirche to the Schwedenplatz below. In November 1948 it had an air of desolation even before director Carol Reed, cinematographer Robert Krasker and screenwriter Graham Greene went to work. Like most of the rest of the city, the Jewish quarter was devastated by Allied bombing even before the Red Army arrived to take it over, just a month before the war in Europe ended. Three years later, The Third Man was shooting on location in a Vienna occupied by the four powers - much like Berlin. And as in Berlin, or any number of European cities, the scars from the fighting were everywhere. So, when Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) and Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli) flee an angry crowd down that stair to the Schwedenplatz, they’re still picking past debris. What they’re running towards are the ruins of the Hotel Metropole, taken over in 1938 - the year of Anschluss - for Vienna’s gestapo head-quarters. If they’d turned the other way they’d have been at the head of the stair in the still on the right – Joseph Cotten is silhouetted there in a later sequence from the film. For 1948, the stair and the Maria am Gestade (Mary on the River Shore) church look amazingly intact.

Perhaps most astonishing of all is that you can still see how all these locations once looked on the big screen, at Burg Kino on the Opernring. Seventy years on, The Third Man still plays there several times every week (and without subtitles). Take the late-night showing, then a walk through the echoing cobbled streets of the old city, wait for a light to go on in an upper window and hold your breath. http://www.

If you’re going to do that, then you’ll definitely also want to visit The Third Man Museum in Pressgasse, just off the Naschmarkt, where some more of the film was shot. Original photos, Press, letters and yes, even Anton Karas’ zither, in a private collection spread across a dozen rooms. But more than that, it’s not shy about recounting how Vienna accommodated to the Anschluss and the occupation years. That alone is worth the ticket.

Janet Roger is the author of SHAMUS DUST : HARD WINTER, COLD WAR, COOL MURDER - available for purchase on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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