Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Carol Reed (director), Graham Greene (writer), The Third Man (1949)

The film The Third Man (1949) is a crime thriller directed by Carol Reed and written by Graham Greene.  It speaks of the calamity of misplaced loyalties to morally undeserving individuals, either for reasons of friendship or love.  It also argues in favour of choosing the promotion of justice for the wider society over one’s friendship to a particular individual, if one is presented with having to make such a choice.  Set in war-torn, post-war Vienna in Austria, the film suggests that societies that are ravaged by war, and disrupted by shortages of essential goods, are open to corruption and criminal exploitation, a condition accentuated by the prevailing jurisdictional division of Vienna by the four-power military occupation and by the concurrent Cold War political tensions between the East and West.  The film also speaks of the dangers of confusing the escapism of pulp fiction with the reality of the criminal underworld, suggesting that the seedy, dangerous, and ruthless criminal underworld is best avoided by naïve individuals acting as amateur detectives. 

The story centres on Holly Martins, a naïve American author of pulp fiction, who goes to Vienna to meet up with his old friend Harry Lime, a former teenage prankster who matured into a charismatic but ruthless criminal who is selling potentially-fatal fake medicines on the black market.  Holly Martins is initially loyal to his old friend, whom he had romanticised, so much so that it seems he never really knew the real Harry Lime.  Soon, Holly Martins is presented with the moral challenge of whether to stay loyal or to cooperate with the police.  Eventually, Holly Martins receives irrefutable proof of Harry Lime’s despicable criminal activities that have harmed innocent children.  Holly Martins wrestles with his conscience and decides to assist the authorities, delivering the coup de grace himself when Harry Lime is a wounded, cornered fugitive who is still armed and dangerous. 

But not everyone learns their lesson.  Harry Lime’s girlfriend, Anna, remains loyal to Harry Lime, even risking her own freedom to save her boyfriend, who cares nothing for her safety.  At the end of the film, when Harry Lime is dead, she remains loyal to her memory of the criminal whom she loved. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: The Third Man meaning, The Third Man themes, The Third Man analysis, The Third Man notes