The Third Man (1949)

Brief Intro

“The Third Man,” directed by Carol Reed, is a 1949 British film noir classic set in post-WWII Vienna. Written by Graham Greene, the film stars Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins, an American writer who arrives in Vienna to find his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) dead. As Martins investigates, he uncovers a web of deception, corruption, and intrigue.

Literary Devices Used in The Third Man

1. Irony

Movie SceneDevice Example
Harry Lime’s “death” sceneThe irony of Harry being thought dead but actually orchestrating the events.
Martins’ award speechMartins’ speech on integrity while unknowingly aiding a criminal.

2. Symbolism

Movie SceneDevice Example
The Ferris wheel sceneThe Ferris wheel symbolizes the cyclical nature of crime and justice.
Vienna’s ruined buildingsSymbolizes the moral decay and ruin post-war.

3. Foreshadowing

Movie SceneDevice Example
The porter hinting at Harry’s activitiesPorter’s reluctance foreshadows Harry’s sinister deeds.
Anna’s distress at seeing a catForeshadows the reveal of Harry’s survival.

4. Motif

Movie SceneDevice Example
Shadows and lightMotif of shadows representing moral ambiguity.
Repeated references to “third man”Motif of the unseen, unknown criminal presence.

5. Metaphor

Movie SceneDevice Example
The sewer chaseThe sewers metaphorically represent the underworld and corruption.
The zither musicRepresents the film’s unique atmosphere and tension.

6. Juxtaposition

Movie SceneDevice Example
Joyful zither music during tense scenesContrasts the cheerful sound with the grim visuals.
Innocence of children vs. adults’ corruptionScenes of children playing in war-torn Vienna.

7. Allegory

Movie SceneDevice Example
Harry’s speech about the BorgiasAllegory for how chaos can lead to greatness, questioning morality.
Post-war ViennaAllegory for the fractured European identity post-WWII.

8. Allusion

Movie SceneDevice Example
Harry Lime’s characterAlludes to Mephistopheles, representing temptation and evil.
References to wartime heroesAlludes to the thin line between heroism and villainy.

9. Paradox

Movie SceneDevice Example
Harry being a charming villainThe paradox of Harry being likable yet morally reprehensible.
The innocence of Anna vs. her complicityAnna’s love for Harry despite his crimes.

10. Hyperbole

Movie SceneDevice Example
Harry’s speech about the cuckoo clockExaggeration to illustrate his cynical worldview.
The dramatic sewer chaseHeightened drama to emphasize the climax’s intensity.

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Character Studies

Holly Martins

IronyHolly, an author of pulp Westerns, becomes a detective in a real crime, reflecting his transition from fiction to harsh reality.
ForeshadowingHis naivety is hinted at early on, setting up his eventual disillusionment.

Harry Lime

SymbolismHarry represents the corrupted soul of post-war Europe, charming yet morally bankrupt.
AllegoryHis character alludes to the Devil, tempting others into moral compromise.

Anna Schmidt

ParadoxAnna’s love for Harry despite knowing his crimes highlights the complexity of human emotions.
MetaphorHer character embodies the post-war trauma and longing for normalcy.

Major Calloway

JuxtapositionHis stern, military demeanor contrasts with Holly’s carefree attitude, highlighting the clash of idealism and pragmatism.
SymbolismRepresents law and order amidst chaos, a beacon of moral clarity.

Character Dynamics

Holly and Harry’s friendship drives the narrative, contrasting Holly’s moral journey with Harry’s moral decay. Anna’s relationship with Harry and Holly adds emotional depth, illustrating the theme of loyalty versus justice. Major Calloway’s interactions with Holly provide a realistic counterpoint to Holly’s idealism, grounding the story in the harsh realities of post-war Europe.

Thematic Analysis


SymbolismThe ruined cityscape of Vienna symbolizes the pervasive corruption.
IronyHarry’s charm and affability mask his corrupt actions.

Loyalty and Betrayal

ParadoxAnna’s loyalty to Harry despite his betrayal highlights the complexity of human relationships.
MotifRepeated instances of betrayal among characters emphasize this theme.

Moral Ambiguity

JuxtapositionContrasting light and shadow visuals symbolize moral ambiguity.
AllegoryHarry’s character serves as an allegory for the blurred lines between good and evil.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
SymbolismCinematography: Dutch anglesThe tilted camera angles reflect the disorientation and instability of post-war Vienna.
IronySound: Contrasting zither musicThe cheerful zither music contrasts with the dark themes and scenes, enhancing the ironic undertones.
ForeshadowingVisual: Shadows and lightingDeep shadows and strategic lighting hint at hidden truths and foreshadow events.
JuxtapositionEditing: Cross-cutting scenesAlternating between joyful and tense scenes underscores the contrast in the narrative.
AllegoryMise-en-scène: War-torn settingsThe settings themselves serve as an allegory for the fractured moral landscape.
MotifRepetition: “Third Man” referencesThe continual references to the “third man” motif reinforce the theme of the unseen and unknown.
MetaphorVisual: Sewer chaseThe labyrinthine sewers metaphorically represent the complex moral underworld.
ParadoxCharacter interaction: Holly and HarryTheir interactions reveal the paradox of their relationship—friendship juxtaposed with betrayal.
AllusionDialogue: Historical referencesReferences to wartime events and figures create a rich allusive texture, enhancing the narrative depth.
HyperboleAction: Dramatic sequencesExaggerated action sequences, like the sewer chase, heighten the drama and tension.

Key Scene Analysis

1. The Ferris Wheel Scene

  • YouTube Link: Ferris Wheel Scene
  • Breakdown: This iconic scene between Holly and Harry atop the Ferris wheel showcases their ideological clash. The height symbolizes their elevated moral debate, while Harry’s chilling indifference to human life (comparing people to dots from above) highlights his moral decay. The use of high-angle shots emphasizes Harry’s detached worldview, and the circular motion of the wheel represents the cyclical nature of their moral struggle.

2. The Sewer Chase Scene

  • YouTube Link: Sewer Chase Scene
  • Breakdown: The climactic chase through Vienna’s sewers is a masterclass in blending literary and cinematic techniques. The labyrinthine sewers serve as a metaphor for the moral complexity and the darkness of human nature. The intense, dramatic lighting and quick cuts build suspense, while the echoing sounds of footsteps and water create an immersive, tense atmosphere. The scene’s resolution in the sewers underscores the theme of moral descent.

3. The Opening Scene

  • YouTube Link: Opening Scene
  • Breakdown: The opening scene sets the tone for the entire film. The narration provides exposition and establishes the setting, while the visuals of war-torn Vienna immediately symbolize the film’s themes of destruction and decay. The use of zither music here introduces the ironic contrast that will persist throughout the film. This scene foreshadows the complex narrative and moral ambiguities to come.


To wrap up our in-depth analysis, let’s engage in a fun and interactive multiple-choice quiz to test your understanding of the literary devices used in “The Third Man.”

Interactive Quiz: Test Your Knowledge!

1. What does the Ferris wheel symbolize in the film?

  • A) Friendship
  • B) The cyclical nature of crime and justice
  • C) Childhood innocence
  • D) Economic disparity

2. How does the use of shadows and lighting contribute to the film’s themes?

  • A) It creates a romantic atmosphere
  • B) It symbolizes moral ambiguity
  • C) It highlights the beauty of Vienna
  • D) It emphasizes the film’s historical context

3. Which character is an allegory for the Devil?

  • A) Holly Martins
  • B) Anna Schmidt
  • C) Major Calloway
  • D) Harry Lime

4. What literary device is used when the cheerful zither music plays during tense scenes?

5. What do the ruined buildings in Vienna symbolize?

  • A) The city’s architectural history
  • B) The moral decay and ruin post-war
  • C) The resilience of the population
  • D) The economic struggles of the time


  1. B
  2. B
  3. D
  4. C
  5. B

Thanks for diving deep into “The Third Man” with us! 🎥🍿