The Third Man - Thriller in Post-War Vienna


Holly Martins, an American writer of bad cowboy stories arrived in Vienna one cold morning in February. It was shortly after World War II. Vienna was in ruins and occupied by the four Allied powers, the Americans, the Russians, the British and the French. Holly Martins had been invited to Vienna by an old friend, Harry Lime, and so he was surprised that Harry was not there to meet him. When Holly went to Harry's flat he found out that his friend had been hit and killed by a truck as he was crossing the street.

The funeral was taking place that afternoon so Holly went to the cemetery. There were very few people present. A beautiful dark-haired woman was the only one of them who looked worried. After the funeral, Major Calloway, a British military policeman, told Holly that his friend Harry had been a criminal involved in illegal business but Holly did not believe him. Back at his hotel, Holly met a man who mistook him for a famous American novelist and asked him to give a lecture. Holly accepted, because this would give him a chance to stay in Vienna for a few more days and find out what really happened to Harry.

The next day, Holly began his search. He first met an Austrian friend of Harry's called Kurtz. Kurtz described how he and another man, Popescu, had carried Harry's body to a square after the accident. Before he died, Harry had asked Kurtz to look after Holly and Anna. This surprised Holly because Calloway had told him that Harry’s death had been very sudden. Holly asked Kurtz about the woman at the cemetery. She was Harry's girlfriend, Anna Schmidt, an actress.

That evening, Holly met Anna and she told him more about the accident. Harry's doctor, Dr Winkel, had been passing by and had certified his death. The driver of the truck had been Harry's own driver. In fact, there had been no strangers there at all. Holly began to think that it might not have been an accident at all. The porter of Harry's flat then gave Anna and Holly another version. Harry had died immediately and three men had carried the body. So who was this mysterious "third man" ?


When they got back to Anna's flat, Calloway was there and arrested Anna because her papers were forged. Holly told Calloway what he had learned about Harry's death but Calloway told him to "leave death to the professionals" and go home. However, Harry decided to find out the truth. He talked to Dr Winkel and Popescu, Harry's Romanian friend. Popescu denied that there had been a "third man" involved in the accident.

When Holly went back to the scene of the accident, the porter said, "I'd like to tell you something ... come to my place tonight". But when he and Anna went to see the porter that night, they found that he had been murdered. The porter’s son accused Holly of being the murderer. Anna and Holly had to escape and after hiding in a cinema Holly finally got back to his hotel to find a taxi driver waiting to take him to his evening lecture.

Holly's lecture was so terrible that most people left before it was over, but Popescu stayed there. He asked Holly questions about his new novel. Holly said that it was a murder story; it was based on fact and called "The Third Man". After escaping from Popescu and two other men Holly went to police headquarters. Calloway told Holly in detail about Harry's crimes. He had sold diluted penicillin that had caused the deaths of thousands of innocent victims, especially children. Holly was finally convinced and decided to leave Vienna.

He went to say goodbye to Anna and suddenly saw a man standing in a door on the other side of the street. It was Harry Lime! He called out his name but Harry mysteriously disappeared. Holly rang Calloway and they found out that Harry had escaped underground into Vienna's sewers. Holly spoke to Kurtz and Winkel and told them to organize a meeting with Harry. The two friends met at last on the big wheel in the Prater amusement park. Harry showed no regrets for the crimes he had committed and even threatened to kill his old friend Holly. After that, Holly agreed to help Calloway catch Harry.


They decided to use Holly to set up a trap. She was supposed to meet Harry in a cafe which Calloway and his men had surrounded. Anna came in and tried to warn Harry but it was too late. Harry pulled out his gun to kill Holly but the police came in. Harry escaped and disappeared underground. Calloway , his men and Holly followed him into the sewage system of Vienna. Suddenly there were shots. Cornered like a rat and badly wounded Harry tried to go up a ladder and out of the sewer. Holly saw his friend and went after him. When Harry pulled the gun on his friend Holly shot him.

Before he left Vienna, Holly went to his friend's second funeral. There were even fewer people than at the first one. Afterwards, Holly tried to talk to Anna but she ignored him and walked away.





  • accept = to say yes
  • accuse = to blame someone for doing something
  • amusement park = large park with roller coasters, rides , merry-go-rounds and other attractions
  • arrest = to take to a police station because the police think that a person has done something against the law
  • cemetery = piece of land on which dead people are buried
  • certify = to say that something is true
  • convinced = sure, certain
  • corner = to force a person into a situation from which they cannot escape
  • dilute = to make thinner
  • disappear = go away, not to be seen again
  • escape = to get away from
  • especially = above all
  • flat = apartment
  • forge = to illegally copy something
  • funeral = to bury someone who has died
  • illegal = against the law
  • immediately = at once
  • innocent = here: to get hurt even though you are not involved in something
  • involve = take part in
  • lecture = speech
  • mistake = to wrongly think that you are a certain person, but you are not
  • occupy = here: to be controlled by
  • penicillin = type of medicine that is used to treat infections
  • police headquarters = the main office of the police
  • porter = here: someone whose job it is to look after a building
  • regret = to be sorry
  • ruins = to be completely destroyed
  • sewage system , sewer= passage under the ground that carries away waste material and water from houses or factories
  • square = larger area in a city
  • sudden = without warning
  • surround = to be all around
  • trap = clever trick to catch someone
  • victim = here: person who gets hurt or is killed
  • wounded = hurt