Viewing of “The Third Man”: Austria and history at UNO


Vinicio Hernandez, News Editor

On Thursday, 19 Sept., in collaboration with UNO’s Phi Alpha Theta chapter, a national graduate and undergraduate honor society dedicated to the promotion and study of History, UNO Center Austria offered a showing of the 1949 British noir classic The Third Man. The film, directed by Carol Reed and written by English novelist Graham Greene, was shown in the auditorium of the Liberal Arts building at 5 p.m. Presented by Dr. Günter J. Bischof, Austrian native, Marshall Plan Professor of History and Director of UNO’s Center Austria, The Third Man was filmed in Vienna while still reconstructing from the devastation caused by conflicts of the Second World War. 


Featuring innovative cinematographic techniques such as the “Dutch angle,” in which the camera is off-set by a few degrees, harsh lighting and black-and-white expressionistic coloring, the film was voted by the British Film Institute in 1999 as the greatest British film of all time. Before the showing of the film, Dr. Bischof gave a brief lecture concerning Vienna’s foreign occupation in the 1940s. He stood beside an Austrian exchange student holding up an annotated map of Vienna which sits in his office. “Austria used to be a large empire until the First World War,” Dr. Bischof explained. 


Following this, Austria struggled to establish a “firm identity”; some Austrians wanted to become a part of Germany, while others still maintained movements for independence, which would come as the 1930s rolled around. As central Europe was occupied by the foreign powers, Vienna sat in the Soviet sector, in the north by the River Danube. Comparing Vienna’s occupation to that of Berlin, both Austria and Germany were divided as a country, further divided at their capitals. Vienna hosted American, British, French and Soviet forces within its borders, though its capital building, unlike Berlin, was shared among the four powers in the first sector, itself controlled mainly by the Soviets. 


“[Vienna] was a gloomy place at the time,” Dr. Bischof remarked. The Austrians had to endure many different kinds of people running about their territory. Among these were British Intelligence operatives such as Graham Greene, who in composing the screenplay for the film utilised his intimate knowledge of the Viennese landscape and culture to accurately adapt the film’s setting. From the untranslated German scattered about the film, the shared police duties of the four foreign occupants, and the importance of Vienna’s underground system of sewage tunnels, the film lingers with an impression of 1940s Vienna so closely the viewer is left feeling nearly disoriented, as lost and aimless as the American novel uncovering what became of his childhood friend. The Third Man brought Vienna to the attention of the world, and in the country currently there stands a museum dedicated to artifacts and special collections surrounding the film and its creation.


The film event, organized by Phi Alpha Theta Dr. Robert Dupont ([email protected]), featured complimentary refreshments and was attended by 25 students. The Phi Alpha Theta offers film showings, every three weeks, of cinema of historical and cultural significance. The UNO Center Vienna can be found as part of the International Center on campus.