zither and yon
August 25, 2015 9:00 PM   Subscribe

Many of you have undoubtedly seen at some time or another the legendary film noir masterpiece The Third Man. The theme song from the film is every bit as famous as the film itself, perhaps even more so. Here's Anton Karas, the original composer of the charming and memorable little tune, playing the Theme from the Third Man, on zither.
posted by flapjax at midnite (23 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
And by the way, ever heard The Band's version? Delightful! Here it is.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:04 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

"he'll have you in a dither with his zither!" - enthused zither-centric
Third Man trailer
posted by Artw at 9:06 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

And for years now the theme has been used in Yebisu beer commercials. It is also heard on the train platforms as the station theme as trains enter Tokyo's Ebisu Station, on the Yamanote line.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:10 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'd be delighted to discover any other covers you may know of: please post them in this thread!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:11 PM on August 25, 2015

I never knew Vienna before the war.... I love how the theme is so playful during the movie.. sometimes it sounds so nervy and dark, and other times it's this hilarious punchline. I'm looking forward to seeing it again on the big screen this fall.
posted by balmore at 12:38 AM on August 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Watching that, it feels like you need about sixteen fingers to play the zither successfully. Very skilled.

I've always wondered if 'Goodnight Vienna' by LFO (familiar to anyone who's seen a film from Optimum Releasing) uses samples from the zither music of 'The Third Man', and never been able to find out.
posted by along came the crocodile at 1:02 AM on August 26, 2015

I remember an old teacher who whistled this incessantly in the hallways. That being said, how close is the Curb Your Enthusiasm intro music to this?
posted by Sphinx at 1:20 AM on August 26, 2015

The Shadows' version
posted by iotic at 1:36 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

And here's The Beatles

From the "Get Back" rehearsals in 1969?
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:44 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

"The Third Man" is my favorite all time movie. I have no idea why, I just love it. The zither music must have something to do with it.

If you ever go to Vienna, make sure you take the Third Man tour. I'm sure they still do it.
posted by james33 at 3:22 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I never considered The Third Man to be a film noir.
posted by fairmettle at 3:27 AM on August 26, 2015

Here's one for you, flapjax. Al Caiola's take on it from 1965 is fairly decent: jump to 8:57.
posted by On the Corner at 3:39 AM on August 26, 2015

I just saw this in a theater in my city. Awesome to view on the big screen.
posted by glaucon at 5:30 AM on August 26, 2015

I never considered The Third Man to be a film noir.

That battle is probably lost -- popularly, any crime drama from the era with high-contrast black-and-white photography is lumped in with noir -- but I hear you. The Third Man is missing a lot of core noir characteristics. For one thing, there's no femme fatale. For another, the ending is too happy: the detective protagonist makes it out alive and the notorious scoundrel meets his maker. It's a great film, but it's probably most interesting as noir when you consider its departures from other films in the style.
posted by Mothlight at 5:36 AM on August 26, 2015

Well, the scoundrel dies, but no one treats this as a terribly good thing, and the protagonist and female lead end the movie broken. That's kind of in keeping with the noir spirit.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 5:50 AM on August 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I too just saw the 4k restoration on the big screen. Thanks, Alamo Drafthouse!

First time viewing it, and recommend it wholeheartedly, even/especially as the author of this skeptical-sounding Ask on how older movies are so often slow and boring to me.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:02 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Tijuana Brass version was a big hit when I was a kid. Oh yeah!!

Here's a 1994 line-up of the Ventures (in Japan, natch) -- with Bob Bogle back on lead -- playing a medley with The Harry Lime theme worked in between "Shanghaied" and "The Work Song" among others.

I thought I remembered the Ventures doing this tune on an album, but I'm zithered if I can find it.
posted by Herodios at 6:36 AM on August 26, 2015

Karas was an interesting guy; he genuinely had no interest in fame and fortune. Wikipedia:
Reed, desperately searching for a theme tune ... chanced on the tavern in Vienna's Grinzing wine-growing district. Struck by the simple zither melodies, Reed asked a stunned Karas if he would compose the music for the film. Karas protested, saying he had never actually written music. As Karas later told the story, the director insisted and invited Karas to England. The Austrian became homesick and asked to be allowed to return. Reed told him he could—as soon as he had written the music. Under this pressure Karas wrote his Harry Lime theme. [...]

Karas, however, disliked all of the glamour, and his soundtrack proved to be an enduring one-hit wonder. He later stated, "I never was a star, and never felt like one. It is because of that film that I was pushed from one place to the other ... My only desire was to be back home again." [...]

In 1954, he opened his own Heuriger, which immediately was fashionable among cinema celebrities including Orson Welles, Gina Lollobrigida, Curd Jürgens, Hans Moser, Paul Hörbiger, Marika Rökk and Johannes Heesters, thereby becoming a tourist attraction. However, he was still not satisfied, as he would have preferred to perform for locals who would understand him, his language and music. Because of this, he retired and retreated from the limelight in 1966, explaining, "I'm not a tourist guy, and what I did there had hardly anything to do with 'Vienna Heuriger'."
posted by languagehat at 7:23 AM on August 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

A word to the wise: if you listen to more than one rendition of the Third Man theme song, you will not be able to get it out of your head. One may do it, but two or more—guaranteed. You have been warned.
posted by languagehat at 9:00 AM on August 26, 2015

I like this version from Andre Rieu, who I think of as a cross between Victor Borge, Lawrence Welk, and Ted Danson.

And if you're as fascinated by the zither, you might find Lotte Landl charming.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:36 PM on August 26, 2015

If anyone finds a GCEA ukulele tab, let me know. I could only find the Third Man theme in the other tuning.

Does anyone remember when WSBK would show this late at night, before they shut down the station? I had terrible insomnia as a kid, and this was always on when I would inevitably wake up at some ungodly hour. Watching it always made me feel like a grown-ass adult.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:55 PM on August 26, 2015

Because of this, he retired and retreated from the limelight in 1966 ...

I see what you did there, Wikipedia editor.
posted by iotic at 7:30 AM on August 27, 2015

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