This is a review of the first BD release of "The Third Man" not to be Region A locked, coming after Criterion's Region A locked transfer which is now out of print after their rights to the title expired and were subsequently bought up by Studio Canal.
I have not seen Criterion's BD, but having compared still screenshots from the Criterion release, I must admit that thís version does appear inferior, but not vastly so. Generally the image quality is very good for a 61 year old film. Close-ups are often very richly detailed, showing texture, sharpness and well balanced b/w tones. Welles's agonised face seeking a way out in the sewer, Valli lying in bed before her re-arrest and many shots of Cotten digesting new revelations are the stuff of HD dreams. But some mid-range shots are a little disappointing, particularly bright outdoor shots (e.g. some graveyard scenes) where the contrast is a little wonky and there is some unsettling image softness, which occasionally looks as though some DNR might have been applied. That is not to say that the film is grain-free, and the grain that is present is never likely to offend any but the most sensitive.
The best news is that the most iconic scenes seem to have come out of this transfer best: Harry Lime appearing in the doorway, the ferris wheel scenes, and the sewer chase all look really rather splendid. The detail on the stones of the sewer interior is very impressive at times.
The worst news is that more detail clearly was possible. The texture of people's coats looks more detailed and real in Criterion shots. Those who have seen it report better contrasts and richer blacks; although the blacks in this version are actually quite solid, and the screenshots I have seen don't make it clear that contrasts are much better. But another issue is supposedly better treatment of print damage in the Criterion release. Here Studio Canal have left in cracks such as thin black vertical lines, which I noticed a few times in the film's final half hour. Quite frankly, I think I could have restored those fairly easily if I broke the discs's protection and loaded it into a video editor. This was lazy and sloppy on the part of Studio Canal.
On the audio front, there is little to complain about with a DTS HD Master Audio stereo track that conveys the dialogue, the iconic zither music and the relatively limited sound field very well indeed. Superbly balanced and crisp sounding for a film of this age. It is just a shame that they did not also offer the option of the original mono soundtrack. And, of course, the scene on the sewer where Lime considers his options with sounds coming from all angles makes you wonder whether a surround track would have been a worthwhile option - Disney, after all, manage it with much older films.
Extras are pretty good, although less generous than with Criterion. One gripe is that the alternative opening monologue scene (spoken by Cotten) is artificially stretched to widescreen, unlike the rest of the film which is presented in the correct OAR of 4:3. It also irritated me that the packaging seems so cheap. It is a book-style packet, and the rear info sheet is a piece of paper which has been glued onto the book's back cover and hangs loose!
All in all, this is a good transfer of "The Third Man", but Criterion showed how to do it better. Canal should have paid to use their transfer since they were incapable of matching or surpassing it. Perfectionists (rich perfectionists) might consider getting the Criterion release. But as an out-of-print title, this is now very expensive, and if you need a Region A/Region free machine too, then like myself you might decide to settle for the second-best "Third Man".
Just a little grudgingly recommended :-)