The Third Man Theme

Written by Anton KarasUnreleased song

Related sessions

This song has been recorded during the following studio sessions

Other songs covered during January 3, 1969 session

Tea For Two Cha Cha

Unreleased song


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Adagio for Strings

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Torchy, The Battery Boy

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Blowin' In The Wind

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Hitch Hike

Unreleased song

Going Up the Country

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

“The Third Man Theme” (also known as “The Harry Lime Theme”) is an instrumental written and performed by Anton Karas for the soundtrack to the 1949 film The Third Man.


The Third Man is a 1949 British film noir, directed by Carol Reed. One night after a long day of filming The Third Man on location in Vienna, Reed and cast members Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Orson Welles had dinner and retired to a wine cellar. In the bistro, which retained the atmosphere of the pre-war days, they heard the zither music of Anton Karas, a 40-year-old musician who was playing there just for the tips. Reed immediately realized that this was the music he wanted for his film. Karas spoke only German, which no one in Reed’s party spoke, but fellow customers translated Reed’s offer to the musician that he compose and perform the soundtrack for The Third Man. Karas was reluctant since it meant traveling to England, but he finally accepted. Karas wrote and recorded the 40 minutes of music heard in The Third Man over a six-week period, after the entire film was translated for him at Shepperton Studios. 

The composition that became famous as “The Third Man Theme” had long been in Karas’s repertoire, but he had not played it in 15 years. “When you play in a café, nobody stops to listen,” Karas said. “This tune takes a lot out of your fingers. I prefer playing ‘Wien, Wien’, the sort of thing one can play all night while eating sausages at the same time.”

So prominent is “The Third Man Theme” that the image of its performance on the vibrating strings of the zither provides the background for the film’s main title sequence.

The full soundtrack album was ready for release when The Third Man came out, but there was not a lot of interest in it. Instead, labels focused on the catchy main theme and released it as a single. More than half a million copies of “The Third Man Theme” record were sold within weeks of the film’s release.  The tune was originally released in the UK in 1949, where it was known as “The Harry Lime Theme”. Following its release in the US in 1950, “The Third Man Theme” spent 11 weeks at number one on Billboard’s US Best Sellers in Stores chart, from April 29 to July 8. Its success led to a trend in releasing film theme music as singles.[citation needed] A guitar version by Guy Lombardo also sold strongly. Four other versions charted in the US during 1950. According to Faber and Faber, the different versions of the theme have collectively sold an estimated forty million copies.

The zither-based Anton Karas version excerpted from the film soundtrack was released by Decca in 1949 across Europe with different catalog numbers. It was a 10-inch 78 rpm single with “The Harry Lime theme” on the A side and “The Cafe Mozart Waltz” on the B side. This became the most common version heard by European listeners.

Karas also performed “The Third Man Theme” and other zither music for the 1951–1952 syndicated radio series The Adventures of Harry Lime, a Third Man prequel produced in London. Orson Welles reprised his role as Harry Lime.: 409  “Whenever he entered a restaurant in those years, the band would strike up Anton Karas’s “Third Man Theme”, wrote Welles biographer Joseph McBride. […]

On the second day of the “Get Back” sessions (January 3rd, 1969), The Beatles played a version of this song.


A/B Road Complete Get Back Sessions - Jan 3rd 1969 - 1 & 2

Unofficial album • Released in 2004

1:51 • Rehearsal • Jan.03 - D1-44 - The Third Man Theme 3.43

Session Recording:
Jan 03, 1969
Studio :
Twickenham Film Studios, London, UK

Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.


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