The Third Man Theme, also known as The Harry Lime Theme, was written by Anton Karas and was used as the sound track for the film The Third Man.
Karas was working as a zither player when director Carol Reed, during location scouting for the film, heard him playing in a beer garden. Reed wanted music that wasn’t a waltz but would be appropriate to the city of Vienna, in which the film was set, so he asked Karas if he would write and record the film’s score. Karas agreed, and he wrote the theme based on a melody in a practice book. The zither had not previously been widely used in English or American music, but the theme became popular with audiences of the film soon after its premiere.
The tune was originally released in the U.K. in 1949, where it was known as ‘The “Harry Lime” Theme.’ Following its release in the U.S. in 1950, “The Third Man Theme” spent eleven weeks at number one on Billboard’s U.S. Best Sellers in Stores chart, from April 29 to July 8. Its success led to a trend in releasing film theme music as singles.
A guitar version by Guy Lombardo also sold strongly. Four other versions charted in the U.S. during 1950. According to Faber and Faber, the different versions of the theme have collectively sold an estimated forty million copies.
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