The Third Man (1949)

An American abroad in post-war Vienna pursues his missing friend down a rabbit hole of intrigue and moral corruption in Carol Reed’s masterpiece of European noir.

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“The Third Man knows that there is no such thing as a comprehensive outlook on the world and that there is more which is secret and indefinable in people (and places) than is open and intelligible.”
Rob White, The Third Man, 2003

Director Carol Reed outdid himself with this noirish thriller set against a Europe physically and morally devastated by war. Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) – an American writer of cowboy stories – comes to Vienna to visit his old pal Harry Lime, only to be told he has died. Encountering a British military policeman (Trevor Howard) and Lime’s girlfriend (Alida Valli), Martins is forced to reassess both his friend and his own world view.

The Third Man is a consummate production, from Graham Greene’s witty, disturbing screenplay to Robert Krasker’s evocatively skewed photography and Anton Karas’ unforgettable zither score. But, despite his minimal screen time, Orson Welles’ amoral Harry Lime steals the show – thanks partly to the famous ‘cuckoo clock’ speech penned by Welles himself.

Reed and Greene had previously collaborated on The Fallen Idol (1947), while real-life buddies Welles and Cotten portrayed another curdled friendship in Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941).

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