In post-war Vienna writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) investigates the death of his close friend Harry Lime, who recently met his demise in a mysterious road accident.
This iconic noir features a remarkably nihilistic post-war Vienna. The people are disillusioned by the foreign police force, and in the deprivation of the era everyone is forced to exploit the black market to make money and acquire essential goods, making law enforcement near-impossible.
It’s this which is key to the underlying mystery. But in spite of the needy population, Welles’s character, a key player in the drama, is revealed to be not a Robin Hood type working under the radar to bring the people what they need, but an amoral profiteer, indifferent to those around him and out to make a quick buck. Martins is similarly aloof, investigating more because of duty than a desire to find the truth.
And yet the film is told with a sense of humour and irony, exemplified by its idiosyncratic soundtrack played entirely on the zither. Rather than creating suspense or gloom it adds a surprising levity and makes any scene from the film instantly recognisable. As a result, The Third Man is a first class film which gleefully shows a darker side of Vienna from the cakes and classical music of other films.
The emotional detachment means it’s not as compelling-a narrative as the superb Welles-starring A Touch of Evil, but there’s plenty to enjoy , including Carol Reed’s brilliant direction featuring pioneering lighting and camera techniques and iconic dialogue which continues to be memorable to this day.