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.
“A film of shrewdly chosen detail, with even the smallest bit-part perfectly cast. Welles doesn’t even appear until more than an hour in and is on screen for barely 15 minutes, but his spirit dominates the action. It’s aptly set (and shot) in the shattered city of Vienna, its professional charm worn perilously thin, its once grand buildings now shabby and tottering. Anton Karas’s solo zither score vividly captures the wheedling, brittle mood of the defeated city.” Philip Kemp