The Third Man Review

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A writer heads to Vienna to clear his dead friends name. But not all is as it seems...


Carol Reed's cult 40's thriller continues to unnerve audiences over 50 years later. It is a masterclass in atmosphere and style but also manages to haunt on many levels.

Down-on-his-luck pulp writer Holly Martins (Cotten) arrives broke in Allied-occupied Vienna at the invitation of his dear old pal Harry Lime (Welles), only to find Harry has been killed in an accident. When brisk British policeman Major Calloway (Howard) informs him that Harry was a notorious racketeer, the indignant Holly decides to clear his friend's name. As soon as he starts questioning Harry's weasly associates and hopeless refugee lover Anna (Valli), he's struck by some baffling inconsistencies in their stories. So he undertakes a quest through the seedy post-war city seeking the unknown "third man" at the scene of Harry's accident.

Holly is a character of naive persistence, unprepared for Greene's bleak trail of false identities, foul deeds and poisoned penicillin, so you fear with him as he's chasing and being chased through cobbled streets, bomb rubble and, most stunningly, the city's cavernous sewers. Welles appears just three times (and speaks only in the classic fairground scene) but his presence dominates - Reed acknowledged the charismatic Welles influenced the film's saturnine tone.

For his part, Reed's talent for catching detail and character subtleties found its richest expression, abetted by Robert Krasker's brilliant photography, and immortalised in the appearance of Harry in a doorway, fleetingly caught in the light from an upstairs window.

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This will haunt you. The style, the plot, the character and of course ...that tune...