A writer is shocked to learn his best friend has been killed in
postwar Vienna, but something about his death doesn't add up.
The Third Man (1949)
Directed by Carol Reed
Written by Graham Greene
Starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles,
Trevor Howard, Ernst Deutsch, Bernard Lee
Oscar Wins - Best Cinematography
Oscar Nominations - Best Director, Best Film Editing
The Third Man is a staple of 1940s film noir. Some critics even consider it to be the definitive masterpiece of the genre. And there's certainly an argument to be made there. It's a strong, precise film that knows exactly what it is and what kind of story it wants to tell. A quick, even pace that's determined to keep the audience invested, providing just the right amount of sudden shock from time to time. Plus, the film basically amounts to a battle of wills between Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles over who is going to steal the movie. Spoiler alert. It's entirely up to you.
A writer of trashy western novels named Holly Martins (Cotten) travels to post-World War II Vienna, Austria to take a job offer from an old friend named Harry Lime (Welles). Austria has seen better days, as it's divided between British, Russian, French, and American occupying forces. Plus, when Holly arrives, he learns that Harry was killed in a car accident earlier that day. Of course, once he asks around, he learns that Harry was not who he appeared to be, and his death may not have been accidental. This drops Holly into a spiderweb of lies and deceit in which he learns that not only did Harry fake his own death, but he's a dangerous criminal as well. Once Orson shows up, the film turns into something different. Plus, the odd, Hawaiian-esque score that's reminiscent of SpongeBob SquarePants will keep you completely mesmerized the whole time.
I totally get why film critics from the past seventy years have doted on this movie. It's a testament to the strength and resilience of film noir, a genre that has all but vanished apart from films that contain mere echoes of it. The Third Man is a great place to start if you're interested in digging into film noir.