Noir To The Core
According to the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), 1949’s The Third Man is the only non-American film to have made the American Film Institute’s top 100 films of all time, and ranks number one in the British Film Institute’s BFI 100, a similar list compiled in 1999. The Third Man was not only well-regarded decades after its release, but was a commercial and critical success in its own era. Shot in black and white, and set on location in the ruined post-war city of Vienna, the film explores conspiratorial themes alongside a well-paced espionage narrative. The film is an excellent example of visuals both perfectly serving the narrative and atmosphere and at the same time alluding to something more. The film’s genius is in its success at playing out its themes using each mode of cinematic expression (story, image, sound).
Directed by Carol Reed in 1949 from a novel by Graham Greene, the film deals with an American writer, Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotten), who arrives in Vienna to meet a friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), only to discover him dead. Holly searches Vienna for clues to the death and is unable to find the third witness to the event. He eventually learns that the third man was Lime - who had another man killed in his place, and is alive and successful as a black marketeer.
As Holly Martins, Joseph Cotten shows a strong sense of morality, justice, and loyalty; he ends up struggling to make the right decision in a constantly changing situation. Even in this ambiguous situation, Martins acts readily on his moral sense, making him a predictable but volatile character. Trevor Howard as Major Callaway makes a good counterpoint for Cotten. He shows a strong morality himself, yet he's not above manipulating Martins into helping him. The film steadily constructs a curious picture of the missing Lime through the comments of those who knew him. It is important to note that Lime doesn't make his appearance on screen until halfway through...