The Third Man (1949)
Directed by Carol Reed

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Shortly after the end of the Second World War, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), a writer of Western novels, arrives in Vienna at the invitation of his old friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). There he learns that Harry has recently been killed in a mysterious accident and decides to find out more about his friend's demise. Holly's subsequent investigations bring him into contact with Harry's former girlfriend, Anna (Alida Valli), and reveal both inconsistencies in the story he was told about the accident and hints that Harry had been involved in selling contraband.

Carol Reed's The Third Man is a skilfully made, often thrilling, and consistently engaging film.

The story the director tells is always well crafted. Not only are his characters involving, but their troubles and actions are as well. The moviegoer is thus made to sorrow for Anna, who has both lost the man she loves and is threatened by the authorities with deportation to Czechoslovakia, and is fascinated by each of the twists of Holly's investigation, which exposes layer after layer of deception and intrigue.

Having questioned the circumstances of Harry's apparent death, Holly eventually comes to wonder whether his friend may not still be alive. Unfortunately, he is also presented with evidence that makes him realize that he may know less about that man's character than he initially believed he did. Over time, Holly meets several of Harry's disreputable acquaintances, learns about certain unsavory activities in which these men may have been involved, and even sees how Harry has brought many persons severe pain. He, nonetheless, doggedly continues his inquiry, which is, thanks to the facts it uncovers, always enthralling

Happily, the movie is as appealing visually as it is narratively. With its oppressive shadows, empty streets, and numerous ruined buildings, the director's vision of Vienna brings to life a city that is barely surviving, a place that is still so deeply affected by the devastation of war that a ruthless man can there find many individuals ready to be exploited. Reed, moreover, suffuses this dire world he has conjured up with poignant, nearly tangible feelings of anxiety and danger. Half revealing characters lurking in shadows and often filming events at an angle, so that the whole of the movie's universe seems askew, the director has created one of the best realizations of excitement I have encountered in cinema.

While I will not claim that the film ever rises to brilliance, The Third Man is a genuinely captivating mystery.

Review by Keith Allen

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