Written by Graham Greene, The Third Man was a 1949 film noir starring Joseph Cotten as a writer arriving in post-WWII Vienna only to find that his friend was killed in a car accident. After some inconsistencies with that story come to light, he starts to look deeper into the case.
A British production, Carol Reed's film is not your typical film noir with its unusually upbeat yet genuinely inspired zither-led score and the rarely seen broken Vienna setting offering a particularly atmospheric backdrop for the mystery to unfold. Joseph Cotten's Holly Martin is a likeable makeshift detective who wants to know the truth about what happened to his friend Harry Lime yet the closer he gets to figuring it all out, the darker his path becomes. Italian actress Alida Valli is very good as Lime's actress girlfriend Anna Schmidt who assists Holly on his search and Orson Welles almost steals the show when he shows up randomly near the end of the second act. The Third Man has some clever surprises, plenty of off-beat and dodgy side characters and it's never dull.
Robert Krasker's cinematography is one of the highlights of the film with the harsh lighting giving the bombed, empty streets of Vienna and the city's cavernous sewers a sinister, almost gothic feel. Every shot is beautifully crafted (yes, even the Dutch angles) and some key scenes are hard to forget from the tense final chase in the sewers to the big reveals the plot builds up to. Like Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, we keep hearing the name "Harry Lime" over and over throughout, so much so that we start to feel like we know the man but, in a bold move, the film then pulls the rug from under us and becomes something else entirely. This is a dark but also playful movie that purposely sets itself apart from your typical private detective, US-set film noir fare through its style and tone but works just as well, if not better than most other movies in that genre.
The Third Man is something of a must-see if you're a fan of film noir or cinema in general: the film looks fantastic and it tries some new things with a then over-familiar genre. The cast is flawless, the music is wacky (in a good way) and the story is masterfully told.