Film review: The Third Man (PG, 104 mins)

Orson Welles in The Third Man
Orson Welles in The Third Man

Shades of grey conceal Harry’s wicked game

A welcome reissue of Carol Reed’s still stunning 1949 evocation of Graham Greene at his masterful darkest, in which failed novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives in Vienna to meet his good chum, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), only to find the poor chap dead as a doornail and his reputation besmirched by vile allegations.

Determined to clear his pal’s good name, Holly ignores the advice of two British Army police officers – Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) and Sergeant Paine (Bernard Lee) – to hunt down the elusive ‘third man’ spotted at the scene of the crime.

In the process, Holly becomes entangled in a bleak web of murder and intrigue that puts his own pulp fictions to shame.

Beautifully shot in stark monochrome, Reed’s psychological noir is now regarded as one the greatest films of all time.

Notable, too, is the film’s unique score, played and composed entirely on the zither of hitherto unknown Viennese musician Anton Karas. As film critic Roger Ebert said: “Has there ever been a film where the music more perfectly suited the action than The Third Man?”

Tightly plotted and expertly acted, The Third Man is a masterclass in sustained tension that puts most modern thrillers to shame.

They don’t make ‘em like they used to.

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Star rating: 9.5/10