The Third Man is first and foremost a masterly work of cinematography. Inspiring is one word to describe the variety of shots and its effects. Second is that it is a good story teller, a well written, unpredictable mystery with romance.
When Holly (Joseph Cotton) arrives in post war Austria, he is shocked and saddened to hear that his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) is deceased. They were supposed to meet and discuss a job offer. But Holly is suspicious. Harry is said to have been hit by a truck while crossing the street. So why do witnesses claim that a third man was present at the scene while authorities choose to report only two? Inadvertently this supplies Harry with material for a new novel. Harry’s an acclaimed writer and this tale of death and suspicion is alluring as it is personal. Standing in his way are the police(Trevor Howard) who prefer that he stop interfering with the case and leave Vienna instead. Plus a lady(Alida Valli) whom he falls for is Harry’s former lover.
Directed by Carol Reed and from a screenplay by Graham Greene, The Third Man opens with a musical string melody, almost upbeat. Little known upon first viewing how different its tone is from the story. Narrative wise it will keep you thinking about where it’s headed for. There are big reveals. Sometimes to get to the truth, Holly places himself in risky situations and finds himself running for dear life. This allows the films camerawork (shot in black and white) by Robert Krasker to experiment with shot, shadows, and angles to give intriguing pictures. There are surprises, a memorable chase through the sewers, and a melancholy undertone when more somber subject matters are revealed. It happens in Allied-occupied Vienna, still beautiful even if many spots are damaged and in rubbles. But the scenery meshes well with lots of skill. Cinematography plays a key role in this production.