The Third Man (PG) <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Screened as part of the Carol Reed centenary at the National Film Theatre, this classic Graham Greene-scripted thriller seems not just a better film each time one sees it, but a funnier one. Set in the bleak, rubble-strewn streets of post-war Vienna, it follows Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), a writer of pulp Westerns, in search of his friend Harry Lime, allegedly killed in a road accident. Irked by the cool attitude of the military police, Martins begins his own investigation, during which he learns that Lime was the worst kind of black-market profiteer. His discovery is complicated by his attraction to Lime's actress girlfriend Anna (Alida Valli), who is still besotted with her late lover.

Greene torments his hero Martins, the hack writer caught up in a plot that even he wouldn't dare make up, and saves his most poignant humiliation until the very last shot (later borrowed by Robert Altman in The Long Goodbye). As for Orson Welles, his late appearance as Lime is comparable only to Marlon Brando's in Apocalypse Now, and his smirk on first being spied in a doorway is an iconic movie moment.

Reed's evocation of Vienna is wonderfully abetted by the cinematographer Robert Krasker, whose skewed angles and chiaroscuro lighting lend the city a spooked, fairground desolation. And Anton Karas's famous zither score contrives to be at once jaunty and ominous, answering the tone of Greene's screenplay precisely.

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