EVERYONE THINKS of The Third Man as an Orson Welles movie—despite the fact Welles neither wrote nor directed it, and despite the fact he doesn't even show up until the film's already been rolling for a long stretch.
In true Welles style, once he does show up, he makes everyone else seem superfluous. As Harry Lime—an ostensibly dead expat in a Vienna that's rubbled and scarred from WWII—Welles is both sinister and mischievous, charming and menacing; all he needs to do to catch everyone off-guard, be they onscreen or in the theater, is give his brow an impish twist or take a quick step forward. Much of Lime's magnetism is thanks to Welles' remarkable performance, but part is also due to the fact that for much of their film, director Carol Reed and writer Graham Greene tell his story through rumor and suspicion, whispers and memories. The Third Man is unquestionably about Lime, but he's hardly the film's star; most of the time, we tag along with western writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), an American who's been flown to Vienna by his old pal Lime... only to find that Lime's supposedly dead, yet none of the accounts of his death match up.
Thanks to a slick 4K restoration, The Third Man probably hasn't looked this good since it was first released in 1949. As gripping as the story and characters are, (and as memorable as Anton Karas' sometimes jaunty, sometimes haunting zither score is), it's Robert Krasker's still-stunning black-and-white cinematography that benefits most from this restoration: ink-black shadows dart through twisted alleys and loom across buildings, ominous cobblestone streets pop with knobbly texture. Below, water rushes through labyrinthine sewers; above, Vienna's bombed-out buildings serve as crumbling graveyards in the midst of an otherwise intact city. Through all this mystery and broken grandeur and post-war bureaucracy run Lime, Martins, and more—and even if all that isn't enough, there's an adorable cat.