Some movies are merely good. Some movies are undeniably great. And then, a handful movies are so amazingly brilliant that, every time you watch, you’re reminded why you fell in love with cinema in the first place.
The Third Man is one of those brilliant films.
Directed by Carol Reed and scripted by novelist Graham Greene, The Third Man takes place in the years immediately following the end of World War II. Pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) comes to Vienna to search for his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Upon arriving, Holly is shocked to learn that Harry makes his living selling diluted penicillin on the black market.
In the classic scene below, Harry and Holly have a clandestine meeting in a Ferris wheel and Harry justifies both his actions and the lives that have been lost as a result of them.
While Orson Welles’ performance is (rightfully) celebrated, I’ve always felt that Joseph Cotten’s work was even more important to the film’s success. While Welles made Harry Lime into a charismatic and compelling villain, it was Cotten who provided the film with a heart.