The world of film noir is peopled with melancholy men trying to do the right thing, even when they don't quite know what the right thing is. Always -- always -- they fall for the wrong girl. Joseph Cotten's Holly Martins -- the highly principled, if confused, heart of Carol Reed's exquisite 1949 The Third Man -- may be the ultimate noir hero, somber and honorable and painfully blinkered when it comes to the darker shades of human behavior. The Third Man was written by Graham Greene, no slouch when it comes to crises of conscience, and Cotten, with those eyes the color of question marks, is the finest leading man he could have asked for.
The Third Man is a movie of sobering pleasures. It has often been lauded, rightly, as one of the most beautifully shot film noirs, as you can see for yourself now that it has been digitally restored by Rialto. Reed and cinematographer Robert Krasker experimented, mischievously, with lots of tilted camera angles, but the movie is even more memorable for the lush, silky texture of its black-and-white images, for Reed's canny sense of framing, and for its recurring shots of nighttime streets that appear to be coated with moonlight.
The glorious look of The Third Man serves another purpose: It gives one of its supporting players, Orson Welles, one of the greatest entrances in movie history. Welles plays raconteur and mystery man Harry Lime, and through much of the film, we believe him to be dead. When this shape-shifter makes his first appearance, even we begin to have our doubts about how bad he might be.