Film Noir at it's best. A web of mystery and a begrimed adventure winds through shadow then light and back into shadow. An air of tension, ambiguity and corruption. Across a canvas of Vienna following WW2, American novelist Holly Martins, a pragmatist, innocent abroad, prances like a bull in search of veneer, only to find horrific meaning from the characters and the atmosphere of a bombed shell of a once great, yet now divided city. He came to see his friend, Harry Lime, a charismatic, charming friend who’s life seems to extend and captivate beyond his accidental death, but from the time Holly arrives he is being lead in search of Harry's ghost and is stabbing at shadows.
Then there's the girl. She loved Harry and she morns his allure. British Army Captain Calloway investigating Harry's death, finds Martins at Harry's funeral. He wants to know more but realizes Martins has nothing to offer. Martins is just a very ordinary guy getting mixed up in something so totally over his head, and Calloway wants him to leave Vienna before Martins succumbs to the danger of it all. However, as Martins learns more about Harry's death, certain inconsistencies begin to unravel. The story unwinds compelling him to stay and discover that truth and justice take on a greater meaning.
This is a great film with such atmosphere that old Vienna is a main character. And of course the ubiquitous zither music that never ceases. Fog, shadows, wet streets and underground tunnels are the background to this Graham Green fantasy. Well acted by Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Alida Valli and of course Orson Welles playing Harry Lime. Graham Green's great story and screenplay, Carol Reed directing at his finest and the best cinematography by Robert Krasker.
The most famous line in the film has the self-righteous Harry Lime try to rationalize his own evil.
“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed. They produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did they produce - the cuckoo clock.”
- Harry Lime (Orson Welles)
“The truth has never been of any real value to any human being - it is a symbol for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue. In human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.”
- Graham Green
"I started at the top and worked my way down."
- Orson Welles