Pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) travels to post-World War II Vienna at the behest of his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles), seeking to change his fortunes only to find that the friend who was going to help him has been killed in an accident. Martins’ pulp novelist side takes over and he begins to dig deeper into his friend’s death, finding out a lot that he wished he’d never learned.
This classic film noir offering is made all the more powerful by the views of war-torn Vienna. The gutted landscape and buildings offer a contrasted backdrop that couldn’t portray the two faces of the film any better. There’s some of the usual pulp with strange camera angles and over/under lit scenes and sets, but it all works well to build the suspense before what is a fairly obvious twist. The real darkness isn’t even Harry’s fate, but his dabbling in the grey areas of law and morality. You will find yourself both loving and loathing the same characters from one part of the film to the next – showing a depth to even some of the secondary characters that is all too often lacking.
For fans of the film noir genre, this is a must see. The same can be said of students of film or anyone looking for a good mystery.