The Third Man is a 1949 British film noir directed by Carol Reed, written by Graham Greene, and starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard. Set in postwar Vienna, the film centers on American Holly Martins (Cotten), who arrives in the city to accept a job with his friend Harry Lime (Welles), only to learn that Lime has died. Viewing his death as suspicious, Martins elects to stay in Vienna and investigate the matter.
The atmospheric use of black-and-white expressionist cinematography by Robert Krasker, with harsh lighting and distorted “Dutch angle” camera technique, is a major feature of The Third Man. Combined with the iconic theme music, seedy locations and acclaimed performances from the cast, the style evokes the atmosphere of an exhausted, cynical post-war Vienna at the start of the Cold War.
Greene wrote the novella of the same name as preparation for the screenplay. Anton Karas wrote and performed the score, which featured only the zither. The title music “The Third Man Theme” topped the international music charts in 1950, bringing the previously unknown performer international fame; the theme would also inspire Nino Rota’s principal melody in La Dolce Vita (1960). The Third Man is considered one of the greatest films of all time, celebrated for its acting, musical score and atmospheric cinematography.
In 1999, the British Film Institute voted The Third Man the greatest British film of all time. In 2011 a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine saw it ranked the second best British film ever.