This lovely film noir is set in post-war Vienna when it was separated into four zones: British, US, German, French. Each country has their zone, but the center of the city is International, where all four nations are represented.
Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) is a novelist who comes from America and arrives to stay in Vienna with his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) who had offered him a job. He gets to Lime’s place only to find that Lime was killed in an auto-pedestrian accident in front of the building. He goes immediately to the cemetery in time for the funeral.
He meets Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) who suggests Martins should get on the first plane out of town which would be the next day. He also meets a fan, Sergeant Paine (played by Bernard Lee who became famous for his role as M in the James Bond films), who has read several of Martins’ novels. Martins gets crabby with Major Calloway partly because of his drunken state and partly because there isn’t anyone to blame for his friend’s death. Martins decides to find out more information on his own. The Major wonders aloud if he’s taking on this task because he’s a writer.
The British Sergeant introduces Martins to a British man named Crabbin played by Wilfrid Hyde-White (who also played Colonel Pickering in My Fair Lady). Crabbin wants Martins to speak to a local group later in the week about his being an author, but Martins can’t because he’s supposed to leave town. Martins told him he was planning to stay at Lime’s place, but Lime died. Crabbin said, “Goodness, that’s awkward.” Great line.
Everyone except Crabbin thinks he should go home. However, Martins gets deeply involved in a dangerous mess. Just like his Western novels, the mystery has clues, and Martins wants to follow them to find out what really happened to his friend Harry.
This film won Robert Krasker an Oscar for Best Cinematography, Black and White. It was also nominated for Best Director (Carol Reed) and Best Film Editing.
Zither music added to the ambiance of the movie, making the mystery that much more enjoyable. The key to the movie’s success wasn’t the music or Orson Welles’ acting (he was only onscreen a short time). It was the writing. The screenplay by Graham Greene was very well done.