The Third Man is the exciting and suspenseful European response to film noir, a genre often associated with America. Its visuals and narrative follow what we have come to expect from your typical noir, but its thematic content and musical score are distinctly European.
We follow our hero, an American, through a (supposed) murder mystery of his former friend in the heart of Vienna. This is a bleak vision of Vienna, physically and emotionally destroyed from World War II and still recovering. Four powers hold jurisdiction over this territory, and everyone is always stepping on someone else’s toes.
The European theme is further strengthened through, interestingly enough, its American protagonist; he is a picture of American exceptionalism gone too far, interfering with others’ affairs despite their constant warnings for him to stay away.
This is a surprisingly efficient film, packing in a lot of plot for just a 100-minute run time. The fast pacing keeps us engaged and fully immersed in the action taking place. Surprises and big reveals work effectively, as we know only as much as our hero (again, back to typical noir). The Third Man strikes a wonderful balance between European intellectual film and the excitement of an American noir.