Holly Martins has the worst luck. The broke writer travels to Vienna shortly after the end of World War II because his best friend, Harry Lime, offers him a job. Within the opening minutes of director Carol Reed’s classic noir thriller The Third Man, Martins walks under a ladder – a harbinger of bad luck – and soon learns that a car struck and killed Lime a few days earlier. Martins is now adrift in a foreign land with no money and no prospects, but things are about to get much worse. Major Calloway, a British officer who is part of the post-war occupying force in Vienna, tells Martins that his childhood friend was a criminal, a profiteer within the city’s thriving black market. Martins decides to clear his friend’s good name and, as a result, he’s pulled into intrigue that challenges his belief in the decency of humanity. Along the way he meets Anna, Lime’s lover, who is ferociously loyal and is devastated by his death.
Because we’re travelling through noir country in The Third Man, the worldview is bleak, practically nihilistic. Made in 1949, the film explores the existential crisis experienced after the most deadly war in history ended. Life is cheap, take all you can while you can, and don’t look out for anybody but yourself.