This is a full-blooded, absorbing story adapted from book by Graham Greene, which reflects credit on all concerned. With international quartet of stars it should draw anywhere, and its appeal in the U.S. should equal that of London.
Locale is postwar Vienna, which is controlled by combined military force of the four occupying powers, and revolves around the black market and all its unsavory ramifications. Holly Martins, a young American writer, arrives to join his friend, Harry Lime, who has promised him a job. He just gets to him in time to attend his funeral, following a street accident. Suspicious of conflicting evidence and with a strong hunch that Harry was murdered, Holly decides to unravel the mystery despite a warning to lay off by British major who discloses the real nature of his friend’s activities.
It develops Harry is still alive, his accomplice having been buried in his name. On being convinced of the callous criminality of the man whose theft and dilution of penicillin has brought death and idiocy to many children, Holly helps the authorities to track him down by arranging a secret meeting. Hemmed in on all sides by police, soldiers and dogs, the hunted man is finally shot by his own friend after a prolonged chase through the sewers. The actress who has been the connecting link between the two men, though in love with Harry, is drawn towards his friend, but cannot forgive him for playing Judas and walks out of his life.
Orson Welles does not appear until the picture is two-thirds through, when he manifests as the ‘corpse’ of the opening shots, and his contribution thereafter is mainly in dodging through back streets until the dramatic climax of his capture. He conveys the varying characteristics of the wanted man, from smug bravado to desperate fear, with unerring reality. Joseph Cotten makes a pleasing personality of the loyal friend, and Trevor Howard, as the detached, cool British officer, displays just the right amount of human sympathy and understanding. Valli looks lovely in her almost continuous lachrymose condition, and brings out to the full the sense of devotion which binds her to her worthless lover and precludes her from finding happiness with his betrayer.
Supporting characters turn in excellent portrayals. Camera work on an exceptionally high plane, and in his painstaking direction Carol Reed lives up to his high reputation.
1950: Best B&W Cinematography.
Nominations: Best Director, Editing