At its best, the film noir is the most classically cinematic of genres, with its atmospherically heightened imagery and interplay of archetypes serving to illuminate the dark corners of urban life.
One of the most beloved noirs of all time, "The Third Man," returns to theaters for two weeks beginning this weekend in a 4K restoration at Film Forum.
From the famous score, performed on the zither, to the expressionistic imagery filled with close-ups and sharp, low canted angles (as illustrated in the iconic Ferris wheel and sewer sequences), and Orson Welles' monologue about the "cuckoo clock," the 1949 movie has earned a rightful place atop many lists of the greatest films ever made.
It's a marvel by director Carol Reed and screenwriter Graham Greene and it really must be seen on the big screen, where the shadows engulfing writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) as he searched for friend Harry Lime (Welles), in post-World War II Vienna, can be appreciated in all their glory.
It's simply not possible to overstate the level of craft involved here. The movie embodies a deep and strong sense of what cinema, first and foremost a visual art form, can and should be.
You could write an entire critical essay on Lime's introduction alone, for example, where he stands in a darkened alley with his smirking face revealed to Martins as the camera pushes in, after a light switches on in a room above.
Martin Scorsese, writing about the film in the U.K.'s Independent, called that moment "the best revelation in all of cinema." And when one of the great heirs of the noir tradition perfected here has that to say, there's nothing left to add.
If you go: 'The Third Man' restoration opens at Film Forum tomorrow. 209 W. Houston St., filmforum.org