A review of a major digital restoration of director Carol Reed’s “The Third Man,” a 1949 noir classic starring Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli. Rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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Vienna, late 1940s. The war is over, but the scars remain; the city, divided into zones, is strewn with rubble and debris — ashy memories of what once stood tall. Pale faces glow at nighttime, over dark coats; everyone looks watchful, guarded. Voices echo in the quiet, wet streets, and strangers eye each other suspiciously, as if looking for secrets in their faces. In the words of a character in Carol Reed’s sublime “The Third Man,” everyone ought to be careful in a city like this.

Back in theaters after a major digital restoration, this great film noir — initially released in 1949 — is the story of a stranger who wasn’t very careful. And it’s mesmerizing, from the opening notes plucked on Anton Karas’ plaintive zither to that long, haunting final shot as someone walks away, decisively, from someone else’s heart, as the autumn leaves fall.

You may well know this story already; if not, you have a treat in store that I’ll be careful not to spoil. American pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) has arrived in Vienna, suitcase in hand, in search of his friend Harry Lime, who has offered him a share in a business venture. But Lime is nowhere to be found — because, as Martins soon learns in a nearby cemetery, he’s dead and just now being buried. There is, of course, a mysterious woman (named Anna, and played by Alida Valli) and a trail of suspicion left in Lime’s wake.

Movie Review ★★★★  

‘The Third Man,’ with Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Orson Welles, Bernard Lee. Directed by Carol Reed, from a screenplay by Graham Greene. 104 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Sundance (21+).

Reed and screenwriter Graham Greene let the story unfold slowly and deliberately, like the cigarette smoke that floats around the characters, and keep us guessing at every step. And the restoration lets us see every detail: the shadows caught by cinematographer Robert Krasker (who won an Oscar for this film); the nubby tweed of Martins’ coat; the way a pair of men’s oxfords shine like mirrors in the dark; the climactic chase through the sewers of Vienna; a hand reaching through a subway grate, the fingers writhing in the night.

It’s a film — and a city — to get lost in, and it’ll haunt you afterward, like a face you thought you recognized under a streetlamp, before it disappeared.