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Classic Movie Characters: Harry Lime in The Third Man

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Played by Orson Welles in The Third Man, a 1949 film directed by Carol Reed.

Complimented on dominating a film in which he appears for less than 20 minutes total, Welles, with uncharacteristic modesty, told Peter Bogdanovich, “That’s the part, you know. Every sentence in the whole script is about Harry Lime—nobody talks about anything else for ten reels. And then there’s that shot in the doorway—what a star entrance that was!”

The thing is, Welles had to maintain supercriminal Lime’s mystique after that entrance. A diabolical wheeler-dealer in the moral limbo of postwar Vienna, the supposed-to-be-dead Lime is a character of volatile complexity, claiming to believe in God one minute and referring to his fellow humans as ants the next. Even desperately rushing through the city’s sewers at the end of the film, he leaves some sinister power in his wake.

Defining Moment: The “cuckoo clock” speech, historical inaccuracies be damned.

1949, Director: Carol Reed

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