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6 Movies like The Third Man: The Zenith of Noir

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Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorIf you’re a sucker for dimly-lit film sets, tragically-flawed cynical detectives, fedora-toting mafia men, alluringly treacherous femme fatales, and more snappy dialogue and plot twists than you can shake a cigarette holder at, it sounds like you might be a fan of film noir. If so, draw the shades, break out the scotch and settle back to enjoy ‘The Maltese Falcon’, ‘He Walked by Night’ or any of these other atmospheric movies like ‘The Third Man’. ~ Jonny Sweet

The Plot Thickens

The 30s, 40s and 50s certainly were an exciting time for cinema. Not only were noir legends Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock at the height of their powers, but crime and spy thrillers from authors such as John le Carrè and Len Deighton were being translated onto the silver screen in dizzying numbers. Indeed, Graham Greene himself boasts an extensive backlist of film adaptations, and anyone who is a fan of films like ‘The Third Man’ would do well to check out anything they can get their hands on by either of the two directors or the three authors named above.

However, these sources seem to me to be low-hanging fruit. A quick search on Google or itcher will yield a full back catalogue of fantastic work from these masters of the genre for you to sink your teeth into… but the recommendations below are a little further from the beaten path.

‘The Third Man’ has been hailed by many as the finest film of its kind (from no less an acclaimed source than Martin Scorsese, for example), but these suggestions can provide more sustenance from those craving a similar cinematic experience.

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Movies Similar to ‘The Third Man’…

‘The Maltese Falcon’ (John Huston, 1941)

Private investigator, Sam Spade, is initially hired to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, but as the bodies begin to pile up and the intrigue builds, it soon becomes clear that the stakes are far higher than previously anticipated. But what exactly does the figurine of a bird have to do with anything?

Similarity Match: 80%
With more plot twists than the sewer system in which Harry Lime attempts to escape in ‘The Third Man’, ‘The Maltese Falcon’ will keep its audience disorientated and bewildered until its climax.

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‘He Walked by Night’ (Alfred L. Werker & Anthony Mann, 1948)

After a police officer is shot and killed on the beat, two detectives are sent to track him down.

As the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that the killer is no two-bit petty criminal but an expert trained in all of the dark arts on the wrong side of the law.

Similarity Match: 75%
Though the storylines of ‘He Walked by Night’ and ‘The Third Man’ do differ significantly, both employ noir techniques to great effect, especially in the case of one remarkably reminiscent scene.

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‘Double Indemnity’ (Billy Wilder, 1944)

It’s perfectly normal to take out a life insurance policy against your husband without his knowledge… isn’t it? Walter Neff knows it sure as hell isn’t, but for once, his libido overcomes his scruples and he finds himself head over heels in a dangerous game with one spicy tamale of a femme fatale.

Similarity Match: 70%
Though ‘Double Indemnity’ deals with similar themes of transgression, betrayal and mystery as ‘The Third Man’, in the former film the protagonist himself falls from the moral high ground to become embroiled in a shady scheme.

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‘The Big Sleep’ (Howard Hawks, 1946)

PI Phillip Marlowe is hired to make sure the daughter of a wealthy general doesn’t rack up any more gambling debts against his name. No, wait; he’s actually hired to track down the disappearance of a young man who was close to the general. No, scratch that; his real mission is to find out who keeps blackmailing and murdering the entire cast.

By the time Marlowe has worked out what it is he’s actually supposed to be doing, the viewer’s head will be spinning like an out-of-control fairground ride.

Similarity Match: 70%
As in ‘The Third Man’, ‘The Big Sleep’ sees the protagonist uncover startling revelations about those around him… but the latter’s storyline is a far more tangled and obfuscated affair than the former’s.

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‘Chinatown’ (Roman Polanski, 1974)

JJ Gittes takes on what appears to be a cut-and-dry PI case of extra-marital promiscuity, but soon finds himself as the stooge in a far greater conspiracy involving reservoirs, corrupt land developers, and a love interest whose familial connections are suspicious, to say the least.

Similarity Match: 70%
Although their settings, themes and storylines bear little resemblance, ‘Chinatown’ is reminiscent of ‘The Third Man’ in the way that the central character, while seeming to control his own destiny, is buffeted around by the actions of those around him.

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If You Like ‘The Third Man’, You Will Like…

With the exception of ‘Chinatown’, all of the films mentioned above fit neatly into the noir category, even down to the use of black and white images (colour films actually predate them by several decades, in case you were wondering).

Polanski’s classic might dispense with the monochrome cinematography, but it’s clearly classifiable as neo-noir thanks to the long list of tropes and techniques used. This last suggestion below isn’t exactly noir… but it will more than likely please fans of the genre regardless.

‘No Way Out’ (Roger Donaldson, 1987)

A commander in the navy makes a career switch to the Pentagon almost immediately after beginning an affair with a mysterious woman. He soon finds out that one of his first duties will be to investigate his lover’s death, thus potentially implicating himself as a suspect. As Desson Howe of The Washington Post commented upon the film’s release, “[t]he film makes such good use of Washington and builds suspense so well that it transcends a plot bordering on ridiculous.”

Betrayal, crime and remorse abound in both ‘The Third Man’ and ‘No Way Out’, though the latter is more of a taut political thriller than a film noir masterpiece like the former.

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Be the Fourth Man

No, it’s not an advert for FIFA on the PlayStation.

You can be the fourth man by adding the seventh (or eighth, or umpteenth) film to this list of suggestions.

Any noir gems you’re particularly fond of? Any modern thrillers which harken back to the fantastic collaboration of Greene, Reed and Welles?

If so, jot them down in the comments section below for all to behold.

I′m Jonny, an English Literature graduate who decided careers and mortgages were too mundane, and travelling, film, music and books were much more enticing. I have recently made a very comfortable nest for myself in Santiago de Chile, and on itcher Mag where I regularly contribute eloquent waffle on all manner of media.
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