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- Adaptational Nationality: English in the book, American in the film.
- Best Friend: To Holly Martins.
- Dead Sidekick: He got run over by a car in Vienna.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: He was this with Holly Martins.
- Killed Offscreen: His death happens offscreen.
- Love Interest: Had a girlfriend by the name of Anna Schmidt.
- Posthumous Character
- Small Role, Big Impact: His death sets the plot of the film in motion.
Played by: Joseph Cotten
- Action Survivor: Martins is just a run-of-the-mill writer, and survives several brushes with death, living to the end of the film.
- Adaptational Nationality: English in the book, American in the film.
- Adaptation Name Change: His first name is changed from Rollo to Holly.
- Badass Longcoat: He wears one throughout.
- Beleaguered Childhood Friend: He spends most of the film trying to prove his dead friend's innocence of the bad name he garnered selling diluted penicillin in post WWII Vienna, only to discover at the end that his friend (still alive after faking his death), did actually sell the bad drugs to make a profit.
- Blithe Spirit: Subverted. He's a brash American who comes to Vienna and thinks he's going to prove everyone wrong about his dead friend Harry Lime, only to end up in over his head and screwing everything up.
- Book Dumb: Not knowing who or what James Joyce was, and not being informed of what literary components he uses in his cheap novelettes, he is literally book dumb.
- It's implied that he's just not a good public speaker, and the Joyce questions comes about right around when Popescu shows up, distracting Holly from answering it.
- Break the Haughty: Holly is a belligerent, stubborn, and disorderly man who brings Harry Lime to justice but is left profoundly changed and possibly traumatized after all that he saw, and after all the times he narrowly avoided being murdered.
- Classical Anti-Hero: He wants to solve the mystery of his best friend's death and bring justice to the world. However, he's overly idealistic and is a Manchild and a Idiot Hero, though he does grow wiser at the end of the film.
- Deadpan Snarker: It wouldn't be a noir film had the protagonist not been one.
- Dead Sidekick: This is his primary motivator at the start of the film, since he just found out about Harry Lime's death, which is faked, by the way.
- Determinator: Stops at nothing to find the truth about the death of Harry Lime.
- Did Not Get the Girl: The final shot of the film is Anna walking past Holly at a graveyard that just saw the real funeral of Harry Lime, probably on account of Holly having killed Lime himself.
- Idiot Ball: Holly catchs and holds every single idiot ball this movie throws at him, except when his Old Friend makes an Implied Death Threat with a Disney Death and Holly firmly holds the wagon he is, and when Anna pass him on the cementery and he doesn't follow her.
- In Harm's Way: He's sort of like this, having some traits of Intrepid Reporter by investigating the death of his friend for himself.
- Love Triangle: It's implied he still has feelings for Anna, who in turn, still loves the recently deceased Harry Lime, who in turn, is alive and well.
- Martial Pacifist: Holly doesn't hurt a fly all throughout the movie. That is, until the end of the film, when he finishes Lime with his own gun.
- Masquerade: Holly poses as an active author to obtain favors while he's stuck in Vienna. It's noticeably easy for him, since he is a writer, but is actually occupied with the investigation of the suspicious and faked death of his friend, Harry Lime.
- Most Writers Are Writers: He is a writer, after all.
- Nice Hat: Is rarely seen without one.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: He badgers people he suspects of lying about the death of Lime and thinks are responsible for murdering him, yet he still tells these same people the identity of a witness who contradicts their story and everything about him. Unsurprisingly, this witness is murdered.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: His masquerade fails to deceive those such as Popescu, "Baron" Kurtz and Dr. Winkel.
- Starving Artist: Begins and ends the film as this.
- Took a Level in Badass: Starting out as a bumbling, incompetent faux-investigator, Martins manages to work with the police and chase a child-killing, sociopathic drug lord into the sewers and kill him.
- The Cynic: He winds up as one at the end.
- The Protagonist
Played by: Alida Valli
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: She gets the same lecture on how evil Harry is as Martins, but that doesn't make her any less worshipful of him. Her justification: "A person doesn't change just because you learn more about them." Apparently, Anna doesn't do Fridge Logic. Harry was always a sociopath. Though the reason she loves him, forging her papers and thus letting her stay in Vienna longer, stands regardless of what else Harry did.
- Broken Bird: She's this by the beginning of the film, and even more so at the end.
- Dirty Communists: A light example, but she faces deportation from the Russians for being from Czechoslovakia.
- Double Agent: She is very much this for Harry Lime and Holly, appearing to help the latter, only to betray him for Lime's safety.
- Femme Fatale
- Karma Houdini: As evidenced by the last time we see her, she got away (and unscathed, mind you) from the sewer chase of Harry Lime, and it's likely that she fled the authorities soon after to avoid being deported.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Still, she aided and abetted a drug lord who sold very harmful drugs on the European black market, and it is implied that she'll probably be deported back to Czechoslovakia to face Soviet law after the events of the movie.
- Love Triangle: She's part of one with Holly Martins and Harry Lime.
- Mysterious Woman
- The Not-Love Interest: She never really gets together with Holly Martins, as her heart belongs to Harry Lime.
- Undying Loyalty: Anna warns Harry of the authorities before they can arrest him. This is all for naught, however, and Lime is killed rather than arrested.
Played by: Trevor Howard
- Badass Mustache: Downplayed; Calloway sports a fashionable, thin, and tasteful mustache.
- By-the-Book Cop: Calloway accomplishes much as the head of police, such as nabbing Harry Lime, without ever breaking the law.
- Da Chief: He fits this role quite nicely in the film.
- Emotion Suppression: Possibly done to maintain a facade of stoicism.
- I Am Very British: Calloway can be memorable to American (and non-British) audiences, given his heavy Posh accent.
- Knight in Sour Armour: He's a dedicated policeman, but is also a very cynical and pessimistic pragmatist who rejects Holly's idealistic heroism.
- Lack of Empathy: Exemplified when he's talking about the sickly children he and Holly see in the hospital (though it could be a rather brutal coping mechanism):"It had meningitis. They gave it some of Lime's penicillin. Terrible pity, isn't it."
- Nice Hat: He wears a military beret and a fedora at times.
- Police are Useless: Averted. Calloway and Paine are part of the reason Holly and the gang catch Harry Lime.
- Pet the Dog: He looks out for Holly and Anna numerous times in the film. He agrees to give safe passage out of Vienna for Anna. However, she incriminates herself when she warns Lime of the police's prescence, which leads to a chase, Sergeant Paine's death, and Harry Lime's unceremonious execution.
- Pragmatic Hero: He wants to capture criminals and bring an end to crime. However, he's willing to blackmail innocents, use people as pawns, and kill in cold blood if it's necessary. He's also The Cynic and a Knight in Sour Armour, rejecting all of Holly's notions of heroism.
- Seen It All: Calloway seems unaffected by much of what he sees, save for the death of Sergeant Paine.
- Stiff Upper Lip: Appears to have gotten over the recent deaths of Sergeant Paine and (quite understandably) Harry Lime by the final scene.
- The Stoic: He doesn't seemed all that bothered when surveying children infected with meningitis (courtesy of Harry Lime).
- Subverted in the penultimate scene. Calloway appears to be genuinely shocked and concerned when Paine runs out in front of Harry Lime when the latter was known to be out armed and dangerous. Calloway then tends to Paine's mortal injuries once Lime shoots him, to no avail.
Played by: Bernard Lee
- Best Friend: Even if he's an underling, he's the best buddy of Major Calloway more than anything else.
- Nice Guy: A stark difference to the bleak, bombed-out world of Vienna around him.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Serves as a source of comic relief.
- Sarcasm-Blind: Doesn't understand Holly Martins' sarcasm.
- Shoo Out the Clowns: He's shot dead by Harry Lime right before Holly executes Lime.
- Too Dumb to Live: He runs out in front of Harry Lime, who shoots Paine with his revolver in desperation.
Played by: Wilfrid Hyde-White
Karl / Porter
Played by: Paul Hörbiger
- Culture Clash / Malaproper: Played with. When describing where Harry Lime might've gone after he got run over, he gives the wrong directions to Holly, attributing Hell as being above, and Heaven being underneath the Earth.
- Disney Villain Death: This is his eventual fate.
- He Knows Too Much: The reason for which he dies.
- Sacrificial Lamb: He's killed early on, partly to establish how ruthless the baddies are.
- The Mob Boss Is Scarier: He refuses to divulge any useful information out of fear for his personal and his family's safety. When he does finally give information to Anna and Holly, he is killed.
Played by Ernst Deutsch
- Ambiguously Gay: He's very effiminate in his choice of clothing and manner of speaking.
- Evil All Along: Possibly. It's never confirmed on screen, but he is one of the probably guilty men who allegedly carried Lime out of the road.
- How the Mighty Have Fallen: He now works as a black marketeer in post-war Vienna.
- Loyal Animal Companion: Carries his tiny dog with him wherever he goes.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Kurtz leaves the story once Holly confronts him while the former is on a roof.
Played by: Erich Ponto
- Blatant Lies: Claims he is only Lime's "medical adviser," and offers information that contradicts that of Porter.
- Jerkass: Winkel acts this way to Holly when he visits the doctor in his apartment.
- Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: As a doctor, Winkel most likely worked as part of the penicillin diluting operation, and was found to be contradicting Porter's information on the death of Harry Lime.
- Those Two Bad Guys: Is seen laughing it up with "Baron" Kurtz.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: He disappears after Holly speaks with Lime.
Played by: Siegfried Breuer
- Affably Evil: Popescu is always polite and well-spoken, even when threatening the life of Holly Martins and Anna Schmidt.
- Fat Bastard: He's heavier than most characters.
- Implied Death Threat: He's fond of these, making several, basically telling Martins to back off, unless he wants to get killed.
- Karma Houdini: Since Lime is killed before he could divulge any useful information for the authorities, it is unlikely that Popescu will be apprehended.
- The Enforcer: For Harry Lime.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: He's never seen again after the disastrous book event hosted by Holly, who flees after seeing two thugs, likely sent after him by Harry Lime.
Played by: Orson Welles
- Affably Evil: He's incredibly likable and charismatic, as well as being an amoral war profiteer and murderer]].
- Arch-Enemy: Harry Lime turns out to be this to Holly Martins.
- Badass Longcoat: Is never seen without his black coat and matching hat. Justified, given the time period.
- Big Bad: See Big Bad Friend.
- Big Bad Friend: Holly is investigating his murder. It turns out that Harry is alive and engaged in horrible crimes. He's the villain of the story.
- Coup de Grâce/Mercy Kill: Wordlessly asks this of Holly near the end, with Holly complying and shooting him dead in a sewer.
- Didn't See That Coming: Harry can manipulate the police because he is The Chessmaster, and can manipulate Holly and Anna because he is a Manipulative Bastard, he could have gotten away with it if Holly didn't chose that exact time to become an adult.
- Disney Villain Death: Oddly, this seems to be his favorite method of disposing of people. Holly almost went out this way, and the old man who got involved actually died like this.
- Dirty Communists: He works with them, apparently, judging by an off-handed comment that he's worked with the Soviets.
- Dirty Coward: Runs from the authorities at the end, but this doesn't save him.
- Drugs Are Bad: He doesn't care about this. He kills and leaves hundreds of children sickly or even catatonic.
- Down the Drain: Attempts to flee into a sewer near the end. This doesn't work, and he is unceremoniously shot down and killed.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Played with. He doesn't really love Anna, but gets himself killed when he tries to see her.
- Evil Former Friend: To Holly Martins. The latter didn't know of this until arriving in Vienna.
- Evil Pays Better: Money appears to be his main motivation.
- Face Death with Dignity: Wounded and thus unable to make it outside the sewers, he nods at Holly to finish him off. One thunderous gunshot later, and Lime is done for.
- Fallen Hero: The radio drama based off the film reveals Lime to have been an Anti-Hero or an Unscrupulous Hero before becoming a ruthless European drug lord.
- Face Death with Dignity: He nods at Holly to finish him off once he's critically injured, and has no chance to escape.
- Faking the Dead: Does this to himself.
- Foil: To Holly Martins.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: He was this with Holly Martins. Emphasis on was.
- Have You Told Anyone Else?/He Knows Too Much: Lime nearly kills Holly Martins because he knew of his illegal actions.
- Kick the Dog: Lime shoots the relatively harmless Sergeant Paine when the poor sap stumbles towards him.
- Killed Offscreen: His faked and real deaths both occur offscreen.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: He started out as a Lovable Rogue, where his schemes while illegal, were mostly harmless — like a gambling den. Then he stole penicillin from q military hospital, watered it down to the point it became worthless and sold it on the black market, indifferent to death he caused.
- Lack of Empathy: He doesn't show any remorse for the victims of his fake penicillin.
- Licked by the Dog: Anna says her cat only liked Harry, and it's the cat jumping out the window and running out on the street that alerts us to Harry's return.
- Manipulative Bastard: He constantly uses people (notably Anna and Martins) and will throw them away without a thought when they're no longer useful to him.
- Murder Is the Best Solution: Lime is a strong adherent of this rule. While he doesn't believe murder's the best situation when he's trying to justify inducing meningitis and death in children, he personally threatens to throw Holly out of a Ferris wheel, and is implied to have thrown Porter to his death.
- Even if Lime didn't kill Porter himself, the poor man's death is still an example.
- The body in his grave was Joseph Harbin, an orderly who stole penicillin for Lime and went missing after defecting and going to the authorities. Gee, what could have happened to him?
- He also just shoots Paine when he stumbles out in front of him.
- And to be perfectly consistent, when he is trapped in Vienna's sewers, he agrees to Holly's Mercy Kill.
- Not Quite Dead: Actually this.
- Not So Stoic: He's not exactly a steely character, but his behavior turns into something very different when he runs from the cops and shoots Sgt. Paine.
- Posthumous Character: Not actually this.
- Revolvers Are Just Better: Lime prefers a small, concealable revolver over the clumsy sawed-off, unwieldy assault rifle, or the cumbersome rifle that others carry in the film. The revolver that he carries helps him by allowing him to move fast, kill one of his pursuers, and almost get away from the police.
- Small Role, Big Impact: His faked death sets the plot of the film in motion.
- The Chessmaster: He runs Vienna like he owns it, and would've gotten away with it, too, had the police not chased and cornered him by spotting him in the open.
- Just to show how good Lime is at this: Joseph Harbin was an orderly who stole penicillin for Lime, defected and went to the authorities. Major Calloway is a By-the-Book Cop investigating Lime as the Ringleader of the operation. Lime kills Harbin and uses Harbin's body as the body they buried at Lime's grave after his supposed accident. Major Calloway closes the case after the death of the ringleader smuggler, assuming Harbin has run away because there is no body, leaving Lime free to smuggling.
- When Harry meets Holly at the Amusement Park, it is Holly who wants to speak with Harry privately. Harry suggest the Ferris Wheel Date Moment Ferris Wheel. When Harry and Holly are at the top, we discover that Harry exploited this trope because he wants to deliver Holly an Implied Death Threat menacing him with a Disney Death because He Knows Too Much.
- The Dreaded: Lime appears to have this reputation in Vienna.
- The Sociopath: Shows no remorse for all of his horrible actions, not even for when he throws an old man out of a window to his death.
- Averted, or at least played with at the end. He's visibly distressed when running from the police, and especially when he feels he has to shoot Sgt. Paine.
- Verbal Tic: Constantly calling Holly "old man".
- Villainous Breakdown: He loses his compusure and looks visibly distressed when he shoots Paine in the chest while running from the police.
- Walking Spoiler: The reveal that he is in fact, alive and well is the biggest plot development of the movie.
- Watering Down: He dilutes penicillin to the point it is almost totally worthless, even fatal.
- We Can Rule Together: Tries to convince Holly to join him, along with Anna.
- Wicked Cultured: Played with.
- Lime has shades of intelligence and knowledge of culture, detectable upon first viewing.
- This is possibly subverted in that his famous cuckoo-clock speech includes wrong information; Swiss people never invented the cuckoo clock. Such a distinction belongs to the Germans, since its citizens are thought to have invented the clock in the Black Forest area, itself located in the State of Baden-Württemberg (Southwestern Germany).
- Then again, this speech was included by Orson Welles himself, and in-universe, Harry Lime acknowledges this information was taken from someone else by saying, "You know what the fellow said..." at the beginning of the speech.
- Would Hurt a Child: More accurately, "doesn't care if they die horribly in a hospital ward", but that's splitting hairs.