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Villains That Love Being Bad: Harry Lime, The Third Man

Played by Orson Welles at his charismatic best, cinema’s most memorable black marketeer manages to charm nearly everyone he encounters–including the viewer (his popularity led to a spin-off radio show) and, it seems, himself. When we first meet Lime, he’s fallen in love with his own cleverness, his own mystique. How does he remain so cheerful and witty even as he commits reprehensible crimes (including essentially poisoning sick children with diluted penicillin)? Simple: he carefully rationalizes his actions, arguing that they ultimately benefit mankind:

You know what the fellow said–in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace–and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

That stunning bit of self-deception makes Harry Lime all the more dangerous, evil… and undeniably fascinating.

[Originally written August 12, 2012.]

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