On Location: The Third Man in Vienna

There is nothing more surreal for a film fan than to find themselves following in the footsteps of their screen heroes. On a recent visit to Vienna I found myself doing exactly that. Whilst many films have been shot there, Vienna is a city which is still haunted by the ghost of Harry Lime to this day.

Lime, of course, was the name of Orson Welles’s character in the The Third Man. Directed by Carol Reed, The Third Man was adapted from Graham Greene’s novel of the same name and set in the Austrian capital of Vienna after the close of the Second World War. A brilliant noir thriller, The Third Man is best remembered for its striking black and white cinematography, Orson Welles’s captivating performance and the catchy zither theme heard throughout. It is also a film which makes striking use of the dramatic mise en scène of a city in ruins. The Third Man wasn’t shot on some sound stage in Burbank but on location in the midst of a living but war-torn city.

Exploring the city I found myself stumbling upon recognisable locations from the film such as the street used for the exterior of Harry Lime’s apartment building.

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I had to resort to a map to find some shooting locations. For example, the doorway used for the sequence in which Holly Martins comes face to face with the ‘recently deceased’ Harry Lime, as seen here.

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Visiting this location in particular betrayed the artifice of the film-making process. Whilst close-up shots of Orson Welles were shot as he stood in this doorway, Joseph Cotten’s reaction shots were filmed elsewhere. In the film he appears to be in front of a statue when the realisation hits that it is Harry Lime who stands in front of him. The statue seen in this scene is actually a 10 minute walk away. Pay close attention to the sequence itself – when Cotten begins walking up the street – and the trickery becomes quite clear.

This haphazard approach to the actual geography of the city is also seen elsewhere. When Martins arrives to talk to the landlord, only to find him dead and a mischievous young boy blaming him for the murder, he and Anna run around the corner, past a church and down a staircase. Again, the actual locations of the apartment and the church are quite far apart, but it’s easy to understand why they chose this location  when you consider the striking composition of the resulting shot.

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One of the film’s most enthralling scenes takes place on the Ferris wheel where Martins and Lime finally confront each other. Incredibly, the Ferris wheel is still standing today and is part of a much larger theme park.

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In fact, it is the Ferris wheel that bears the only visible reference to the film in the city itself. At the entrance to the attraction you will find this small painting depicting Harry Lime which serves as a nice cue for you to get into character and begin a monologue about democracy, brotherly love and cuckoo clocks as you step onto the iconic Ferris wheel…

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