Just under seventy years ago Orson Welles prowled the sewers of Vienna, if somewhat reluctantly for the Carol Reed’s film classic The Third Man.
The Austrian capital provided the backdrop for the story and is more than happy to still promote the film’s connection with it. A film regarded as one of the best films ever made.
The city known for its music and opera has in particular taken this film very much to its heart it has recently celebrated its 60th anniversary. Embraced by its tourism department and by several local people who have created a special tours and a museum business on the back of this film’s success.
The Third Man draws visitors and interest from all over the world. The Japanese for one being extremely keen on the film, so much that an exhibition was put together by museum owner and Third Man collector Gerhard Strassgschwandtner who toured the Far Eastern country promoting the film and city.
Running the Third Man Museum and Private Collection, Gerhard has for years been acquiring artefacts related to the film and matters covering the period around the time that the film was made. His private museum is open in Pressgasse to the public on certain days and by special appointment for those with an interest in the subject.
The prized possession is that of Viennese musician Anton Karas, his Zither. It was the instrument used to make the evocative sound track. Filmmaker Carol Reed was so taken with the sound of the instrument that he flew Anton Karas to London and recorded him sat playing the music on kitchen table from Reed’s house. Anton Karas’s theme became a worldwide music hit and his wine garden in the outskirts of the city became a tourist mecca, now sadly closed after he died.
THE THIRD MAN LIVES ON
The film locations around what was then a bombed out city after the second world war now are search out by fans looking to walk in the steps of Harry Lime, the black marketer played by Orson Welles. Those treks around the city are not complete unless steps are made under the city too. Going down into the sewers that were such an integral part of the plot is a must. A chance to see and smell what exactly did put off Orson Welles venturing into the underground labyrinth. Carol Reed did persuade him down there for some shots with the help of a massive amount of perfume, and the use of a double for many of the shots needed to be filmed down there.
Organising walking tours around the city, the Timmermann family have really gained detailed knowledge about many of the locations and incidents whilst the filming was shot. Brigitte, mother of tour guides Christopher and Barbara has written an excellent and detailed book about the making of the film in the city. Containing hundreds of pictures and interviews with those were involved both behind and in front of the cameras.
Very few from that time in the late Forties are alive today, all the stars and nearly all technicians are now all dead. You could call him a star, the boy who played little Hansl, Herbert Hablik was three and half years old and he is still alive and living in Vienna. His role in the film added a key moment of tension for Hollywood star Joseph Cotton. The young Herbert accused Cotton of killing a porter at the building where Harry Lime lived.
The backdrop of the city of Vienna divided by the four powers that occupied it, although ravaged by war comes through leaving such memorable images. Searching out these cinematic icons provides a great pursuit by those visiting the city.
The Riesenrad at Prater (the big wheel), Café Mozart, Sacher Hotel and even the Central Cemetery along with the sewers are hunted down with the same zeal as British actor, Trevor Howard who played Major Calloway pursuing Harry Lime. For once the towering Cathedral of St Stephens at the very centre of the city plays a minor role to these other city locations for those in search of the Third Man.
Many believe that Cambridge spy Kim Philby and later a third man too in a different scandal with fellow spies Burgess and Maclean was Harry Lime. Graham Green a former SIS officer met Philby in Vienna and many thought he was that character, but it does seem likely that Green did get great deal of background information from the infamous spy about the goings-on in Vienna after the war and how the sewers could be used as a possible escape route.
In creating The Third Man, author Green had to tread the same streets that Philby did and tourists are doing today, he in pursuit of a novel, tourists a novel experience. Once written, filmmaker Carol Reed seized upon it. Hence, from then on, The Third Man film and Vienna became inextricably linked for all time.