The Riesenrad (Giant Ferris Wheel) at the movies

Riesenrad, Vienna
The Riesenrad at dusk

Vienna’s Riesenrad (giant ferris wheel) has played host to some classic movie moments.

Easily the most famous came in the 1949 film The Third Man, based on the screenplay by Graham Greene and starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton.

The story took place in post-war Vienna, where basic commodities (and often morals) were short on the ground. The film — shot entirely on location in the city — won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival and an Oscar for Cinematography, thanks to the inspired camera work that conveyed the dismal post-war atmosphere of a bombed out capital.

The most memorable scene in the movie is when Holly Martins — the film’s main character played by Joseph Cotton — meets the man he spent much of the film believing dead…the cynical racketeer Harry Lime, Martins’ old friend played by Orson Welles.

The two confront each other for the first time in a wagon on the Riesenrad. They wax lyrical about the meaning of life and morality, and there’s a suggestion that Lime might throw Martins off the structure.

For much of the scene, Lime stands in the doorway of the moving wagon. Next to his head is a sign in German which says, “No spitting!” As he returns to the ground, he produces the film’s most famous quote…

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

(The cuckoo clock was actually invented in Germany.) For more on the making of the film and its story, see this site.

The Ferris Wheel gained more recent fame in two movies from the modern era of cinema. The 1987 James Bond film The Living Daylights includes a scene where Bond and his love interest take a spin on the wheel that ends in their first kiss.

And it’s the scene for another first kiss in the highly-acclaimed 1995 romance Before Sunrise. In the film, a young American called Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) and a French student called Celine (played by Julie Delpy) meet on the Budapest – Vienna train.

Sensing an immediate connection, they then spend the next 14 hours (and the rest of the film) wandering the streets of Vienna talking about life, the universe and everything.

In one scene, they’re in the ferris wheel looking over views of the Prater park and the city. Cue dialog…

Jesse: This is gorgeous.
Celine: Yeah, it’s very beautiful.
Jesse: We got, uh, we got a sunset here.
Celine: Yeah.
Jesse: We got the Ferris wheel. It seems like, um, this would be a…
Celine: What?
Jesse: Uh, you know, uh.
Celine: Are you trying to say you want to kiss me?
Jesse: (mouths a ‘yes’)
Celine: Yes.

…and then they kiss. So if you have a romantic heart and want to walk in the footsteps of James Bond and Ethan Hawke, you know what to do.