You might spot Vienna’s Riesenrad in numerous movies filmed in the city; it often makes an appearance in skyline and cityscape shots (for example in Michael Winner’s 1973 film, Scorpio).
But this prominent landmark has also contributed some iconic moments to film and television history…
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The Third Man
(The familiar and iconic red wagons)
Easily the most famous cameo performance for this huge steel construction came in the 1949 film, The Third Man, based on the screenplay by Graham Greene and starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. The Riesenrad even features in the trailer.
The film — shot mostly 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 post-war atmosphere of a bombed-out capital.
The story takes place in post-war Vienna, where basic commodities (and often morals) are short on the ground.
Perhaps the most memorable scene comes 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 and Martins’ old friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles).
The two confront each other directly for the first time below 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 a moving wagon. A sign in German next to his head 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 the record, it’s only fair to point out that the cabin interior scenes actually used a studio reconstruction (one of the numerous interesting things I learnt at Vienna’s wonderful Third Man museum).
The Living Daylights
The Ferris Wheel gained more 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 Riesenrad that ends in their first kiss.
(The Ferris wheel at night)
And the Ferris wheel hosted 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 and the city. Cue dialog…and then they kiss. So if you have a romantic heart, you know what to do.
And, finally, the first episode of the popular period detective drama series, Vienna Blood, ends at the Riesenrad and the square beneath it with its carousel. Max Liebermann (the young doctor and star of the show) confronts the bad guy in one of the wagons. The wheel also appears in the opening credits.