Cinema history in Vienna: Streets buzzing with film shoots

With scenes of explosions, helicopter crashes and shootings, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth has made a splash in Vienna, according to Marijana Stoisits.

Netflix’s “Extraction 2” was shot in the Austrian capital earlier in 2022, explains Stoisits, who runs the Vienna Film Commission, a contact point for productions planning film shoots in the city.

So far, her favorite films shot in Vienna are two German-language dramas, “Nordrand” (1999) and “Der Räuber” (2010).

The filming of “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” around the Wiener Staatsoper in 2014 brought camera crews back to central Vienna. (PAD)

This is not to say she didn’t enjoy action movies like “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (2015) with Tom Cruise abseiling from the roof of the opera house while a car blew up nearby. “The 20 minutes set in Vienna are well done,” she says of the Hollywood production.

Whatever the genre, Austria’s capital has plenty to offer to the silver screen and you can practically visit Vienna just by viewing the many movies the city stars in.

Start with two that are arguably among the best films ever to be made – and also happen to star Vienna, namely “The Third Man” (1949) and “Before Sunrise” (1995).

In “The Third Man,” US writer Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotten) travels to post-war Vienna, divided by the Allies, and learns that his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) has died in a car accident.

Many of the locations from
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It turns out that Lime has only faked his death and is stealing penicillin from military hospitals, diluting it then selling it on the black market.

Martins hunts Lime down, together with a major (Trevor Howard), then falls in love with Lime’s girlfriend (Alida Valli), who rejects him, however.

The film’s success was not only thanks to the novel by British author Graham Greene. Viewers were wowed by the bombed-out city, shown in the dramatic black-and-white images, with the effects heightened by the camera work and interplay of light and shadow, along with the zither music of Anton Karas.

You can still see the locations where those images were shot, from the Prater, where Lime and Martins met for a ride on the Ferris wheel to the Central Cemetery. There’s Josefsplatz with Lime’s apartment building and the sewers, where we see a showdown following a car chase.

A still shot from 'The Third Man' shows Viennese Giant Ferris Wheel in the background.
A still shot from “The Third Man” shows Viennese Giant Ferris Wheel in the background.

You can find out more at Vienna’s Third Man Museum, where the owners Gerhard Strassgschwandtner and Karin Höfler have collected a series of true gems. “All originals,” says Strassgschwandtner, who says has watched the film “13 ,14 times.” Exhibits include Karas’ zither, cameras and the script by the man who acted the part of the major, Trevor Howard, complete with his personal notes.

If you can’t recall all the details in the film, pop over to the Burg Kino cinema which shows “The Third Man” twice a week in the original version. “Anyone who has only seen the film in the German dubbed version has not really seen it,” says cinema owner Kurt Schramek and it is hard to disagree.

The city stars in more recent films, too, such as “Before Sunrise,” which is described as “a film like a Vienna commercial,” by a book about Vienna as a filming location.

Director Richard Linklater shows us the city through the relationship between Frenchwoman Celine (Julie Delpy) and American Jesse (Ethan Hawke), who meet on the train. Both get off in Vienna then spend the day exploring the city before departing the following morning.

The plot is simple, consisting of dialogue between the two as they explore the depths of love and life. The changing backdrop as they discover the city may inspire many to follow in their footsteps.

The Third Man Museum is dedicated to the history of the film of the same name and the period in Vienna in which it was set.  (PAD)
The Third Man Museum is dedicated to the history of the film of the same name and the period in Vienna in which it was set. (PAD)

They sit down in Cafe Sperl, picking a table away from the window, in a place familiar from an earlier film. Sigmund Freud, played by Viggo Mortensen, and Carl Jung, played by Michael Fassbender, also sat here in the psychodrama “A Dangerous Method” (2011).

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke also take a tram trip in “Before Sunrise,” taking a trip outside the city to the Friedhof der Namenlosen, or cemetery of the nameless, where bodies recovered from the Danube lie buried. They settle down on a parapet near the Albertina Museum.

The quiet, romantic film was a global success. “Cinema can be so simple if you have the right backdrop,” is the view in the book about Viennese film locations.

At Viennese local, Hanno Pöschl, played a supporting role in “Before Sunrise.” His loud argument with his wife on the train at the start of the film leads Celine to change seats then start talking to Jesse, the initial spark for the love story.

Pöschl is delighted by this, as he is by the fact that he was paid for two contributions to the film, because the couple sat and discussed true love in front of his Kleines Cafe when a fortune-teller came along. Pöschl, already owner of the Franziskanerplatz cafe, can still be found there occasionally.

However, Pöschl enjoyed the most lucrative working day of his life when he made a guest appearance in the James Bond film “The Living Daylights” (1987). He played the man who “opens and closes the door of the gondola on the Ferris wheel in the Prater,” says Pöschl.

A still shot from 'Before Sunset' shows Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke and the Wiener Staatsoper in the background.
A still shot from “Before Sunset” shows Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke and the Wiener Staatsoper in the background.

He also had a single line, asking whether the secret agent Bond, played by Timothy Dalton, wanted to take another ride. He was paid a sum he described as “obscene” for those five words in English, though he didn’t reveal how much.

There’s a tale about a film at almost every corner in Vienna, says tour guide Gerti Schmidt, who regularly shows location scouts around. She always shows visitors on her guided tours the spot where Tom Cruise scaled down the side of the opera house.

“I love films that feature the city,” says Schmidt.

Tom Cruise performed stunts on the roof of the Wiener Staatsoper for a Mission Impossible film.  (PAD)
Tom Cruise performed stunts on the roof of the Wiener Staatsoper for a Mission Impossible film. (PAD)

On Karlsplatz, at the time a construction site, a scene was shot for “Scorpio, the Killer” (1973) with Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon, she says.

Reaching Stephansplatz, she says scenes from the third season of the “Jack Ryan” spy drama were shot here in 2021.

And in front of the city hall, she notes that the Nazi flags were hung up on the façade for “Woman in Gold” (2015) with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. “Even though you knew it wasn’t real, I found it kind of depressing,” she says.

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