Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Third Man Completism

Nov 28, 2013

So often when one is travelling the most popular tourist sites turn out to be the most disappointing.

In Vienna recently I took the train out to visit the Schonbrunn Palace, home to the Habsburgs until their empire crumbled during World War One. It is apparently the most visited site in Austria but I was disappointed, make that angry, at the banality of the interpretation. Walking through the spacious rooms, audio guide pressed to my ear, I was treated to a barrage of trivial information about the daily lives of the royals. The Emperor stayed late at the office clearing up his dispatch boxes. The Empress spent six hours a day brushing her hair. This is the royal toilet; there is the royal bed chamber. Nothing about the empire itself and how this astonishing wealth was created or amassed.

Basically a visitor learns that the rich live in big houses with lots of servants. I am sure that I was getting the same messages that visitors in the 1950s were getting. It was as if all the advances in historical interpretation that have taken place in the last half century never happened. It is probably the least sophisticated historic site I have ever visited.

So next time you are visiting Vienna, instead of wasting your time on the gilded lives of the uber-rich, take in a much more interesting site, the Third Man Museum (Dritte Mann Museum). Located in several rooms of an old house just a stone`s throw from the Naschmarket, it is a museum devoted to the famous movie, The Third Man (1949), directed by Carol Reed, starring Joseph Cotton, Orson Welles and Alida Valli. OK, I am a big fan of the movie. But even if you are not, I recommend a visit.

For one thing, you`ll learn a lot about post-war Vienna, which is the setting for the film. You`ll also learn about the relationship between British spy Kim Philby and Graham Greene, who wrote the screenplay. I should have known, but didn`t, that they were pals and according to the museum their friendship is the subtext of the film. Perhaps best of all, you can listen to a contraption that plays 100 cover tunes of the famous zither music that forms the soundtrack to the movie.


And if you are a Third Man completist like myself, hop a train to the amusement park at the Prater and there it is, the ferris wheel where Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles have their ominous encounter.

Now that`s an historic site.