January 22, 2014 by Reader's Connection
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the film The Third Man, and don’t want to learn about any of its plot twists, you should avoid this blog post.
In the film, an American (Joseph Cotton) called Holly Martins comes to Vienna to look for an old friend, Harry Lime. He learns upon arrival that Lime has been killed, and Holly begins to suspect murder. He develops a crush on Lime’s girl friend, and while visiting her fails to get along with her cat. The girl explains that the cat liked only the late Harry.
The camera goes out onto the street, where we see the cat cozy up to a pair of nicely shod feet in a doorway (Postwar Vienna is, as commentators on our DVD say, one of the film’s stars.) A little later, Holly is out on the street, hears the cat, sees the feet, and instigates one of cinema’s great revelations. Click on the kitty-cat to watch the scene.
The Third Man was filmed in 1948 in Vienna, with many of the indoor scenes filmed in England in 1949. During the Vienna shooting, Orson Welles, who plays the suprisingly alive Harry Lime, was a pain in the butt. He was wandering around Europe and wouldn’t show for work. The shadow of Harry Lime that you see running along in Vienna belongs in fact to assistant director Guy Hamilton, with a coat hanger in his coat to make him more Welles’s size.
And according to the narrator of Eva Menasse’s novel Vienna, the feet which the cat finds so cozy actually belong to “my father.”
Vienna is of course our One Book, Two Cities selection, being read and discussed in Indianapolis and our sister city Cologne, Germany.
This claim that the narrator’s father had been a foot model in The Third Man gave me an excuse to watch the movie again, and watching the film while fondling the novel has inspired me to assemble an exciting FAQ list.
Was Eva Menasse’s father a popular soccer star, like the narrator’s father in Vienna?
Yes. Hans Menasse.
Were those really his feet in The Third Man?
It’s possible. Stand-ins were used, but they weren’t named in the DVD’s commentaries. And remember that this family history is to some extent (what extent?) fictionalized.
Does she have a brother who, like “my brother” in the novel, has been skeptical about Austria’s idea of itself as being strictly a “victim” during World War II? The idea, in other words, that there were no Austrian Nazis, just German Nazis?
Yes. Robert Menasse.
Was this family already well-known to the readers in our Sister City, Cologne? Or are they well-known in Austria, less so in Germany? To what extent did such knowledge of the family affect Cologne’s reading of the novel, from the moment they picked up the book?
Wish I knew. A discussion group at College Avenue Library has asked much the same question, in a more general way, about the difference between European and American approaches to the book. You can click on the OBTC image to see that post.
How could I ask the people in Cologne about that, or anything else about their reading of the book?
You could ask Susan Davis to ask them. Click here for info.
It has been said of John Cheever’s novel The Wapshot Chronicle that it is really a bunch of stories held together with spit and chicken wire. Is that true of Vienna?
Haven’t read the Cheever novel, though I’ve bought it in paperback twice. I’ve read almost all of Vienna, and I think it’s a selection of family stories gathered and reshaped as fiction and held together, if at all, by the reader’s desire to learn about this family and their world.
I’ve been enjoying the stories as I read them, but have not felt drawn back to the book. I’m always ready to move on to something else.
But then I came upon a luncheon interview on the web, from which I have copied the two recent pictures of Eva & Hans & Robert Menasse. I listened to them go on in German–the interview runs for ten-some minutes–and given the lack of magnetic pull that the book exerts on me, I was surprised by two things.
First, I was glad to see that they at least seemed to enjoy each other’s company. Eva’s bristling prose had me wondering about that. Why was I relieved?
And second, when looking at Hans Menasse, and thinking back on his strange life–being exiled to England as a boy during WWII, discovering his athletic talent–I realized that he and his family meant something to me, that I had been drawn more deeply into the family’s story than I had realized.
If Harry Lime is alive, then who was buried in his coffin?
Oh, watch the movie.
January 30 Addendum
I posted my question, about how well the Menasse family is known in Germany, on a post of the Sister Cities Blog; and Erik in Cologne has answered.
I think that Eva as a novelist is relatively unknown to German readers. “Vienna” was her first novel. Some of the german readers may have known her as a journalist for FAZ, a german top- newspaper, for which she was correspondent for Austria.
Her brother Robert Menasse is a well-known author in Germany, and in Austria he is one of the top authors. Not only as a novelist, but also as a political author.
All soccer fans in Austria (and a few in Germany) know their father Hans as a member of the legendary Austrian soccer “dream-team” of the early 1950ies. In Austria he is a heroe.
As you can see, there is a big difference in the perception of the Menasse-family between Germany and Austria. And I can imagine how difficult it is to understand this in a transatlantic context.