By Rich M.
The Blue Danube river cruise a few years ago caused me to rapidly fall head-over-heels in love with some of the great cities I visited along the “River of Kings” – from Vienna to Budapest and beyond, as the Danube winds all the way to the Black Sea and Bucharest. And being the movie buff that I am, I thought it might be fun to shine a spotlight on five of these historic cities and some of the films and / or television shows that have been shot on location (or, in some cases, on soundstages) there.
First, I’m a dedicated movie buff and somewhat of an Orson Welles fanatic – so I’ll start with Vienna (for reasons that will soon be obvious). As you might imagine, a city as historic and influential as Vienna – for centuries the heart of Europe’s old Habsburg empire and the capital of Austria today – has had its share of movie memories created within its borders. Perhaps the best-known example is the city’s prominent role in Sir Carol Reed’s classic 1949 film noir, The Third Man, set entirely in a bleak, bombed-out, postwar Vienna. Although many of its scenes were shot on soundstages in the UK, others were filmed right on location in parts of Vienna itself that – and this is the coolest part – have survived intact and can still be seen today.
The apartment of shadowy rogue Harry Lime (played, of course, by Orson Welles), for example, is actually the Baroque-era Palais Pallavicini, where Tauck guests enjoy an Imperial Evening on The Blue Danube rel=”noopener noreferrer” and other Tauck European river cruises visiting Vienna – which I must admit was a real treat for this Welles fan – while the Ferris wheel scene containing Lime’s famous “cuckoo clock” speech (written by Welles) was shot on the 19th-century Wiener Riesenrad, still operating at the entrance of the Prater, Vienna’s historic amusement park.
And more recently, the Riesenrad and other Vienna locations formed the backdrop for a romantic night spent roaming the city between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Richard Linklater’s 1995 Before Sunrise, and were seen in 2015’s Woman in Gold.
Boasting some of the most spectacular Habsburg-era architecture in Europe – especially along the banks of the Danube, which before the mid-19th century separated the distinct cities of Buda and Pest – Budapest is a natural as a setting for movies of practically any genre… from romances like the 2009 Brazilian film Budapeste to espionage thrillers like 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. While often “playing itself,” the city’s classic European settings also double for other locations – as in 2005’s Munich, in which the city’s Puskás Ferenc stadium stood in for Munich’s Olympic Stadium, and in the 2008 mini-series John Adams, featuring Paul Giamatti as the founding father, where scenes taking place in London and Paris were actually filmed in Budapest.
You might be surprised to learn that much of 2015’s acclaimed The Martian, starring Matt Damon as an astronaut struggling to survive after being left behind on Mars, was shot in Budapest, too – on one of the largest soundstages in the world at Korda Studios just outside the city, one of several facilities that’s making Budapest a favorite choice for producers of late. But it’s Budapest itself that stars most prominently in another 2015 movie – the comedy Spy, in which CIA desk-jockey-turned-operative Melissa McCarthy chases around the city – featuring scenes shot at locations I happen to love (and you’ll recognize when you visit), including the Chain Bridge and the Danube riverfront, Hungary’s opulent Parliament Building, and the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace.
Perhaps not nearly as well-known to travelers as Vienna or Budapest but just as fascinating – and even a bit older – Slovakia’s capital city of Bratislava harbors more than 17 centuries worth of history within its streets. I can attest that walking off your riverboat docked on the Danube and through Bratislava’s cobble-stoned, pedestrian-only Old Town is definitely a step back in time, and that may be why the city has often been a shooting location for fantasy adventure movies including 1996’s Dragonheart and 1997’s Kull the Conqueror. Modern-day adventures like the 1997 George Clooney/Nicole Kidman action thriller The Peacemaker have been filmed here, too. But this historic city and its environs have subbed for other locations as well – including war-torn Bosnia in 2001’s Behind Enemy Lines, and the Warsaw Ghetto in Uprising, director Jon Avnet’s TV movie from the same year about Jewish partisans in the 1943 Warsaw Rising.
Over the past decade or so, Serbia’s cosmopolitan capital, Belgrade, has become an increasingly popular location for moviemakers – both on its historic streets and on soundstages in its film studios. Recently, the city provided settings for two action thrillers about former CIA agents – the Pierce Brosnan vehicle The November Man and the Kevin Costner-starring 3 Days to Kill, both released in 2014; the latter features scenes shot at Belgrade’s iconic Kalemegdan Fortress. With its wealth of historic architecture, Belgrade proved a fitting substitute for 1849 Baltimore in the 2012 mystery thriller The Raven, featuring John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe – and occasionally doubled for Belfast in the 2012 TV series Titanic: Blood and Steel, set during the construction of the ill-fated liner.
Filmmakers appear to have rediscovered Bucharest in recent years, as Romania’s ancient capital – known during the period between the two World Wars as “Little Paris” for its architectural and cultural sophistication – re-emerged after decades behind the “Iron Curtain.” Although the ravages of World War II and the Communist era destroyed much of the city’s great historic architecture, some has survived, making modern-day Bucharest an inviting place to shoot all kinds of movies (as well as home to some major studio facilities). Blend in the city’s reputation for Cold War intrigue and Romania’s pivotal role in the Dracula story, and you have a destination that’s a perfect host for a wide variety of film and TV fare – ranging from horror films (Them; Dracula: The Dark Prince) and comedies (Borat) to fantasies (Ghost Rider, Highlander: Endgame, Dragonheart 3 and The Scorpion King 4) to historical epics whose stories are set far from the Danube… including Cold Mountain; Queen & Country and the TV mini-series Hatfields & McCoys.
Tauck river cruises visiting the cities we’ve featured here include The Blue Danube; Danube Reflections; Musical Magic Along the Blue Danube; Budapest to the Black Sea; Amsterdam to Budapest by Riverboat; Grand European Cruise; Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure and others.