While it is true that many films were made in Hollywood’s back lots, scores of other iconic and classic movies were made in some pretty glamorous and bucket-list-worthy locations. Here are some memorable places to relive your fan fantasies.
1. Follow The Zither To The Third Man (1949)
Walking down the Josefplatz in Vienna, I could almost hear the strains of a zither playing. In The Third Man, Carol Reed’s fabulously sinister 1949 film noir, the city seems to be almost a character.
Although The Third Man was largely filmed amidst the actual rubble of World War II’s destruction, even the cleaned-up and elegant city of today can conjure up scenes from the film.
In the film, Rollo Martins (Joseph Cotton) searches for his friend, the charismatic but sinister Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Harry lived at the Palais Pallavicini on Josefsplatz, near the Hofburg Palace. His fake burial was at the Central Cemetery on Simmeringer Hauptstrasse (along with Beethoven Brahms, Schubert, and Strauss).
My daughter and I rode the grand Ferris wheel (called the Risenrad and constructed in 1897) from which Harry Lime looked down at the people on the ground and famously asked, “Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever … if I said you can have £20,000 for every dot that stops.”
You can visit the Ferris wheel by taking the U2 metro line, exiting at Praterstern. Prater Park is just across the exit, a 5-minute walk to the Ferris wheel — and lots of other rides, food, and fun. Take a break at Rollercoaster restaurant in the park; you order your food on an iPad and a robot delivers it via rollercoaster (check opening and hours).
2. Pure Romance On A Roman Holiday (1953)
What film is more romantic than Roman Holiday? And what couple could be more perfect than Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) and Princess Ann? Not only is this the fictional story of a princess who briefly escapes her duties on a diplomatic trip to Rome, but it is also an unforgettable tour of the Eternal City in the 1950s.
Bradley first discovers Princess Ann pretending to be asleep in the Roman Forum. She ends up at his apartment at Via Margutta 51 (and just down the street from the home of filmmaker Federico Fellini at Number 110). A 5-minute walk away is the Spanish Steps, where the princess celebrates her freedom with gelato. Then, on the Tiber River banks below Castel Sant’Angelo, Princess Ann is chased by secret agents and memorably uses a guitar in self-defense.
Princess Ann would probably have loved the gelato at Fatamorgana, between the Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps.
Joe accompanies Princess Ann to the Bocca della Verita sculpture at the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Watch her reaction as Bradley briefly loses his arm.
The film’s final scene takes place in one of Rome’s oldest and most glorious private palaces, the Palazzo Colonna. Princess Ann announces her renewed dedication to her regal role, boosted by her love for Gregory Peck (whoops, I mean Joe Bradley).
3. Help! I’m In The Wrong Country For The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)
The stirring 1957 film (and winner of seven Academy Awards) The Bridge on the River Kwai was directed by David Lean and based on a true story. It memorably starred Alec Guinness as Lt. Colonel Nicholson, the soldier who led Allied prisoners of war in building the bridge that was part of the “The Death Railway” in Thailand, key to transporting Japanese supplies and troops overland from Siam to Burma during World War II.
But, I found out after I visited the bridge in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, that the filming happened in another country, Sri Lanka. My trip was still successful — the bridge in Thailand was near where the actual events took place, and visitors can see part of the original Kwai bridge on display at the JEATH War Museum, which tells the story of the Death Railway built from 1942 to 1943. The exhibit also tells the story of the thousands of prisoners and workers who died from starvation, disease, and wartime brutality.
The film’s Sri Lanka location was in a small community called Kitulgala on the Maskeliya Oya River, midway between the cities of Colombo and Kandy. Visitors can see the British headquarters in the film at the gorgeous Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens on Kandy’s western side.
The military hospital in the film was located at what is now the Mount Lavinia Hotel in Colombo, where you can stay in an 1806 mansion overlooking the Laccadive Sea.
4. Thank Heaven For Gigi (1958)
The film Gigi is not only a visual tour of some of the most lovely areas of Paris, but it is also a journey back in time to the last years of the 19th century in fin-de-siecle Paris. And therein was the challenge of filming Gigi. As star Leslie Caron later said, “There was so much traffic.” Thankfully you don’t see any cars speeding along the Bois de Boulogne in the film.
Director Vincente Minnelli shot several memorable scenes at Maxim’s on the Rue Royale. However, unfortunately, the restaurant’s famous mirrors reflected the shooting crew, and scenes had to be reshot later in California.
You can eat at Maxim’s! It is expensive, and the food gets mixed reviews, but the Art Nouveau interior is still dazzling.
Other film locations include Gaston Lachaille’s (Louis Jourdan) elegant home at 158 Boulevard Haussmann (now the Jacquemart-Andre Museum). The ice skating rink scene was filmed at the Palais des Glaces, now the Theatre du Rond-Point. Mamita and Gigi’s home in St. Germain des Pres is at the Cour de Rohan courtyard near the Odeon station, and Aunt Alicia’s Art Nouveau home at 29 Avenue Rapp.
Don’t try to reach the beach locations visited by Mamita, Gigi, and Gaston in Trouville (“I remember it well”); the scenes were reshot at Venice Beach in California due to bad weather.
5. An Offer You Can’t Refuse: The Godfather (1972)
Francis Ford Coppola filmed The Godfather mainly in New York City, Los Angeles, and Sicily. Fans may remember that first scene, at the wedding of Don Corleone’s (Marlon Brando) daughter Connie (Talia Shire), on his estate. The actual site was at 110 Longfellow Avenue on Emerson Hill in Staten Island.
Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) visits Jack Woltz (John Marley) at Woltz International, a fictional film studio in Hollywood, located at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. There he gives Woltz an “offer he can’t refuse.” While the film mogul’s estate was in Beverly Hills in a home built by William Randolph Hearst, the real location for the bedroom scene at Woltz’s villa (the one with the head of an unfortunate horse named Khartoum) was at Falaise, a historic house in Sands Point on Long Island’s North Shore.
Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) met up with Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) at the Edison Hotel on West 47th Street. Don Corleone’s business front is Genco Olive Oil at 128 Mott Street, and the Godfather is gunned down while shopping for fruit nearby, at 137 Mott Street.
The action continues with Michael Corleone in Sicily. Although the Sicily site in the novel is Corleone, Coppola chose other locations for filming because the real town seemed too modern. He filmed in Forza d’Agro and Savoca, two villages northwest of Taormina. You can still visit the Church of San Nicolo in Savoca, where Michael married Apollonia.
Bar Vitelli, where Michael met Apollonia’s father, is located in the Piazza Fossia and is a great place for a drink, gelato, or cake.
The entire movie crew stayed (as could you) at the beautiful Villa Sant’Andrea, outside Taormina on the Bay of Mazzaro.
6. Buffalo Dreams And Dances With Wolves (1990)
Shot on location mostly in South Dakota and Wyoming, Dances with Wolves won the Academy Award in 1991 for best film. Kevin Costner also won an Oscar for best director — on his first film — and starred as Union Army Lieutenant John Dunbar.
Much of Dances with Wolves was filmed around Rapid City in South Dakota. Fort Hays, which was located in Kansas, was rebuilt about 4 miles south of Rapid City.
The 50,000-acre Triple U Buffalo Ranch (formerly known as Standing Butte Ranch) was used as a location for portions of the film, including the Fort Sedgewick and the bison hunt scenes. Other sections of the film were shot in Badlands National Park, the Black Hills, and the Belle Fourche River area. The wagon journey from Fort Hays to Fort Sedgewick was filmed in the Sage Creek Wilderness Area in Badlands National Park.
You can visit (seasonally) the Dances with Wolves film set at the Chuckwagon Supper and Music Variety Show in Rapid City to see the buildings used in the film.
Don’t miss Wall Drug, about an hour’s drive east of Rapid City (MANY signs will direct you). It’s the ultimate tourist stop and a quirky roadside attraction, with food, shops, animatronic characters, and its famous 5-cent coffee.