…is someone who can listen to the *William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger. (Billy Connolly)
Image: The ‘Tell Monument’ (German: Telldenkmal) is a memorial to William Tell in the market place of Altdorf, Canton of Uri, Switzerland.
“…In a famous scene, Lime meets Martins on the Wiener Riesenrad, the large Ferris wheel in the Prater amusement park. Looking down on the people below from his vantage point, Lime compares them to dots, and says that it would be insignificant if one of them or a few of them “stopped moving, forever”. Back on the ground, he notes:
You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
Welles added this remark – in the published script, it is in a footnote. Greene wrote in a letter, “What happened was that during the shooting of The Third Man it was found necessary for the timing to insert another sentence.” Welles apparently said the lines came from “an old Hungarian play”—in any event the idea is not original to Welles, acknowledged by the phrase “what the fellow said”.
The likeliest source is the painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. In a lecture on art from 1885 (published in Mr Whistler’s “Ten O’Clock” ), he said, “The Swiss in their mountains … What more worthy people! … yet, the perverse and scornful [goddess, Art] will have none of it, and the sons of patriots are left with the clock that turns the mill, and the sudden cuckoo, with difficulty restrained in its box! For this was Tell a hero! For this did Gessler die!” In a 1916 reminiscence, American painter Theodore Wores said that he “tried to get an acknowledgment from Whistler that San Francisco would some day become a great art center on account of our climatic, scenic and other advantages. ‘But environment does not lead to a production of art,’ Whistler retorted. ‘Consider Switzerland. There the people have everything in the form of natural advantages – mountains, valleys and blue sky. And what have they produced? The cuckoo clock!”
Or it may be that Welles was influenced by Geoffrey Household, who wrote, in 1939, in his novel Rogue Male: “…Swiss. A people, my dear fellow, of quite extraordinary stupidity and immorality. A combination which only a long experience of democratic government could have produced.”
This Is Orson Welles (1993) quotes Welles: “When the picture came out, the Swiss very nicely pointed out to me that they’ve never made any cuckoo clocks,” as the clocks are native to the German Black Forest. Writer John McPhee pointed out that when the Borgias flourished in Italy, Switzerland had “the most powerful and feared military force in Europe” and was not the peacefully neutral country it would later become…”