Friday, 13 November 2015


You know what the fellow said - in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgia's, 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.
Orson Welles at the Prater in The Third Man (1949, directed by Carol Reed)

Except that Switzerland never produced cuckoo clocks.
Clocks, yes, and very fine ones, but never clocks for people who miss their budgie and wants an hourly memorial service.
At the time of the Borgia's, there was also no Italy. The area was a multitude of kingdoms, princedoms, dukedoms and bishops-doms mixed with independent cities and private estates. The Borgia's were also not Italian in any sense. They descended from Valencia and are mostly famous for producing a number of Popes with despicable morals in the 14th-16th centuries.
The thirty years possibly refers to the period 1476-1507 which is the lifetime of Cesare Borgia, also known as Duke of Valentinois or possibly his father pope (yes, Pope!) Alexandre VI.

And when the Borgias were in power, they and their contemporaries used the Swiss as mercenary armies. The Swiss federation at that time consisted of only the eight cantons to the west. Their fighting power were famous at the time for beating Duke Charles (the Bold) of Burgundy several times in the 1470s. Even today, the popes and the Vatican have mercenary troops from Switzerland to defend the Vatican, called the Swiss guard (and in uniforms resembling their traditional costumes).

In the Swiss Federation at the time, the valleys had self-rule. At the time, they had relative democracy in comparison to everybody else. Democratic societies for non- nobility at the time but not quite in our sense of the world.
The brotherly love in the true familiar sense of the word it was not. You had to be a born in a local family to be included in the democracy, compare today's Swiss citizenship regulations. Peaceful it was not. Not the times, nor the place.

But I love the film and I know the quote by heart.


  1. This is my favourite film and the one I have watched most often over the years. I cannot get any of my three daughters to watch it because it's in black and white = olden days = boring. The film's black and whiteness is one of the factors that makes it so successful (cf Harry Lime in the doorway, in particular). My mother is Swiss and in fact I was in Berne last week. I did not buy a cuckoo clock although I do wear a Mondaine Swiss railway station style watch.

    1. You do? We love that watch!! It is the watch that man will want to buy if his current watch breaks. (I love the film and I aim have Anna Schmidt's face control in tough situations. The final scene is FANtastic!!!)

    2. EDIT: add -the- and add -to- at appropriate places.