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Freed from the strictures of the Karlsburg royal palace to attend
University, THE STUDENT PRINCE IN OLD HEIDELBERG experiences true love
for the first time.
This wonderful, exuberant, heartbreaking film - one of the last major movies of the Silent Era - is a scintillating example of the artistry of director Ernst Lubitsch. Filled with wry humor & aching pathos, Lubitsch tells a tale which is a persuasive paean to the power of the talkless film.
MGM had great faith in this movie & gave it excellent production values, with crowds of extras and picture-perfect sets & costumes. Based in part on the Wilhelm Meyer-Förster novel & the operetta by Sigmund Romberg, the film revels in romanticism.
Ramon Novarro, always eager to please his audience, brings great charm to the title role. Although about 10 years too old to be playing a typical university freshman, he nonetheless brings tremendous enthusiasm to the role. It was this essential boyishness which encouraged MGM to continue giving him roles which were too young for him (in 1932's HUDDLE he would play a Yale freshman). The Studio also insisted on giving their Mexican star a wide range of ethnic parts, everything from Chinese to Arab. He played them all well, but none better than here in STUDENT PRINCE. It is a shame that Hollywood would not reciprocate by giving him topnotch assignments.
Norma Shearer is radiant as Kathi, the vivacious & lovely barmaid who is beloved by the Prince. She gives a wonderful performance in what was considered a breakthrough role for her. She married MGM executive Irving Thalberg the same year STUDENT PRINCE was released and her stardom at the Studio was firmly established. She earned her celebrity through hard work and honest talent, however, not by noodling with the boss.
Jean Hersholt, as the Prince's gentle tutor, puts his own stamp on the kind of sympathetic role with which he would become associated. Miles removed from his villainous portrayals in TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY (1922) or GREED (1925), Hersholt here is the very embodiment of benevolence.
Gustav von Seyffertitz as the cold King, Edmund Connelly as the stern Prime Minister & Bobby Mack as an old rustic retainer all add very fine support. Movie mavens will recognize Lionel Belmore as a boisterous student & Charles K. Arthur as a drowsy inebriate, both unbilled.
Carl Davis supplied one of his typically bravura scores for the home video reissue of the film. He conducts the English Chamber Orchestra.
While Karlsburg is a fictitious Teutonic kingdom, Heidelberg is a very real city located in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. As ancient capital of the Rhenish Palatinate, its electoral counts - always a branch of the Wittelsbach royal family of Bavaria - played a significant role in the history of both the Holy Roman Empire and Central Europe. Although originally Roman Catholic, political vicissitudes brought about a change to Protestantism centuries ago. Heidelberg University was founded in 1386 by Count Rupert I & chartered the same year by Pope Urban VI. After a period of dissolution, it was revitalized in the 19th Century as a center of the sciences, law & philosophy. Town & gown are both overlooked by Heidelberg Castle, one of Europe's mightiest fortresses, where it sits on its hill 330 feet above the Neckar River. Its cellars contains the fabled Heidelberg Tun, a prodigious 18th Century wine cask capable of holding 49,000 gallons - surely a source of wonder to the Student Prince & his classmates...
The titles call this film "Old Heidelberg." Perhaps the longer title was added later to cash in on the popularity of Romberg's operetta, "The Student Prince," or to differenciate this 1927 silent film from an earlier version. Although director Ernst Lubitsch is a bit ham-handed about hammering home the fact that the obligations of royalty can lead to unhappiness (characters musing about how wonderful it must be to be a prince/king...the irony is too heavy-handed, which isn't like him), the point, at least, does get made. The movie abounds in gorgeous, evocative images that enhance the dramatic situations. There are many very telling moments that reveal the Master's touch...the prince steps out of the train, his momentary jealousy when he sees Kathi's popularity with the students, his stiff reunion with his former friends, who can no longer be his friends, and his realization of it. Ramon Novarro is an eager puppy-dog of a prince, charmingly, almost unbelievably, naive and enthusiastic, which makes his dilemma all the more touching as he begins to realize that there are some things a king can't have; if Norma Shearer, by comparison, seems more calculating and "actressy," she's still quite effective (when she and Karl Friedrich embrace before he heads back home because of his uncle's illness, her eyes tell you that she suspects she may never see him again), and the lesser roles are cast to near-perfection. After performing as a successful screen villain, Jean Hersholt was so good as the Prince's loyal tutor and companion that he established a nearly-unshakable image of weary kindliness. Production values are high--Lubitsch spent a lot of money but, in this case, it wasn't wasted. As one who generally finds silent films hammily-acted and dated in sensibility, I was pleasantly surprised to find this movie so absorbing. The Carl Davis score with which it is now shown, was added much later and does its own part to enhance the movie. Highly recommended.
Crown Prince Karl Heinrich (Ramon Novarro) hates being a prince. He
can't go out and mingle or meet other people because of his station. He
goes to Heidelberg to study. There he meets beautiful bar maid Kathi
(Norma Shearer) and falls madly in love. She loves him too..but he
can't marry beneath his station in life...
Just stunning silent film. You watch the screen mesmerized by how beautiful it is. It's wonderfully directed by Ernst Lubitsch with some truly incredible images but it's Novarro and Shearer who carry this film. He's unbearably handsome--she's just incredibly beautiful. Together they look like perfection and both give superb performances - I believed they were in love completely! There's a just incredible sequence on a starlit night in a field of flowers. All kidding aside, it was so beautiful you could almost cry! It all leads to a tragic but realistic ending. Just simply a must-see movie. Don't miss this one!
Ernst Lubitsch's silent films are as graceful and enchanting as his
sound pictures, but the director's silents are unfairly left in the
corner and don't always get the distinction they truly deserve. Along
with "Lady Windermere's Fan" and "The Marriage Circle", this
heartbreaking silent classic is one of Lubitsch's most perfect and
poignant American silent films.
"The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg"(surviving copies only say " Old Heidelberg") is a very moving and heartbreaking love story and pretty much in the best Lubitsch tradition of subtle, graceful, witty romantic comedy, tinged with an air of sadness and poignancy, much like what you see in the later Lubitsch sound masterworks like "The Shop Around the Corner", "Heaven Can Wait", and "Cluny Brown". Norma Shearer gives what could be her greatest and most satisfying silent performance as Kathi, a popular barmaid with fraternal students and townsfolk in the quasi-mythical university town of Heidelberg. Ramon Novaro is superb as her prince charming, the student prince who falls in love with her.
If you liked this one, I recommend Lubitsch's other great silent love story from this period, the rarely seen and appreciated "Eternal Love."
Ramon Novarro (as Karl Heinrich) is the Crown Prince of Karlsburg. He
is envied by his subjects, but lonely and isolated behind castle walls.
Quite Princely in appearance, and capable of performing royal duties,
he is, nonetheless, not enamored with dutiful royalties. With help from
tutor Jean Hersholt (as Dr. Juttner), he becomes an honor student, and
is goes to university at Old Heidelberg. There, he meets and falls in
love with commoner Norma Shearer (as Kathi).
"The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg" is a first rate silent film production, expertly directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Mr. Novarro is appropriately exuberant as the young Prince - his performance is excellent throughout, but really starts to dazzle in the scenes beginning with his witnessing of Ms. Shearer's downing a German beer. Mr. Hersholt is great as Novarro's tutor; both men are superior with the necessary "silent screen" acting, and the more forward "underplaying". Ms. Shearer is just a step behind her co-stars in artful acting; but, it's a a gap she will very quickly fill. Shearer is terrific in the scene when she learns Novarro is leaving, and helps him pack. Philipe de Lacy is notable, playing the Prince as a boy; his characterization matches the older Novarro - director Lubitsch directs these early sequences effectively, creating the image of a young prince in his castle prison.
When a couple of important people in the Prince's life die, the story becomes necessarily more somber in tone. Of course, Novarro must eventually become King - these scenes are beautifully symbolic, and extraordinarily well photographed. The visit by an old friend prompts Novarro's return to Old Heidelberg, with unexpected results. Don't miss a later scene, when Novarro returns to his Old Heidelberg bedroom - especially, watch how Novarro briefly strokes his bed, obviously thinking of Shearer; it's a superb little bit of sexual suggestion. It would be nice to know whether the gesture originated with Novarro or Lubitsch - but, it's probably not possible to determine. "Is it Good to be King?" You'll know when you see Novarro's beautifully acted final scene, in his royal carriage - certainly, it's one of the most memorable performances in silent cinema.
********** The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (9/21/27) Ernst Lubitsch ~ Ramon Novarro, Norma Shearer, Jean Hersholt, Philippe de Lacy
This a delightful film full of humanistic touches-- from young Prince Karl's playful relationship with his good-natured mentor, Dr. Juttner, his carousing and drinking with the students in Old Heidelberg, to his paddling upon lakes and taking mad carriage rides with the beautiful barmaid, Kathy-- it's all at once side-stitchingly funny, bittersweet, romantic and a nostalgic tribute to youth and young love. The film is made with such a deft touch that, to the end where Prince Karl returns to visit Heidelberg, it never becomes schmaltzy. It is consistently charming and ends on a pitch perfect note. A real crowd pleaser. Highly recommended.
I found this film an absolute delight. All of the leads put in outstanding preformances. The romance between Prince Karl(Ramon Novarro) and Kathi(Norma Shearer) is wonderfully presented, and it is truly poignant. I did feel, however, that the film loses momentum, to an extent, twoards the end. The music score on the home video edition is, like most by Carl Davis, a big plus. Well worth seeing.
I watched this delightful film on TCM last night. What a revelation!
Although the print quality has clearly suffered over the years, the
high quality of the original production values shines through. The
famous Lubitcsh Touch is all over this sweet, moving film.
The acting is also superb! Navarro and Shearer give believable performances as a star-crossed couple in turn-of-the-century Germany. Navarro, in particular, gives a pitch-perfect portrayal of a reluctant prince who longs only for a simple life surrounded by school-friends and his first love.
Also giving a beautiful performance as the prince's tutor and mentor was Jean Hersholt.
I have never particularly enjoyed silent films - many seem to me to be overly melodramatic. But this film changed my opinion. The actors and director were able to communicate so much with very few dialog cards. It made me realize what was lost when talking pictures took over and everything became more literal.
Even if you don't think you like silent films, give this one a try.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Their finest year
Nineteen Twenty-Seven was the year of miracles. Motion Pictures reached a parity of technology and creative expression, resulting in the greatest collective output of this or any other year, unsurpassed in both quantity and astonishing quality. It was the year of F. W. Murnau's masterpiece Sunrise and Frank Borzage's 7th Heaven, both starring Janet Gaynor, both produced by Fox and both showered with generous and well deserved awards. While Chaplin was missing from 1927, two of film's comic legends produced what many consider their finest work. Buster Keaton's Civil War tale The General and Harold Lloyd's rural gem The Kid Brother appeared. A banner year for Weimar Cinema, UFA produced G. W. Pabst's beautiful but nearly forgotten The Love of Jean Ney and Fritz Lang's futuristic nightmare, Metropolis, while French master Able Gance released his monumental epic, Napoléon. In the year Kevin Brownlow described as "Annus Mirabilis," Hollywood leader MGM contributed Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Love, an adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and a breathtaking Ernst Lubitsch production, The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg.
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927)
Friday, July 13, 7:00 p. m., The Castro, San Francisco
Based on Wilhelm Meyer-Förster's story of doomed romance between a young prince and an innkeeper's daughter, The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927) was released by MGM following Sigmund Romberg's Broadway Operetta in 1924. Director Ernst Lubitsch offered a flattering combination of humorous chiding, casual effervescence and tragic duty-before-love resignation, in this lyrical adaptation, his eighth American film.
The wealth of craftsmanship and technology available within Hollywood's greatest studio is visible in the lighting, editing and photography of each and every frame. Starring in one of her finest roles as Kathi, Norma Shearer rivaled any actress on the lot. She was cast in the best productions, under the aegis of her future husband, executive producer and boy genius Irving Thalberg. As Prince Karl Heinrich, Ramon Novarro's expression of naive exuberance contrasted perfectly to the militaristic reality of his royal obligation. The cast was rounded out by a group of consummate supporting characters including, Jean Hersholt, Gustav von Seyffertitz and everyone's younger self, Philippe de Lacy.
A master of light comedy, Lubitsch fails to demonstrate the depth of despair and tragedy seen in the films of Borzage, Seastrom and others, but the exhilarating high entertainment of The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg is only matched by the exceptional beauty of the principle actors. Lubitsch conveys their shared desire by superimposing their eager faces, plunging the camera into close-ups and revealing the Prince's desperate fantasies of what can never be. With the timidity of a sheltered child, Karl Heinrich enters the beer garden below his rooms, seeking the acceptance of his classmates and Kathi's love. Lubitsch choreographed the swarming mass of uniformed and attentive young men with such fluid mastery, they seem to extend and punctuate every movement and gesture Karl Heinrich and Kathi make. At the moment their love is realized, they withdraw from reality, reclining in a fantasy of luminous flowers, beautiful, unreal and impossible.
By the time this came out, operetta was in decline, and so were silents. Still this is...well, quite the movie. Lubisch managed to turn what would have otherwise been a fairy tale into a believable drama between a saucy, popular, waitress and a university's "special student", a prince raised with little contact with the outside world (and whose father is paying for him to be kept that way). Sexy details abound: Dad, in this version, apparently owes his son to a similar intregue, Kathi balances her virginal prettiness with knowing gestures (check out how she demonstrates the softness of the bed!) If you think silents are campy, you'll like this one...it camps itself. And you'll love it.
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