I'd never heard of this film before other than a footnote in Bela Lugosi's filmography until I read Richard Barrios' excellent A Song in the Dark. In a chapter detailing some of the horrendous musical disasters Warners launched on an unsuspecting public in 1930 Viennese Nights stood out like an oasis of quality. I was intrigued and went to some lengths to get hold of a copy which I finally watched for the first time about a month ago in a copy that left a lot to be desired. There was a lot of drop out, especially in the first hour, so it was something of an effort to get involved in this bittersweet romance.
That I did and that in the end the quality of the copy didn't matter is a real tribute to this film. In fact though I started watching expecting a mildly entertaining museum piece, by the finale there were tears in my eyes and I couldn't stop humming the melodies for days afterwards.
Everything about this works beautifully, the storyline, though nothing new is here performed with such sincerity that any predictability is unimportant. The performances from Alexander Gray and Vivienne Segal (finally given a worthwhile vehicle) and the rest of the cast are well nigh perfect, the songs are both lovely, haunting and actually express the emotions perfectly. For once the music is welcome. Alan Crosland's direction is elegant and inventive - in it's use of sound light and shadow, and the different periods as we move from 1880 to 1930 are perfectly evoked. Also the 2 color Technicolor (so far as I can judge) is restrained and very pleasing.
For Bela fans, his role as an Ambassador is very brief and consists of no more than half a dozen lines. However he does have a nice moment watching the opera when he purrs `Beau-ti-ful music.. Beau-ti-ful ladies.'!!!
It's a real shame this film is so under appreciated. UCLA have produced a wonderful restoration (which played at the National Film Theatre here in England last month) so maybe film fans Stateside can lobby TCM Stateside to screen it. (It's not listed as being in their holdings but surely as a First National Production they must have some right to screen it.)
A real gem of a film.
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