A late operetta trifle marks a turning point in European entertainment on many levels
This early British musical (a 1931 "Gainsborough Pictures" release as SUNSHINE SUSIE) was one of those made simultaneously in English, German and probably other languages rather than re-dubbing or subtitling one filming. Major German star, Renate Muller (many argued that after Marlene Dietrich and probably before Zarah Leander she was the German film ideal in the 30's - she will remind many of American Marilyn Miller without the major dancing) puts in a delightful period performance as the "Sunshine Susie" of the title in the last film she was able to make abroad before her death six years later under suspicious circumstances while still at the top of her career.
The piece of entertaining fluff that the film is (it's about a talented private secretary - the Austrian operetta it was cut down from was called DIE PRIVATSECKRETARIN and the entire piece is set in Vienna - rising from the typing pool to marry the boss with the aid of a fun loving musical corporate gatekeeper who is also a slyly presumptuous acquaintance of said boss who assists the boss in passing himself as a mere fellow worker. There are some surprising parallels not obvious in this bare bones synopsis to the Pulitzer Prize winning HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING thirty years later!), it stands as a stark example of the contrast between the light tuneful entertainment so popular as a relief from the first years of the great Depression and the reality that the world around it was descending into.
The starkest contrast comes from the fate of the lead herself - jumping or being thrown from an upper floor window in October of 1937 shortly after Gestapo agents were seen entering the building. Muller, a star heavily courted by the Nazis, was probably doomed by refusing to give up her Jewish lover or make propaganda films, but one can watch this film for pure entertainment alone if one wishes. Muller's singing and comedy still hold a world of charm, and Jack Hulbert as the wily underling, in one of his rare films apart from his wife Cecily Courtneidge, gives a delightfully restrained performance made up in a mustache and German brush cut. His musical number, "I've Got A Rich Aunt" with his eccentric dancing is a real highlight. Owen Nares as the boss, Herr Arvray, makes a nice pairing with Muller in an era where the male ideals were Conrad Nagel and Leslie Howard, and sings pleasantly enough. His long career (he also died relatively young at only 53 during the war) belied the stereotype that the coming of sound doomed silent film actors - the final third of his successful career blossomed in the sound era where he may be best remembered for the film versions of AREN'T WE ALL and THE SHOW GOES ON with Gracie Fields.
Virtually forgotten today, SUNSHINE SUSIE (I saw it in a print of the original release recorded from BBC One a few years ago) was issued in the U.S. the spring after its London Premiere as THE OFFICE GIRL. Trifle 'though it remains, it deserves to be more broadly available. It's a quality trifle.
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