This is a nicely plotted comedy dealing with mistaken identity, military, small-state nobility, and of course some romance thrown in. Set in some small German state (Großherzogtum, grand-duchy) before 1914, private Gustav (Heinz Rühmann) suffers from his sadistic drill officer Krause both in the barracks, and as a co-suitor for Emma, the butcher/innkeeper's daughter. Another triangle is Lieutenant Gernsbach (Viktor de Kowa) planning to marry his superior's daughter, while also dealing with lovely bar-singer Vera (Trude Berliner).
Gustav calls out all troops with a false bugle alarm (to draw Krause away from Emma), and is just on the verge of being punished, when the general arrives and is pleased that troops are ready in no time. So Gustav gets rewarded with 8 days furlough, and then promoted to serve as Gernsbach's adjutant instead.
Back in the quarters, he imitates several officers to the joy of his buddies, but is detected by drill officer and major, and in danger of more punishment. However, as coincidence happens, the prince of the little country is coming to visit the troops for their 100th anniversary, and it is requested that a theater play is given.
The garrison has a clown and a ventriloquist to offer.. plus Gustav, who with most acting talent is commanded to direct the show. He does it quite bravely, letting Krause play an older woman (which forces him to shed his mustache), with himself (playing an Ulan lieutenant) and Emma the heroes.
The prince is on the way, riding a special wagon on a very small-time train. The wagon promptly gets lost on the road, and prince, minister and man-servant have to make their way to the small garrison town. The prince hitches a car ride with Vera who is just moving, and though he identifies himself, meets disbelief. But she gives him a ride anyway, and he invites her to meet in the hotel again.
There's much more twists and confusions, of course. Gustav goes to get beer for Krause and in the lieutenant's uniform meets the prince, who takes a liking to him, and makes him his adjutant (under the misunderstood name of "von Fischbach", which really is Gustav's hometown). That leads to more tribulations... see it for yourself :) The end is left open. Gustav proposes to Emma on open stage; the prince has dinner with Vera.. but the movie ends as it began, in a toy shop window which sells out, and displays toy soldiers ("peace-time quality") that blend into, or from, the actors of the main story.
Made in 1932 in less than two weeks' time, the movie was banned in 1935 because it showed the military too negatively. It seems to have been re-released after 1945 with some notes about censorship.. and luckily is available on DVD (part of a 4-piece set I bought today).
I had to watch the movie twice to get the plot right, and then I started to investigate a bit (IMDb, Wikipedia). Who were those actors that did this merry play together? First, Trude Berliner, who I'd never heard of before, but who acted and sang most charmingly (my favorite actor in this film): being Jewish, she had to emigrate from Germany in 1933, and made it to the US. No major roles there, though she had one line (uncredited) in "Casablanca". She was credited once again in "The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler" (1943), which wasn't tremendously successful (I'd love to see it).
Eugen Burg (who gives the prince's dignified minister impressively) tried to emigrate but failed - he died in Theresienstadt concentration camp, 1944. His daughter Hansi made it to England and returned after 1945 to reunite with her lifetime companion Hans Albers.
Albers, Rühmann, de Kowa - they had successfully continued making films in Nazi Germany 1933-45, and after that as well (now "democratic" West Germany ...). Their lives and times, together with the others above, would make interesting stories (though certainly not a comedy like this was).
Not everyone's movie - black & white, in not always pristine condition. But pretty much recommended by me, if you are interested in pre-Nazi movie-making.
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