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The swallowing of the William Fox product, by the Twentieth Century Fox
company which followed it, made this one vanish for the better part of
(gulp) a century but dodgy DVD has brought it back - a major clue in
the mystery of Erich Charrell, director of the greatest Operetta film
CONGRESS DANCES and author of that amiable repertory standard "White
Horse Inn," who made only these two films.
For the first part it looks like an over produced return to CONGRESS, even using a couple of the Viennese waltz numbers from that score and swimming in unnecessary costume extras. The predictable plot unites gypsy fiddler Boyer with city-raised heiress Young, who refuses an arranged marriage with C. Aubrey Smith's nephew. However once we get the scene where the army marches in to subdue the gypsy revolution and, on the order "Hands up!", Boyer's lot (who include a tame bear)raise musical instruments, as the girls pour out and pair with the troops, we can see the elements of the best films of Willi Forst or Ludwig Berger creep in. This starts with a minute plus single take. The arrival of the dissolute nephew, Philip Holmes uncharacteristically dashing, creates a genuine dramatic tension in the work as it becomes possible for Loretta to pair with either one.
The night, where Holmes finds "spirited" Jean Parker in the deserted gypsy camp, has the mood of ZOO IN BUDAPEST. This success could have had many fathers. However it disappeared from movie goer awareness and most physical distribution and never acquired the status of GREAT WALTZ.
The film could have been trimmed to advantage and it doesn't have the bite of Feyder's not dissimilar DAYBREAK but it certainly repays attention and leaves the viewer deploring the absence of more Charrell movies.
Erik Charrell had an artistic and financial success with his lively and
original CONGRESS DANCES and was imported into the United States. You
can see some of the same impulses in this movie, particularly the scene
in which the army attacks to restore order -- and the gypsies, led by
Charles Boyer on the violin, counter-attack with music and swamp them.
The movie is full of good bits like that. Charles Boyer is great, Phillips Holmes -- he looks like a blonde Kirk Douglas to me -- is good, and the supporting cast, who are all old pros are good. I think, though, that Charrell was having trouble giving directions in English, so that leading lady, Loretta Young, is pretty erratic, even though she is luminously beautiful. And does every shot having to make use of a traveling camera? The result is a failure to produce a good German operetta in Hollywood. It winds up bloated and ill-balanced; the hit song from it was "It's Up to You to Do the Hot-Cha-Cha", for which Gus Kahn probably wrote the lyrics while drunk.
Fox was falling apart, between the lack of a strong front office and troughing ticket sales. Popular star, Will Rogers, would die in a plane crash, Janet Gaynor was struggling to find more adult, modern vehicles and no one seemed sure how to deal with the newly enforced production code. CARAVAN looks like it could have been saved -- cut here, shoot a new scene there, but there was no one to make the decision. Soon the studio would be forcibly merged with Zanuck's 20th Century production and changes would be made.
It wouldn't be soon enough for this movie or Charrell. This would be his last movie as a director, although he would wind up with a decent enough career as a writer. Too bad.
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