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"The Emperor Waltz" is an underrated jewel, a true hidden treasure by the
great Billy Wilder.
The basic idea of the movie is authentic comic genius, Wilder's trade-mark
superb wit: two parallel funny love stories, a canine one, of a dog with a
blitch, and a human one, of the straightforward American guy Virgil (Bing
Crosby) with the haughty Austrian Countess Johanna Augusta Franziska (Joan
Fontaine), the respective masters of the pets.
Virgil is a commercial traveller: his stubborn attempts to sell gramophones to (no less a person than) the Emperor Franz-Josef are irresistibly comic. And then the Countess' blitch is the predestined partner of the Emperor's dog, and so she needs to be treated with extreme care (including sessions of psychoanalysis): all the hopes of the over-noble but impoverished family of the Holena von Shwartzemberg-Shwartzemberg lie in her paws... But it's all too funny to be described: see the movie and enjoy yourself.
The funny, gently mocking reconstruction of the Austrian Court and of its rituals at the beginning of the 20th century is stunning. The delightful subtleties are uncountable: see the gentry play lawn-tennis, and the footmen in white gloves who present the tennis-balls on a silver tray...
All the actors make an excellent job, and there are no words to praise enough Richard Haydn as Emperor Franz-Josef. The cinematography, in bright, cheerful colors, is accurate and evocative. The costumes and the locations are magnificent. The film was intended to be a musical: however, we find in it just a pair of nice songs and a rather short ballet. I consider it a further merit of the movie: I'm not much fond of musicals.
I highly recommend "The Emperor Waltz", a praiseworthy issue of Wilder's magic wit and talent.
According to a new book out on Billy Wilder, Wilder had a much
different film in mind than what emerged here. He was a contract
director for Paramount at the time this was made with a few hits under
his belt. And he was assigned to direct this film with Bing Crosby who
was the biggest name in movies when this came out.
Crosby had a whole different film in mind and what Bing wanted Paramount gave him at that point. Wilder wanted a biting satire on the Franz Joseph court and he also wanted a the killing of the puppies, the offspring of Crosby's and Joan Fontaine's dogs to be an allegory for genocide. Crosby knew what his audiences expected from him and he opted for a lighter treatment.
The result was a second rate Billy Wilder movie, but a first class Bing Crosby film. Unlike in the thirties when Paramount just depended on Crosby's personality to put over a film, they gave this one the full A treatment. The outdoor sequences were shot in the Canadian Rockies and they serve as a great Alpine background. Though its muted, Wilder still gets some of his cynical point of view into Crosby's phonograph salesman who woos a member of Viennese royalty played by Joan Fontaine. Roland Culver who is Fontaine's father is also pretty good as the impoverished count who is quite willing to sell his title in marriage to anyone who can afford him.
Great vehicle for the winning Crosby personality.
It would be hard to find two consecutive feature films by a director of significance as different from one another as "The Lost Weekend" and "The Emperor Waltz", the former as hysterically hard hitting as anything Hollywood produced in the 'forties, the latter pure schmaltzy escapism. The first and most obvious conclusion is that Billy Wilder, as part of his contract to Paramount, was doing as he was told in producing a piece of box office confectionery. And yet there is no escaping the credits which bill the script as being by Wilder himself and Charles Brackett. So he must have known what he was doing. Superficially it looks and sounds like a nostalgic recreation of Wilder's home country, Austria, during a golden period before the First World War when the only thing to unsettle the court of the Emperor Franz Joseph was the entry of an itinerant American phonograph salesman and his mongrel dog. It is said that it might have been a different film but for the fact that Wilder had to accept Bing Crosby for the leading role and that he had to cater for the audience expectations of one of the most popular stars of the day, hence the odd song, though scarcely enough to make it a musical in the fully accepted sense. There is the odd witty line such as Franz Joseph's remark that were he to shave off his whiskers it would create consternation in changing his image on the country's currency. Apart from this it is hard to find much in the way of Wilder's characteristically cracking dialogue. The parallel romance between Bing and a countess and their dogs Buttons and Sheherazade rather palls after a while but the pretty visuals with the Canadian Rockies substituting for the Austrian Tyrol have some compensations. Bing plays his part with star flair although the same can hardly be said of Joan Fontaine as the countess. Aside from the virtue of a gorgeous hair-do, she acts with a stilted woodenness that is light years away from her work in "Rebecca" and "Jane Eyre". Still there is generally something engaging to catch the eye including one wonderfully kitschy moment when all the lasses from a village where violins are made play their instruments. When Wilder made "The Emperor Waltz" he already had to his credit that immortal film noir "Double Indemnity". 1947/48 must have been a particularly bad period for him as he followed his Austrian romance with easily his worst effort, "A Foreign Affair", a third-rate "Ninotchka" tale set in postwar Berlin with Jean Arthur, an otherwise good actress, hardly a match for Garbo. For all its faults "The Emperor Waltz" is infinitely more enjoyable though there is little indication of the talent that was to produce "Some Like It Hot", "The Apartment" and "Kiss Me, Stupid".
The mystery is that it took me so long to succumb to the charms of this
musical. There are few writer/directors I admire more than Billy Wilder
and few entertainers I enjoy more than Bing Crosby. I don't know what I
expected when they got together, but I guess it wasn't "The Emperor
Waltz". Initial disappointment was erased on a recent viewing.
Our story is set in the long ago Austria of Emperor Franz Josef and concerns the love affair between a haughty widowed countess (Joan Fontaine) and a brash American salesman (Crosby). Ditto her purebred poodle and his mutt. There is a lot of talk about class differences and bloodlines and, through the years, this has been my major gripe with the script. Perhaps at the time in the late 40s Bracket and Wilder felt the need to make some sort of a statement, but it's a tad heavy handed and detracts from the fun - and there is fun.
The musical numbers are presented wittily. For "In Dreams I Kiss Your Hand" Bing sings, then brings in a piano, then two policemen pick up violins and then the domestic staff starts to dance. When our countess swoons after a few boo-boo-boo's, you know it's all in fun. The uninspired humorist often remarks when watching a musical "where did the orchestra come from?". In the enchanting "The Kiss in Your Eyes", there is no need to ask as an entire village puts bow to string to accompany this most stirring of love songs.
The Technicolor filming is sumptuous and truly befitting the operetta-like sensibility of the movie.
Joan Fontaine is every inch the royal lady, looking lovely in her costumes and easily handling the comic and dramatic portions of the script. A nice transition from her young, vulnerable characterizations to the more confident females she portrayed in the 50s.
Early in the film Bing Crosby tends to shout his way through Virgil, but his character is a lone fish out of water with no kibitzing pal such as a Hope or Fitzgerald. Once he starts to sing - well, like the Countess, it is easy to fall for the go-getting salesman.
Lucile Watson is a delight as a dowager princess with a penchant for storytelling and for our Countess' profligate father played in fine style by Roland Culver.
The top performance comes from Richard Hadyn as Emperor F-J himself. Unrecognizable under the whiskers and make-up, and foregoing his famous nasally precise delivery, Mr. Hadyn gives us a very interesting Franz-Josef. A petulant, funny, irritating, thoughtful and memorable character. You will pinch yourself to remind you of who you are watching.
I heartily recommend this musical of much charm. Mystery solved.
This is a film you needn't strain your thinking on but it's a charming confection all the same. If you like Bing's easygoing style then there's lots to enjoy here. I was captivated by the superb photography of the mountains and local scenery, and being musical myself, very much appreciated the violin selections that were played. All the scenes are replete with gorgeous settings and costumes and Ms Fontaine is as exquisite as ever. I was intrigued by those 'horseless carriages' -- the vintage cars from the turn of the century. Personally I don't care to look for faults but just come to sit and appreciate the movie for what it has to offer, which is light entertainment with a happy ending -- a time of simple enjoyment.
What a nice delightful film this turned out to be. I'm in my musical phase of movies, and while this really cannot be classified as a true "musical", it does have a couple on nice songs and a short dance sequence. I guess you could classify this as a "quasi-musical". Anyway, the story is fun with the typical Billy Wilder political overtones that do not detract from the plot line. The scenery is great, as is Bing Crosby and Richard Haydin. Joan Fontaine is fine in what is asked of her. The real stars are the two dogs. Their scenes are delightful, as is the film. While there is a tad of dramatics at the end, it all turns out fine as expected. Would have like to have the fade-out of the two dogs cuddling up. See this one for a royal treat.
After having read all the negative reviews and the complaints about Crosby wrecking Wilder's original intention with the film, I was quite amazed to discover that I liked this film a lot. Crosby's interference isn't noticeable, by which I mean that the film has a quite evenhanded tone. And near the end, Crosby is absolutely horrid to Joan Fontaine (cruel to be kind, but he still takes it to extremes) in a cynical way which just smacks of Wilder's black-heartedness. Crosby's character in this film is also somewhat different from his usual persona: not laid-back, but a pushy, brash, fast-talking salesman (Hope or Cagney might have suited the story even better). Joan Fontain is very icy and remote at first (making her unattractive), but she melts very convincingly once the love affair starts. The film is also a sort of a parody of the musical: Crosby's yodelling song is full of yodel jokes, and during THE number of the film (I kiss your hand in dreams madame), a chamber-maid, Fontaine's goofy chauffeur and the middle-aged pudgy 'receptionist' of the inn at which Mr. C is staying launch into a wonderfully silly (deliberately so) ballet routine clearly intended as a stab at the conventions of the genre. The last part of the film becomes less amusing, and the puppy finale drags a bit, though the final confrontation with Franz Joseph (a great Richard Haydn) makes up for the lull. Finally, Fontaine has one of the greatest lines in movie history when she finally surrenders to Crosby: 'My husband was dashing and suave. He was 6'2". He was the most handsome man in all of Austria. You're so different!!' And kiss. Sheer brilliance.
In Austria, the American traveling salesman Virgil Smith (Bing Crosby)
arrives in the palace of Emperor Franz-Joseph I (Richard Haydn) with
his mongrel dog Button expecting to sell one gramophone to him to
promote his sales in the country. However, the guards believe he has a
time-bomb and he does not succeed in his intent. When the dog
Sheherazade of the widowed Countess Johanna Franziska von
Stolzenberg-Stolzenberg (Joan Fontaine) bites Button, Virgil visits her
and sooner he falls in love for Johanna and Button for Sheherazade that
is promised to breed with the Emperor's dog. When Virgil asks
permission to marry Johanna to the Emperor, the nobleman exposes to the
salesman that their difference of social classes would doom their
marriage and offers a business to Virgil.
"The Emperor Waltz" is a delightful and naive romance of Billy Wilder, with parallel human and canine love stories like the dogs were the alter-egos of their owners. The art direction and the set decoration are amazing, and the scene of the ball is awesome. Joan Fontaine is extremely beautiful and shows a great chemistry with Bing Crosby, but the dog Button steals the movie and is responsible for the funniest moments. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "A Valsa do Imperador" ("The Emperor Waltz")
Billy Wilder had never forgotten his native country and Bing Crosby
could have been the director himself using a time machine to visit
An old old emperor soon to plunge his country into WW1.An old emperor who had lost his wife (the famous Sissi)and his only son (it's no coincidence if in "Sunset Blvd" Von Stroheim -who claimed to be the son of one of the empress's lady in waiting- was called MAX -name of the emperor's brother,killed by the Mexicans - VON MAYERLING -the place where the Kronprinz died.)
But "Waltz" is the only work by the great director which takes place in Austria;a chocolate box Austria ,not very different from that depicted by Ernest Marischka' s "Sissi saga" (aka "forever my love" )complete with yodeling and Tirolians in their folk costumes .
In several respects ,it is a "political movie" :American is the land of democracy where there are supposedly no more classes ,and where a prince can marry a shepherd girl;it's the land of progress which provides the archaic Austria with gramophones .(One should notice that the emperor was already using a phonograph before 1898,for her wife bought "rollers" for him on the eve of her death);it's the land where you can call an emperor "the old boy" ;when his work became subtler,Wilder 's bite did not spare the Americans (see" one two three" or "Avanti") "Waltz" is twice a love story:love between an American who makes 25 dollars a week and a chic countess;between two dogs ,a mongrel and a lady dog with a pedigree (some kind of "Lady and the tramp" so to speak) Frances -Josef may seem reluctant but at the time he had already seen worse;his nephew ,Francis Ferdinand ,the new Kronprinz ,had married an obscure countess Sophie Chotek,and one of his sisters-in-law was an actress !
It's nice to see others who are also quite fond of The Emperor Waltz. The film mayn't be a personal favourite or a masterpiece, and there has been better from all involved- for example it is one of Billy Wilder's weakest films that I've seen but that is not knocking it at all, just that his best films are some of the best ever made- but The Emperor Waltz is still a lovely and very enjoyable film. Yes the story is incredibly silly and at its worst disposable and Bing Crosby has moments where he does overact. The Emperor Waltz does look absolutely gorgeous, the clothes and scenery coupled with the colourful cinematography really do make for a visual feast. The music is both lush and characterful, and there are songs also that are really catchy and pleasant to listen to. The choreography in the ballet sequence is wonderfully nimble as well as deliciously witty, it also doesn't go on for too long or bog the film down. The script at its best is uproariously funny with Wilder's style definitely coming through, helped by the great comic delivery, and there is also room for some genuinely sweet moments without falling into schmaltz as well as some biting but often gentle cynicism with the portrayal of the Austrian court while keeping in good taste still. Wilder directs with a sure hand, if not at his best and in the performances there is little to complain about. Particularly good are the dog Buttons, who bags some of the film's funniest moments as well as its sweetest, and an unrecognisable Richard Haydn, sometimes his character is irritating but Haydn is also hilarious and thoughtful too. Joan Fontaine is subtle and touching, the rest of the supporting cast turn in good work and while Crosby does go overboard at times he takes a light-hearted and suave approach in others which is most endearing and he characteristically sings magnificently. Overall, lovely stuff with a lot to like. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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