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THE STRAUSS FAMILY (1972), directed by David(s) Reid & Giles, and Peter Potter (Episode 4), is an eight part mini-series about what the title indicates, the Strauss Family. Not quite "The Waltons" or "Father Knows Best" type of show, it's a saga set in 19th Century Vienna, Austria, spanning 85 years, where the focus centers upon the legendary waltz kings of the day, Johann Strauss (1804-1849), the father, and Johann Strauss (1825-1899), the son - their talents, affairs, rivalry and tragic events that occurred in their lives. The 52 minute videotaped presentations are as follows:
1) ANNA: Johann Strauss (Eric Woolfe) marries Anna (Anne Stallybrass) who births him five children (three boys, two girls). Playing nightly in Vienna's dance halls, his career takes off after he and his friend, Josef Lanner (Derek Jacobi) become rivals in the middle of a performance. Detached from his family, Johann acquires an illness that keeps him out of the public eye for several years. He develops a strong jealousy towards his young son, Johann (Alastair McKenzie), whose musical talent is evident even at an early age, and destroys the boy's violin after learning he's taking private lessons arranged by his mother. While conducting for the first time in several years, Johann meets up with Emilie (Barbara Ferris).
2) EMILIE: The egotistic Johann Strauss leaves his family to pursue his music and individual lifestyle with Emilie. Schanni (Stuart Wilson), Johann's eldest son, and the most musically gifted of his children, supports his family by working in a bank.
3) SCHANNI: Schanni rejects the security as a banker for musical life. He and his mother form an orchestra and challenges Johann's popularity. Johann's manager, Hirsh (David De Keyser) hires people to disrupt Schanni's concert debut, but instead of ruining him, wins them over, making Johann Strauss Jr. Vienna's new rising composer.
4) REVOLUTION: Johann's second son, Josef (Lewis Selwynn) joins the Revolution and Schanni is asked to write a march for it. Distrusted by rebels, Johann and Emilie flee the country. He later turns to Anna before dying of scarlet fever. The three Strauss sons must now face his legacy and their future together.
5) JOSEF: A musical tour brings Schanni to the brink of a nervous breakdown, leaving his brother, Josef (Nicholas Simmonds), to take over conducting the orchestra, finding the audience is taken by him. Edi (Tony Anholt), the youngest Strauss brother, is asked to share in the conducting. Johann travels to Russia where his love for Olga Smithitska (Ania Marson), is short lived. Following his ill-fated affair, Schanni returns to Vienna where he encounters Hetti (Margaret Whiting), a former opera star.
6) HETTI: Johann ignores the disapproval of his mother, and marries Hetti. Hetti becomes a shrewd businesswoman by managing Johann and giving him financial success. After his mother dies, Johann becomes bitter towards Hetti until he meets Lili Dietrich (Georgina Hale), whose beauty inspires him to compose his masterpiece, "The Blue Danube."
7) LILI: Hetti learns of Johann's affairs with Lili while Johann reacts to rumors of Hetti's daily visitation from a young man revealed to him as her long lost son. Caught in a fight between husband and son, Hetti suffers a stroke and dies. Johann immediately marries the youthful Lili, 28 years his junior. The marriage proves to be a failure. Lili soon tires of him and makes Johann a laughing stock during a festivity by dancing with active young men. Reality sets in as Johann sees himself as an broken down old man who now misses Hetti. The most heartfelt conclusion in this series.
8) ADELE: Following his divorce from Lili, Johann finds true love with a 24-year-old widow, Adele Deutsch (Lynn Farleigh), and mother to little Alice (Isabel Cottenham, the child/Suzanna Williams, the adult), whom Johann adores. Warned by Eduard that a relationship between a divorced man and a Jewish girl will prove scandalous, Johann marries Adele anyway, taking residency in Germany. After conducting for the Emperor Franz Josef (Michael Bryant), Johann succumbs to pneumonia.
This is the Strauss Family. This is their tribute, something that has been retold on screen several times in the past, the best known being two Hollywood versions of THE GREAT WALTZ as portrayed by Fernand Gravet (1938) and Horst Buchholz (1972). While many have criticized the theatrical releases for its biographical clichés and inaccuracies, only avid Strauss enthusiasts will notice some with this TV adaptation as well. Critically acclaimed upon its release, this British made production was first televised November 1972 in England before making its American debut surprisingly not on public television's "Masterpiece Theater," but on the ABC network Saturday evenings from May to June 1973. Subsequent rebroadcasts followed before THE STRAUSS FAMILY made its move over to PBS by the end of the decade.
The legacy and lives of the Strauss family is given the soap-opera treatment (illicit affairs, jealousy, brief bedroom love scenes not reenacted to the extreme) and well written screenplay the surpasses all previous efforts on screen. The costumes recapture the spirit of the era it is set, and while many of the performers remain unknown to American audiences, with the exception of a very young Jane Seymour early in her career playing Caroline, Josef's love interest and future wife, this doesn't take away the fine acting the director has placed upon them. Stallybrass gives a excellent performance as the prominent figure, long suffering wife/ mother who holds the family together. While much of the Strauss works are heard mostly as underscoring mood pieces, the best melodies, notably "Tales of the Vienna Woods," are re-conducted for ballroom dancing sequences, all conducted by the London Symphony Orchestra.
Out of circulation on the television markets for quite some time, this saga of THE STRAUSS FAMILY, which was distributed through Bonneville Worldwide Entertainment (BWE) Video (four cassettes/two episodes each) in the 1990s, is as memorable as the Strauss music itself. (****)
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