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This was one of the funniest programs I had ever seen, with delightful
characters. Filmed on a stage, the dialogue was quick zingers and the
performers never missed a beat.
When Herr Zangler leaves his two employees, Weinberl and Christopher, in
charge of his store to visit his beloved in Vienna, they take advantage of
his absence to go spelunking in Vienna as well. Lo and behold, Zangler
pursue his young ward, Marie, who has run off with her beau, and a near
meeting with their boss causes Weinberl and Christopher to duck into a
seemingly harmless dress shop. It is from there there chaos begins with an
incredible case of mistaken identity the likes of which I have never seen
before. One might think why worry about it the way they did, but this was
the ninteenth century and proper etiquette was followed. Nevertheless, the
events in that dress shop are too hilarious.
Weinberl: "You might find me a little forward."
Frau Fischer: "A little forward? You should meet yourself coming
Further encounters with an elderly woman, Madame Knorr, just add to the hilarity, especially from Harold Innocent as the scene stealing coachman, when he talks about the horses buttocks, . . . . ! And then the coachman takes off with Lisett, the French maid.
Thrown into all of this is the young assistant of Zangler, Sonders, played by Peter Borke. Sonders realized what all had happened, but Zangler wouldn't believe him. Sonders had his own catch phrase "Classic!"
To make things even more amusing or confusing, the part of Christopher was played by Felicity Kendal, extremely well too.
There were moments that were just too coincidental, and they occur to often, such as Fischer and Weinberl having been pen pals and not knowing it, Fischer's late husband being the man Knorr had fallen for and one or two more, but these are extremely easy to overlook, as they are focused on at very minor times.
All in all, this thing was a laugh from beginning to the end.
This has become a cult favorite among my family, their friends, and
their friends' friends. I was foresighted (or lucky) enough to tape the
original TV broadcast --and that IS lucky, since no one has seen fit to
issue this marvelously funny play on either VHS or DVD. I can't
understand why. It is a farce, and, like all farces, lives and dies by
its timing and the author's language. This one lives gloriously. Just a
handful of my favorite lines: Two men are talking in a crowded hallway
of a restaurant, and one notices a waiter hurrying toward them with a
raised platter: "Duck!" "No, pheasant." replies the waiter as he sweeps
Herr Zangler, discussing the idea of an impecunious young man marrying his niece, on being told that he has prospects and will inherit his elderly aunt's fortune: "And when will that be? You could wait forever, or until Belgium produces a composer!" And my favorite of all: A woman, on being informed that she is the wife of a man whom she's never met. The man apologizes and then goes on to say: "I'm afraid this is a presumption." "Presumption? Not at all! Presumption, one has met before."
As marvelous as the language are the performances of the cast --virtually all of them: Felicity Kendall, Alfred Lynch, Dinsdale Landen, Peter Bourke... well, all of them. Peter Wood's direction is flawless: The pace, the timing and the energy are maintained throughout the entire play; at no point does it flag and lose its comic momentum.
Here is my plea: Please issue this classic (and, by the way, you have to see the play to understand why that word is so appropriate) in DVD so intelligent viewers everywhere can enjoy it! Besides, my VHS tape is wearing out.
My memories of this production are over twenty years old now - it was
pushed by PBS because it seemed a good production and the play by
Johann Nestoy (19th Century Austria's greatest dramatist) was the
ancestor of Thornton Wilder's THE MERCHANT OF YONKERS turned into THE
MATCHMAKER turned into HELLO, DOLLY! It was a good production,
particularly Felicity Kendall's "pants" role of the larking junior
clerk Christopher (her scene ordering food at the restaurant as though
she were to the manor born was wonderful), but one performance was
totally annoying. Dimsdale Laden's Zangler (the model for Wilder's
Vandergelder) was annoying. Either the performer (or in this case, the
director) made the character so fatuous that one could not believe he
had a head for business. Both Paul Ford and Walter Matthau in their
respective performances as Vandergelder showed business competence as
well as self-importance. They were believable, while Laden was
From the start of his first line he seemed to contradict every sentence he said by repeating it from the center or going around to a different point of view immediately. And doing it with the most vacant faced grinning smile I have ever seen in a performance. Only once did that smile end, and the face seem (momentarily) funny and human - when he is presented with the bill for all the characters at the restaurant, he suddenly got bugged-eyed and upset (and, best of all, at a loss for words). Too bad that approach could not be used more frequently in his case. He drags this play production down from a possible 8 or 9 to a 6.
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