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Olly von Flint
At a diplomat's mansion, Das Land des Lächelns (Land of Smiles) operetta is to be performed. Lisa, the diplomat's daughter, hosts an exotic guest from India, paralleling the stage story between prince Sou-Chong (Richard Tauber) and Viennese Countess Lisel (Margit Suchy), in a tale of East meets West.Written by
At a diplomat's mansion, Das Land des Lächelns (The Land of Smiles) operetta, conducted by composer Franz Léhar himself, is to be performed. As the stage play develops, we see a parallel story going on between the diplomat's daughter Lisa and a guest of honor returning to India next day. In the operetta, Chinese Prince Sou-Chong receives a yellow jacket symbolizing his leadership as ruler of the Empire. His counselors still ignore that he has taken an Austrian bride to China, who he hides in the palace private apartments. He tells his sister Mi who quickly makes friends with countess Lisel, a woman from a different country with much more freedom for women than Mi has ever dreamed of. She also meets Lisel's friend Gustl, and her fascination for Europe grows stronger. These different lifestyle and morals will soon make problems start, when the old counselors find out about Lisel and urge Sou-Chong to also take Chinese wives to secure the Dinasty's descent. Lisel will not accept this, Sou-Chong not being accustomed to his master's role being questioned, and so the tension raises.
Léhar adapted his previous work Die gelbe Jacke from 1923 (premiered at Vienna with Hubert Marischka in the main role and received with moderate success), to his friend Richard Tauber's vocal qualities. The renovated Das Land des Lächelns was premiered at the Metropol Theater in Berlin in 1929, this time to a smashing success. Léhar and his then collaborators Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner wrote new melodies, changed some character's names and the end of the story, which may or may not like each one, but won the approval of the Viennese and Hungarian audiences. Das Land des Lächelns has in fact several of the most famous and best loved songs in the operetta repertoire (see soundtrack), Dein ist mein ganzes Herz (Yours is all my heart) maybe the best known of them all, written specially as a Tauberlied. So no wonder this 1930 film is produced by Richard Tauber Tonfilm (Die grosse Attraktion and Das lockende Ziel were to follow).
This was the first film version ever made, followed later on by another one played by Mártha Eggerth and Jan Kiepura in 1952 and a third one with René Kollo and Birgit Pitsch-Sarata in 1973. Reprising his stage role, tenor Richard Tauber performs as Sou-Chong, Hella Kürty and Willi Stettner also take their same Berliner premiere roles, while Margit Suchy plays Lisel. Max Schreck can be seen as the oldest counselor.
In this first cinematic version Tauber, with a funny wink to the audience in the main titles, plays both the role of the oriental Prince and the guest from India. The "present" time story is only suggested, the operetta being the main focus, offering us a view of a theatre play inside the film, with an elaborate stage production unfortunately faded by black-and-white and the poor image and sound quality of existing copies. After all, this is an early talkie, and it feels more like a silent sometimes, specially in the first sequences with cars arriving at the evening gala. Yet, it seems to be the truest version to the original Léhar stage play, as the Éggerth-Kiepura characters are quite different from the original, and so it offers us an idea of how it was planned and staged. As well as some unusual scenes to keep us conscious about it being a play, like the ones in which we see the performers putting their make-up and wigs on while humming the melodies. As a whole, an interesting film, specially for operetta fans and Richard Tauber admirers.
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