Saturday, November 14, 2009


This biopic about Johann Strauss, the Waltz King, is notorious among classic movie buffs for a sequence which shows Strauss riding through the woods in a carriage, being inspired by the rhythm of the horse clopping along, the chirping of birds, and the piping of nearby shepherds to hum the melody that would become "Tales of the Vienna Woods." This scene does indeed look mighty silly when it's excerpted in That’s Entertainment II, but in the context of the film, it's actually a charming little bit. The story begins in Vienna in 1844 where, as we're told, life was boring, people were conformists, and new ideas were not accepted. That all changes the next year when bank clerk Strauss (Fernand Gravet), fired for composing music on the job, starts an orchestra made up of unemployed musicians. In a very effective scene, the group's first gig takes place in a huge cafe which remains mostly empty until an opera star strolls in and requests a song. Passersby on the street hear the lovely music and soon are flocking in. The rest of the film covers the rise in Strauss's fortunes and his two romances, one with his longtime love and wife (Luise Rainer) and the other with the opera singer who walked into the cafe (Miliza Korjus, who looks like Bette Midler and sounds like Madeline Kahn in BLAZING SADDLES). Rainer gets a good scene in which she goes a little mad with jealousy and takes a gun to the opera house, intending to shoot Korjus, but is so moved by the way the singer has inspired her husband that she decides to let him go off with her. (Of course, this being a Hollywood biography, the mistress turns all noble at the last minute and sends Strauss back to his wife--these relationships appear to bear little connection to Strauss's actual love life). While the narrative bogs down on occasion, the musical sequences always bring the film back to life, and the Blue Danube montage is good kitschy fun. Several of Strauss's melodies are featured with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. Also with Lionel Atwill and Hugh Herbert. [TCM]

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Nasim said...
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