Time for a trip to Austria in the early 1900s, courtesy of the 1948 movie The Emperor Waltz, starring Bing Crosby and Joan Fontaine.
Coming Up Shorts! with… Helping Grandma (1931)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 2 (1930-1931) from ClassicFlix)
(Length: 21 minutes, 4 seconds)
Mrs. Margaret Mack, A.K.A. “Grandma” (Margaret Mann) is considering selling her store to a chain store or to the local skinflint Mr. Pennypacker (Oscar Apfel). The Gang really don’t want her to sell out, so they try to help her out. This one is a decent short, with the kids again trying to gum up the works by making things out to be different than they are. Some of the best laughs are provided when Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) is left in charge, and tries to figure out what Stymie (Matthew Beard) is trying to buy. Maybe not the series at its absolute best, but it’s fun enough that I look forward to seeing it again at some point, like the rest of the series!
And Now For The Main Feature…
In this movie, which proves that Vienna had “gone to the dogs,” we find that the Emperor Franz-Josef (Richard Haydn in another Austrian-set movie pre-dating his famous role as “Uncle Max” in The Sound of Music) has summoned the Countess Johanna Von Stolzenberg-Stolzenberg (Joan Fontaine) and her father, the Baron Holenia (Roland Culver), to plan an arranged marriage. However, it’s not a human marriage he has in mind, but one for their dogs! At the same time, traveling salesman Virgil Smith (Bing Crosby) has arrived with his fox terrier, Buttons, planning to sell a phonograph to the Emperor in the hopes that the country would buy it because he did. Buttons ends up getting into a fight with the Countess’s poodle Scheherezade, which later causes her to suffer a breakdown. At the advice of the veterinarian (who had studied alongside Dr. Freud), the Countess brings Scheherezade to Virgil and Buttons, for them to make peace. In doing so, we see the dogs falling for each other, as well as Virgil and the Countess. After a while, Virgil gets an appointment with the Emperor to ask for the Countess’s hand in marriage. The emperor talks him out of the idea, instead opting to buy the phonograph. You want more details than that? Watch the movie!
Director Billy Wilder was coming off of making Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend (both of which had been fairly dark films), and had returned from Europe, having worked on the short Death Mills (a documentary on Nazi concentration camps). After all that dark fare, he felt a strong desire to do a musical. Paramount needed a musical for their big star (Bing Crosby), so Wilder went to work on doing one. For the female lead, they tried to convince Greta Garbo to come out of retirement, but when she refused, they borrowed actress Joan Fontaine, then under contract to David O. Selznick. The movie was partially filmed on location in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. For part of that, they created an “island” on a platform with some earth, rocks and trees in Leach Lake (and they later turned it over to the Dominion of Canada, although they had to recreate the island back in Hollywood for some reshoots). In between dealing with his own personal demons and contending with star Bing Crosby (who brought in some of his own writers to punch up his own dialogue), Wilder considered this film to be one of six that he regretted making, and the film (originally finished in 1946) had its release delayed a few years. However, the film went over well with audiences and critics alike at the time.
In spite of Billy Wilder’s opinion (and a fair amount of critical opinions in the years since this film’s original release), I personally have been enjoying this movie very much! From the first time I saw it, I’ve taken to some of the music, particularly the title tune (short as it is), “Friendly Mountains” and “I Kiss Your Little Hand, Madame” (with the latter song providing the only real full-fledged dance routine, as a chauffeur, a maid and the inn’s proprietress go into a balletic dance). Of course, the music is hardly the only appeal, as the film’s humor also keeps bringing me back! I know I get a kick out of all the stuff related to the dogs, from Sig Ruman as the veterinarian trying to psychoanalyze the Countess’s poodle Scheherazade, to the whole ridiculous idea of the (unseen) “wedding” for Scheherazade and the emperor’s poodle and more! For me, the whole cast works quite well in their roles, particularly Bing Crosby (the main reason I first saw this film). I will grant you that, the older I get, the harder a time I have seeing his character strictly as a hero, considering he displays some of the lesser qualities that some Americans are still guilty of even today (but, to be fair, nobody is perfect in this movie). Regardless, it’s a movie I always look forward to seeing, and I would certainly give it my highest recommendations!
This movie is available on DVD from Universal.
What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… The Emperor Waltz (1948)
On August 17, 2021, The Emperor Waltz was released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. This transfer uses an older HD scan, but for the most part, it looks quite good! The Blu-ray brings out the detail much better, and shows off the colors. There is still some dust and dirt to be found here, but it doesn’t really take away from the overall presentation. The disc also includes a commentary by film historian Joseph McBride. For now, it’s certainly the best one can hope for with this movie!
Film Length: 1 hour, 46 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Road To Rio (1947) – Bing Crosby – A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949)
A Damsel In Distress (1937) – Joan Fontaine
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