Third chapter of the successful saga directed by Ernst Marischka, Sissi – Fateful Years of an Empress has an even weaker personality than the unconvincing Sissi, the Young Empress. Following step by step the structure of the previous works, the film almost seems to us like a transitional film, especially if we think about the fact that it was supposed to be followed by a fourth feature film of the saga – to whose production Romy Schneider herself was strongly opposed.
An empress around the world
After the great success of the famous trilogy directed by Ernst Marischka and started in 1955 with the feature film Sissi (followed in 1956 by Sissi, the Young Empress), it did not take long for a third chapter of the saga. Already in 1957, Sissi – Fateful Years of an Empress was screened in Austria. As usual, it was directed by Marischka, at that time one of the most experienced directors of period films produced in Austria.
And so, with the same cast and the same crew, started the making of this third episode on the life of the iconic German Empress by birth but Austrian by adoption (also this time with the unforgettable face of Romy Schneider), always struggling with the hard court life and the difficult relationship with her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie (Vilma Degischer). This time, however, at the beginning of the film, the protagonist seems particularly free and happy, as she is spending several days in Hungary (where she has recently become queen). Invited by her husband – Emperor Franz Joseph (Karlheinz Böhm) – to return to the Viennese court, she nevertheless falls ill with a severe form of pneumonia. The rest is history.
Strongly fictionalised – perhaps even more than the first films of the trilogy – Sissi – Fateful Years of an Empress probably has an even weaker personality than the unconvincing Sissi, the Young Empress. Following step by step the structure of the first film of the saga, this one nevertheless seems to us almost like a transitional film, in which the staged story is not self-concluding at all due to numerous pending issues within the screenplay. First of all: the marriage between Sissi and Franz, within which there are still many unsolved problems. But, of course, we all know the story and, in fact, for the unhappy empress, the long-awaited happy ending seems never to have arrived. If, however, at the same time, we think about the fact that Sissi – Fateful Years of an Empress was to be followed (in all probability even the following year) by a fourth feature film of the saga – to the making of which Romy Schneider herself was strongly opposed – then this particular structure, which makes the work seem almost like a transitional chapter, is finally justified.
In any case, one cannot fail to acknowledge that the film is living comfortably off the two previous works. As a result, the elegant locations within the royal palaces, the elegant costumes and, last but not least, the evocative landscapes (which, here, also include the Hungarian ones) that Marischka, with his camera, has skilfully enhanced, always fascinate us.
Yet this is not enough to make a film like this one totally convincing. After a rather tired start and subsequent development (in which even Josef Meinrad’s gags as Colonel Böckl are now repetitive), the film collapses. This happens, in particular, when the two emperors decide to travel to neighbouring Lombardy-Veneto in order to resolve differences that had existed for years. If we want to overlook the caricatured and overly clichéd portrayal of Italian nobles – complete with their servants who arrived in place of their masters during a concert at La Scala in Milan in honour of the two monarchs – it is precisely the moment of the two protagonists’ arrival in St. Mark’s Square in Venice that is by far the least successful and most melodramatic scene of the work. It is at this moment, in fact, that, after seeing Empress Sissi run up to her little daughter to embrace her, the at first strongly hostile crowd begins to shout festively “Evviva la mamma!”, forgetting, out of the blue, any past divergences.
While Sissi – Fateful Years of an Empress seems to us, even nowadays and several years after its release, so unbalanced, perhaps Marischka could have recovered precisely with the fourth feature film of the saga, making a good, pleasant film as it was, in its time, for Sissi. But this, of course, we will never know.
Original title: Sissi – Schicksalsjahre einer Kaiserin
Directed by: Ernst Marischka
Country/year: Austria / 1957
Running time: 104’
Genre: romance, historical, biographical
Cast: Romy Schneider, Karlheinz Böhm, Magda Schneider, Gustav Knuth, Uta Franz, Walther Reyer, Vilma Degischer, Josef Meinrad, Senta Wengraf, Erich Nikowitz, Hans Ziegler, Klaus Knuth, Sonja Sorel
Screenplay: Ernst Marischka
Cinematography: Bruno Mondi
Produced by: Erma-Film