Ernst Marischka in his interesting The House of three Girls seems extraordinarily able to combine humour and drama, prose and poetry, dance and music, without ever seeming artificial or banal, cleverly avoiding any rhetoric.
The sorrows of young Franz
The composer Franz Schubert is undoubtedly a central figure in Austrian history and culture. So much so that he also inspired several film directors with his short but prolific life. And if, in 1953, director Walter Kolm-Veltée (eldest son of Austrian film pioneer Louise Kolm-Fleck) had, in his Franz Schubert , followed the historical events in a generally faithful way, then only five years later, the much more imaginative The House of three Girls (original title: Das Dreimäderlhaus), also inspired by the life – and love troubles – of the famous composer, was released by Ernst Marischka. And in this second film, Marischka’s touch is immediately recognisable.
Based on the homonymous operetta set to music by Schubert himself, of which a film adaptation had already been made in 1936 (Three Girls around Schubert, directed by E. W. Emo), The House of three Girls shows a very young Franz Schubert (played by Karlheinz Böhm) totally devoted to music and completely venerating his colleague Ludwig van Beethoven. Since nothing else seems to matter in his life, his lifelong friends – including the painter Moritz von Schwind and the singer Franz von Schober – decide to introduce him to girls in order to enrich his life with a new love. And this is where the house mentioned in the title comes in. A large aristocratic house in which three charming young sisters live. Franz Schubert falls in love with one of them, Hannerl (Johanna Matz), without knowing, however, that his best friend Franz von Schober is also madly in love with her.
Of course, the events staged here never actually happened. But that’ s okay. In The House of three Girls we see a very talented Ernst Marischka. Fresh from the success of the popular trilogy that began in 1955 with Sissi (only the previous year he had made the last chapter, Sissi – Fateful Years of an Empress ), here he is finally “free” from the rigid schemes that had led him to re-propose – within the trilogy itself – always the same (and more and more “weak”) structure, ready to begin a new adventure, while at the same time maintaining elements that had been so successful in his previous works. Especially with regard to the cast.
And if, in fact, we see the very same Karlheinz Böhm (who played the role of Franz Joseph in the films dedicated to Sissi) in the leading role, here we also see the return of a real winning couple to whom spectators had long been attached. We are talking about Magda Schneider and Gustav Knuth, who played Sissi’s parents in the aforementioned trilogy and who, in this feature film, take on the roles of the parents of the three young girls, a dynamic couple, very similar to those who had entertained audiences just a few years earlier.
In The House of three Girls, however, the music (not only literally), just as mentioned above, changes. And Marischka himself seems particularly in his element, having to stage a full-length costume film with a musical and romantic character. He is not afraid to dare with the inclusion of songs within the mise-en-scène. Just as he is not afraid to give the film – especially its first part – a decidedly theatrical staging. And if, then, especially with regard to the first few minutes, this feature film has some difficulty gaining rythm, then, after the first half-hour, the whole thing finally comes into its own: the camera becomes more agile and brave, the feelings take on stronger and stronger tones and, at the same time, enjoyable comic sketches complete the film. A film that is at times dramatic, at times decidedly cheerful, lively and colourful, with evocative shots of the city of Vienna, the suburban district of Grinzig and Kahlenberg, along with moments of great emotional impact (as when, for example, Franz Schubert himself is intent on playing his Ave Maria in church).
Young Franz is, in fact, an introverted and sensitive man. And his figure is in total contrast to Hannerl, apparently mature, but who, in the end, turns out to be nothing but frivolous, totally childish, just as an interesting game of glances between her, her father, Schober and Schubert himself testifies during the aforementioned scene in the church. It is no coincidence, then, that, in dealing with a piano composition for the first time, she tends to play with perfect technique, but totally lacking in feeling. Nothing is left to chance. And despite the often cheerful and playful, apparently light and frivolous tones, a good and very detailed characterisation of the characters is there.
Ernst Marischka, for his part, has always shown a marked predilection for costume films with strong romantic tones and important music in them (let us not forget that he himself comes from the world of operetta). And in this interesting work of his, he seems to us extraordinarily capable, making a feature-length film – this The House of three Girls – that is able to combine humour and drama, prose and poetry, dance and music, without ever seeming artificial or banal, cleverly avoiding any rhetoric (despite the fact that such a format was particularly popular in Austria during the 1930s and 1940s).
Between one composition and another, then, between one sigh and another, there is always time to go eat fried chicken at a traditional heurige or take a carefree outing with friends. The terrible love torments, however, will be taken care of later.
Original title: Das Dreimäderlhaus
Directed by: Ernst Marischka
Country/year: Austria / 1958
Running time: 97’
Genre: drama, romance, musical
Cast: Karlheinz Böhm, Rudolf Schock, Magda Schneider, Gustav Knuth, Johanna Matz, Richard Romanowsky, Erich Kunz, Helga Neuner, Gerda Siegl, Eberhard Wächter, Helmuth Lohner, Albert Rueprecht, Lotte Lang, Else Rambausek, Edith Elmay, Daniela Sigell, Brigitte Jonak, Ewald Balser, Liselotte Bav, Peter Fröhlich
Screenplay: Ernst Marischka
Cinematography: Bruno Mondi
Produced by: Aspa Films, Erina