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by Franz Antel

grade: 6

A film, Die gelbe Nachtigall, which represents a turning point in Franz Antel’s career. If, in fact, on the one hand, the director, with this film, for the first time directly confronted himself with a new medium, television, on the other hand, a sort of return to the past is evident. A sort of return to the glorious Wiener Films that were so important at the beginning and for most of his career.

Secret talents

One of the most prominent names in the world of Wiener Films, director Franz Antel pursued a career that ranged far beyond the classic costume comedies set in the Vienna of the Golden Years and led him to the making of films outside the country’s borders. Yet, if the film world took notice of him as early as the 1940s, it was not until the mid-1970s that one of his works landed on the small screen. And so, the brilliant musical comedy Die gelbe Nachtigall (“the yellow nightingale”) – made in 1975 and based on the play of the same name by Hermann Bahr – officially marked the beginning of a new association: that of Franz Antel with television. An association that would continue until the 1990s, just before the director’s death.

A film, this one, which represents, then, a real turning point in the career of the Viennese filmmaker. If, in fact, on the one hand, with this film, he was for the first time directly confronted with a new medium, on the other hand, a sort of return to the past is evident. A sort of return to the glorious Wiener Films that were so important at the beginning and for most of Antel’s own career.

In fact, everything is in place: first of all, we have an enjoyable costume comedy set in the 1920s (although Bahr’s original work was written in 1907); then, as a perfect frame, we have the art world and, specifically, theatre; finally, songs and dances enrich everything, with colourful choreography studied down to the smallest detail.

The story staged, then, is that of young and talented Fanny (played by Dagmar Koller), a singer and dancer who never manages to get a leading role. The young woman, the daughter of a close friend of the famous actor Albert Korz (a terrific Curd Jürgens), will try to convince the man to help her make a career. And so, with a well-conceived plan, Korz convinces her to create a new identity by pretending to be Japanese in order to impress the director of an important theatre.

Rather than a comedy of errors, what we have here is a portrait of a world – the world of show business – where life is not easy for talented young people, where the decisions of every producer or theatre director are driven solely by the desire to make money, where sometimes it is only by deceit that even the slightest success can be achieved.

But, at the end of the day, this subtle polemic has no great relevance in Die gelbe Nachtigall. Just as in the Wiener Films, the director’s aim is to entertain the audience, to make them dance on the notes of Gioacchino Rossini’s Tarantella, to make them travel from Austria to a picturesque Mediterranean island, to make them dream of the Orient thanks to specially realised music and costumes.

In short, an unpretentious little divertissement, this Die gelbe Nachtigall. And if we consider that Antel himself, in addition to numerous romantic and musical comedies, has also ranged within other film genres – from the historical genre to even erotic comedies – then, considering this, one could even say that with this simple musical comedy, the director has made a film that almost belongs to the past. Yes, because, in fact, in the Austria of the 1970s – and already after World War II – there were many and varied film movements that had gradually spread, literally taking the scene to the aforementioned Wiener Films. Now people were (almost) all looking in other directions. With the exception of those who, of course, continued to feel more comfortable continuing along already beaten paths over and over again. And Franz Antel, at least in part, falls into this second category.

For him too, however, new horizons opened up. He too, like many of his colleagues, has often looked elsewhere. And to relegate him solely to the production of Wiener Films would be incorrect. But if, then, his Die gelbe Nachtigall – perfect in its presentation, with two good protagonists and which, nevertheless, suffers from excessively weak subplots – seems a little too reminiscent of the past, then it can also be seen as a simple nostalgic look back at the past itself. As well, of course, as an open window into a new world – television – that would have given Franz Antel much satisfaction.

Original title: Die gelbe Nachtigall
Directed by: Franz Antel
Country/year: Austria / 1975
Running time: 87’
Genre: comedy, musical
Cast: Dagmar Koller, Curd Jürgens, Leon Askin, Marte Harell, Sonja Jeannine, Erwin Neuwirth, Ida Krottendorf, Tony Patricio, Erich Padalewski, Alfred Böhm, Tilla Hohenfels, Hans Kraemmer, Gustav Dieffenbacher, Carlo Böhm, Peter Garell, Karin Garon, Harry Hardt, Milan Hatala, Willi Hufnagel, Edith Leyrer, Gerhard Steffen, Rosemarie Strahal, Toni Wagner, Inga Kjeldsen
Screenplay: Hermann Bahr, Franz Josef Gottlieb
Cinematography: Götz Neumann
Produced by: Neue Thalia-Film

Info: the page of Die gelbe Nachtigall on iMDb