by Willi Forst
Love triumphs in Court Theatre. But will it be so for everyone? And, above all, is love or career more important? How much can people’s opinions influence a person’s life? Willi Forst has staged it all with a strong lyricism, but also with the right cynicism, especially when it comes to dealing with certain dynamics within the show business and the upper middle class.
A successful career?
The Burgtheater in Vienna. A landmark of the Austrian capital, but also, for many and many years, the dream of every actor. Becoming part of the ensemble at the Burgtheater means achieving one of the most important career goals. And those who, on the other hand, have been part of this world for years, are considered by all to be legends. This, then, is the case of the famous actor Friedrich Mitterer, the protagonist of the feature film Court Theatre, directed in 1936 by Willi Forst, as well as the first film to be produced by Willi Forst-Filmproduktion.
Court Theatre, then, is a great love story. But also the portrait of a world that is undoubtedly fascinating, but also terribly ruthless. And, above all, a strong denunciation of a bigoted and hypocritical society, capable of ruining the lives of many people. We are in Vienna, in the early 1900s. Friedrich Mitterer (played by Werner Krauss), one day, sees and falls in love at first sight with young Leni (Hortense Raky), the daughter of an esteemed tailor. The girl, however, is in love with the young emerging actor Josef Rainer (Carl Esmond) and in order to help him get a job at the Burgtheater, she secretly steals an invitation to a party at the home of Baroness Seebach (Olga Tschechowa), who could actually get him a job. What consequences will her action have?
Court Theatre has, over the years, become a true cult film. And this is mainly due to the great talent of Willi Forst, one of the leading names in Wiener Films, who masterfully staged both the tender love story between the two young people, but also the inner torments of Mitterer and of young Josef, who risks never becoming a successful actor. This was made possible thanks to a sophisticated and elegant directorial approach, with close-ups enhancing the expressions (and feelings) of the characters, luxury settings contrasting sharply with modest homes, and a series of cross-fades emphasising dangerous social dynamics.
Love triumphs in Court Theatre. But will it be so for everyone? And, above all, is love or career more important? And how much can people’s opinions influence a person’s life? Willi Forst has staged it all with a strong lyricism, but also with the right cynicism, especially when it comes to dealing with certain dynamics within the show business and the upper middle class. And so, the love story (or love stories) immediately becomes a pretext for staging something far more powerful and universal. Something that concerns not only 20th century Vienna, but also the present day. And once again, it is society that is (indirectly) the focus of the story. And is it not precisely the ‘weakest’ and most sensitive people who suffer the consequences?
Willi Forst knows exactly what to focus on. And he does so with great skill and elegance. His Court Theatre is still today more topical than ever. A film that moves us, but also makes us laugh (thanks above all to the excellent performance of the great Hans Moser in the role of Sedlmayer, Mitterer’s friend and attendant) and reflect. A great classic that we would like to watch again and again.
Original title: Burgtheater
Directed by: Willi Forst
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 1936
Running time: 122’
Genre: drama, romance
Cast: Werner Krauss, Hortense Raky, Olga Tschechowa, Hans Moser, Carl Esmond, Karl Günther, Karl Skraup, Josefine Dora, Franz Herterich, Erik Frey, O. W. Fischer, Maria Holst, Camilla Gerzhofer, Karl Paryla, Marietta Weber, Kurt von Lessen, Georg Schmieter, Babette Devrient, Rudolf Teubler, Irma Eckert, Maria Lehdin, Marie Hilde
Screenplay: Willi Forst, Jochen Huth
Cinematography: Theodore J. Pahle
Produced by: Willi Forst Filmproduktion