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CROWN PRINCE RUDOLPH’S LAST LOVE

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by Rudolf Jugert

grade: 6.5

Despite being a heavily fictionalised feature film with many flaws, Crown Prince Rudolph’s last Love by Rudolf Jugert works. And it does so with a decidedly simple screenplay, which focuses first and foremost on the essentials without digressions and almost entirely devoid of subplots. Everything foreshadows an impending tragedy. The shadows get the better of the lights. Mary Vetsera’s naive face speaks for itself.

An impossible love

Sissi and its sequels by Ernst Marischka are still undoubtedly the most famous Austrian films of the past worldwide. Indeed, because the history of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and, specifically, of the legendary figure of Elisabeth of Austria, wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, has always exerted great appeal on the audience. In addition to the Marischka films, in fact, there have been numerous films that, in one way or another, have told the story of the aforementioned family. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is the feature film Crown Prince Rudolph’s last Love, directed by the German director Rudolf Jugert in 1956, i.e. only a year after the theatrical release of the aforementioned Sissi.

So, while Marischka had made us dream with the (highly fictionalised) love story between Sissi and Franz Joseph, in Crown Prince Rudolph’s last Love Jugert staged a much darker chapter in the history of the monarchy, namely the suicide of the heir to the throne Rudolf (here played by Rudolf Prack), the Emperor’s second-born, together with his young lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera (Christiane Hörbiger), in Mayerling on January 30, 1889.

Again, therefore, it is a troubled love story that almost plays the leading role. Yet, compared to what we had seen just a year earlier, things have changed profoundly. The romantic waltzes danced by the heir to the throne together with young Mary are the only moments of serenity experienced by the two protagonists. The enormous responsibilities that a monarchy entails, an unhappy marriage and the impossibility of realising one’s dreams do not give the protagonist any hope for a better future.

Crown Prince Rudolph’s last Love, therefore, focuses precisely on the last year of Rudolph and Mary’s life, from their meeting at the Opera House (which took place thanks to Countess Marie Louise Larisch-Wallersee, the Emperor’s niece, here played by Winnie Markus), to their suicide. It all takes place in a single flashback within a narrative frame in which, after the protagonist’s funeral, Empress Elisabeth (Lil Dagover) and Baroness Helene Vetsera (Adrienne Gessner), Mary’s mother, meet at the cemetery at Mary’s grave.

Rudolf Jugert, for his part, focused on the emotionality of the characters, on the drama of the imperial couple who suddenly realise what having thought only of the monarchy’s interests has caused, on Rudolf’s inner torments and, indeed, on the love story between the two protagonists. A love story that has undoubtedly been fictionalised for the occasion and that, perhaps, at least as far as the feelings of the heir to the throne are concerned, was not so passionate in reality. In this respect, what is only vaguely dealt with in Crown Prince Rudolph’s last Love, unlike in Radetzkymarsch (made by Michael Kehlmann in 1964 and based on the novel of the same name by Joseph Roth), is the damage that monarchy, responsibility and wars have caused to human beings. Including monarchs. We only perceive this in Crown Prince Rudolph’s last Love at the beginning, when the Emperor weeps in despair during his son’s funeral. A son who, in real life, has always suffered because of his father’s decisions and his fate at the head of such a big empire.

Despite this, all in all Crown Prince Rudolph’s last Love works. And it does so with a decidedly simple screenplay, which focuses first and foremost on the essentials without digressing and almost entirely devoid of subplots. Everything foreshadows an impending tragedy. The shadows get the better of the lights. Mary’s naive and innocent face speaks for itself. Rudolf Jugert knows exactly what he wants to communicate to the viewer and how to communicate it. And sometimes not even a great love can give hope for a better future.

Original title: Kronprinz Rudolfs letzte Liebe
Directed by: Rudolf Jugert
Country/year: Austria / 1956
Running time: 99’
Genre: drama, historical, biographical, romance
Cast: Rudolf Prack, Christiane Hörbiger, Winnie Markus, Lil Dagover, Erik Frey, Attila Hörbiger, Adrienne Gessner, Grete Zimmer, Walther Reyer, Karl Ehmann, Otto Wögerer, Josef Kahlenberg, C. W. Fernbach, Eduard Volters, Karl Schwetter, Gretl Rainer, Erich Dörner
Screenplay: Erna Fentsch
Cinematography: Günther Anders
Produced by: Lux-Film, Sascha-Film

Info: the page of Crown Prince Rudolph’s last Love on iMDb