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by Franz Antel

grade: 6.5

The Emperor Waltz, made in 1953, is a brilliant comedy of errors with a strong musical character, which is fully in line with the canons of the Wiener Film and is still overall enjoyable today.

Impossible loves

A feature film with a very peculiar genesis, The Emperor Waltz. Yes, because, in fact, what director Franz Antel had originally thought of was a film adaptation of Fritz Kreisler’s operetta Sissy , but the director of the Gloria distribution company, Ilse Kubaschewski, was convinced that the love story between Princess Elisabeth of Bavaria and Emperor Franz Joseph was not very interesting for the audience. So Antel decided to give up the project and tell an entirely fictional love story: the love story between Archduke Ludwig (here played by Rudolf Prack) and an ordinary girl, the young schoolteacher Luise (Winnie Markus).

The Emperor Waltz, made in 1953, is, therefore, a brilliant comedy of errors with a strong musical character, as can already be guessed from the title. It all begins, then, when the imperial family goes on holiday to Bad Ischl, also accompanied by Archduke Ludwig and Lieutenant Zauner (Gunther Philipp, also co-author of the screenplay). One day Ludwig meets Luise by chance, who is teaching her pupils to sing the famous Kaiser-Walzer by Johann Strauss II, the words of which were written almost for pleasure by his fellow teacher Resinger (Hans Holt). In order not to be recognised, Ludwig pretends to be Lieutenant Zauner. This, as we can well imagine, will give rise to a series of increasingly complex misunderstandings.

The Emperor Waltz is fully in line with the canons of the Wiener Films, which are predominantly set in the past (and, often, precisely at the time of the Empire). Here, too, we are dealing with a sentimental comedy, in which, however, impossible loves play a central role. Life in tranquil Bad Ischl contrasts well with the splendour of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna and renders well the idea of two worlds that seem destined never to meet. Yet, music is able to connect all. The Kaiser-Walzer is now known throughout the nation and when children sing it for the first time, even Empress Elisabeth (an icy and elegant Maria Holst) is impressed. So much so that she asks the same children and their teacher to perform it in front of the Emperor (Willy Danek) on the occasion of his birthday.

It is precisely Strauss’s immortal music, therefore, that is the true peculiarity of The Emperor Waltz. Franz Antel, for his part, knows how to set this melody in a context seemingly distant from imperial circles, letting vast expanses of green often act as the main actors, silent witnesses to secret loves. And together with a good narrative structure, a noteworthy cast and subplots that add lightness and humour to the whole, we have to admit that on the whole this feature by Antel is still a rather enjoyable work.

Let us agree: The Emperor Waltz certainly does not stand out for its originality, neither from the point of view of the themes it deals with, nor with regard to the directorial approach, fully fitting into the canons of much of the Austrian film production of the time. Likewise, critics did not always agree with one another when the film was released. Yet, all in all, the audience seemed to appreciate this tormented love story between a nobleman and a common girl. Just two years after it was made, however, director and producer Ernst Marischka decided to take over Antel’s initial project. In 1955, Sissi was thus realised. But that, of course, is another story.

Original title: Kaiserwalzer
Directed by: Franz Antel
Country/year: Austria / 1953
Running time: 95’
Genre: comedy, drama, romance, musical
Cast: Maria Holst, Rudolf Prack, Winnie Markus, Gunther Philipp, Hans Holt, Oskar Sima, Ilse Peternell, Paul Westermeier, Angelika Hauff, Erik Frey, Pepi Glöckner-Kramer, Harry Hardt, Willy Danek, Erich Dörner, Ellen Lauff
Screenplay: Franz Antel, Jutta Bornemann, Gunther Philipp
Cinematography: Hans Heinz Theyer
Produced by: Neusser-Film GmbH

Info: the page of The Emperor Waltz on iMDb