Waltzes From Vienna
Waltzes From Vienna (Strauss’ Great Waltz) (1934) Hitchcock described this film as the lowest point in his career. He had no real interest in it, but he had to do something, He had just come off of the pretty bad Rich and Strange, followed by the truly awful Number Seventeen. His next film would be the classic The Man Who Knew Too Much, and he would follow that with a long string of memorable thrillers. But this was the pits. It was one of a series of silly little operettas about composers, and it is inoffensive and reasonably well-made, for what it is. But what it mostly proves is that the British film industry was just as capable of producing cornball highly-fictionalized biopics as the Hollywood cheese factory. Hollywood would in fact tackle the same fellow, Johann Strauss II, and his famous “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” waltz (certainly in the Top Ten Most Beloved Melodies of all time) a bit later, in 1938, with The Great Waltz. I remember a scene from that one, where he’s riding in a carriage with a squeaky wheel. “Squeak-squeak, squeak-squeak,” goes the wheel. And he’s absorbed in the melody: “La-da-da-da-dum …” And what comes next? Squeak-squeak, squeak-squeak. Squeak-squeak, squeak-squeak. “Aha! I’ve got it! La-da-da-da-dum, (squeak-squeak, squeak-squeak)!” Very silly, and the screenwriter might have gotten the idea from this movie, where Strauss is in a bakery and the sounds of the machinery suggest the melody, which he excitedly makes up along with some completely spurious lyrics. It’s all filled out with issues with his composer father, not unlike in The Jazz Singerwhen the father thinks his son’s music is trash. (“Turn down that rocking roll music! What ever happened to ragtime?”) And of course there have to be love issues, with two women pursuing him, the sweet young thing and the rich countess. The climax of the film is a quite stirring rendition of the waltz. Unfortunately, we still have fifteen minutes to go.