Johann Strauss Jr struggles to get out of the shadow of his father and perform his Blue Danube Waltz, aided by two women: a countess and a baker's daughter.
This slice of Viennese schnitzel was pretty much a flop for everyone involved. Yet star Jessie Matthews and director Alfred Hitchcock were each about to enter their golden periods. What went wrong?
Looked at as an individual film rather than part of the Hitchcock oeuvre then Waltzes from Vienna is not the disaster it's been portrayed. It's a handsome production, and if no one is at the top of their game, it certainly shames no one. What it lacks is that little spark of naughtiness needed to raise the soufflé. It needs that Lubitsch touch. It gets Hitchcock.
Hitch is saddled with a script that doesn't play to his strengths: there's little suspense and not a lot of sauciness. It can't decided whether to focus on the romance or on the conflict between Strauss Senior and Junior.
As father and son, Edmund Gwenn and Esmond Knight have characters based on a shared tetchiness. Only in the closing scene, when he decides to sign an autograph as Strauss Sr., does Gwenn get to express any other emotion. As for Knight, well tetchiness is not romantic and it's hard to care if he gets the girl when he clearly isn't that bothered.
The girl is Jessie Matthews and she looks lovely, even though crinolines cover much of her figure and she never gets a dance. Hitch makes the most of a scene where she loses her dress and is forced to run around in diaphanous bloomers, but he can't make her character anything other than a petulant ninny.
Few of the other actors make much of an impression. Fay Compton, as the Countess, wanders about like a more lascivious version of Glinda the Good. Only Frank Vosper as her almost-cuckolded husband has the right spirit for the light operetta genre.
Some of the best sequences in the film involve music. The scene where Junior is inspired to compose The Blue Danube by the sounds of the bakery is such gloriously kitsch nonsense it's impossible not to fall for its spell. The first performance of the waltz is also well staged.
It's been argued (by Charles Barr) that far from being a total disaster, Waltzes from Vienna marks an important stage in Hitchcock's use of music in his work. It's also a definite step up from Basil Dean's stolid musical biopics. The only reason I can think of for the film's poor reputation is that it's mainly seen by Hitchcock completists these days, and they just can't get into such musical froth.
Script adapt.: Alma Reville, Guy Bolton. (o.a. Ernst Marischka)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Players: Robert Hale, Charles Heslop, Sybil Grove, Betty Huntley Wright, Cyril Smith, Berinoff and Charlot, Hindle Edgar, Marcus Barron, Bertram Dench, Billy Shine, B.M. Lewin
Barge girl falls for an artist with tragic results.
Script adapt.: Basil Dean, Miles Malleson, Alma Reville, John Paddy Carstairs. (o.a. A.P. Herbert)
Director: Maurice Elvey
Players: Ann Todd, Ian Hunter, Sari Maritza, Peter Hannen, Richard Bird, Frances Doble, Anthony Ireland, Moore Marriott, Barbara Gott, Harold Scott
Robert Newton is a violent drunk and Kathleen Harrison the pregnant wife he dumps in this grim melodrama.
It gets off to a bad start by using the music known to generations of film goers as the Theme from Flash Gordon (Listz). The twenty-somethings who were the target audience for this film were the kids who grew up with the Flash Gordon series. The arty gits who made this film probably weren't allowed out to the cinema from their posh public schools.
It gets worse by using the most atrocious Liverpool accents ever heard. Someone must have told the voice coach that Liverpool was between Manchester and Wales because that's what the cast are attempting - not a trace of Scouse.
Then there's the casting. Susan Shaw as a slut! Kenneth Griffith as a racy stud!! Next you'll be telling me that that nice Olive Sloane is playing a hooker. Actually she was one of the best hookers in the business (as far as acting was concerned, I hasten to add), so at least Waterfront got one role right, though she's nowhere near as good as she was in Seven Days to Noon.
The whole enterprise is so po-faced that it's difficult not to laugh. Harrison doesn't do badly but Newton gives one of his familiar, over-the-top performances as though he still thinks he's playing Long John Silver. The character's a sailor so he must pull faces like Popeye. Richard Burton in an early role shows he didn't need to wait until his declining years to be pompous.
There are some pleasures to be had apart from laughing at a rotten failure. The production design is impressive but it only shows up the poverty of script, direction and acting. Like the saying goes "You can't gild a turd".
Script adapt.: (o.a.) John Brophy, Paul Soskin
Director: Michael Anderson
Players: Avis Scott, Robin Netscher, Charles Victor, James Hayter, Hattie Jacques
What's a lad to do when he comes back on leave to find his wife under the spell of the local spiv? Beat up the blighter!
One of the most fondly remembered films of the war seems a little cosy now, but it does examine the Home Front realities of the war at a time when you'd imagine most folk would prefer to ignore them.
Script: Sidney Gilliat
Director: Sidney Gilliat
Players: John Mills, Stewart Granger, Joy Shelton, Alastair Sim, Beatrice Varley, Alison Leggatt, Arthur Denton, Vera Francis, Leslie Bradley, Ben Williams, George Carney, Anna Konstam, Dennis Harkin, Jean Kent, Johnnie Schofield, Frank Atkinson, Wylie Watson, Mike Johnson, Dave Crowley, John Boxer, George Merritt, Wallace Lupino, Amy Dalby, Nellie Bowman
Archetypal conscription-to-battle tale from Carol Reed. Star David Niven licks the recruits into shape in a patriotic morale booster.
Script: Eric Ambler, Peter Ustinov
Director: Carol Reed
Players: Raymond Huntley, William Hartnell, Stanley Holloway, James Donald, John Laurie, Leslie Dwyer, Hugh Burden, Rene Asherson, Penelope Dudley-Ward, Reginald Tate, Leo Genn, Mary Jerrold, Raymond Lovell, Alf Goddard, A.E. Matthews, Peter Ustinov, Tessie O'Shea, Jack Watling, John Salew, Esma Cannon
The life and times of bomber pilots through the war.
One of the all-time great films, this was voted best film of the war by Daily Mail readers in 1945. It's certainly gives the picture of the war the way people want to remember it.
Script: Terence Rattigan, Anatole de Grunwald
Director: Anthony Asquith
Players: Michael Redgrave, John Mills, Rosamund John, Douglass Montgomery, Stanley Holloway, Basil Radford, Renee Asherson, Felix Aylmer, Bonar Colleano, Trevor Howard, Joyce Carey, Tyron Nichol, Bill Owen, Grant Millar, David Tomlinson, Hugh Dempster, Charles Victor, Jean Simmons, Johnnie Scofield, Hartley Power, Vida Hope, Anthony Dawson
Semi-documentary about the efforts to get Plymouth rebuilt after the blitz.
Script: Jill Craigie
Director: Jill Craigie
Players: Peter Willes, Francis Lunt, Verena Chaffe, Patsy Scantlebury
The classic submarine-on-a-mission film. At least on the Allied side.
Script: J.B. Williams, Val Valentine, Frank Launder
Director: Anthony Asquith
Players: Eric Portman, John Mills, Reginald Purdell, Niall MacGinnis, Joan Hopkins, Josephine Wilson, Louis Bradfield, Ronald Millar, Jack Watling, Caven Watson, Leslie Weston, Norman Williams, Lionel Grose, Beatrice Varley, Frederick Burtwell, Marie Ault, John Salew, Philip Friend, Ben Williams, John Slater
A film talk by J.B. Priestley. Priestley compares the world of nationalism - all borders and armies - with the world of internationalism - a network of phone and transport links connecting all of Europe.
The talk's argument is a bit fuzzy and seems to be designed to match the footage rather than the other way around. However, it's a good bit of practise at mass communication for Priestley who would soon put his skills into wartime radio talks.
Director: Alberto Cavalcanti
A singer strikes it big on radio but loses in love to her best friend.
When war broke out, Vera Lynn was just another band singer. Thanks to her radio broadcasts and records in a few short years she became The Forces' Sweetheart and the biggest star in the country. We'll Meet Again was the first attempt to translate her popularity to the screen and cash in on one of her biggest hits.
The plot writes itself. Lynn plays a dancer who sings to entertain a theatre crowd waiting for the all-clear before they can leave. She helps out a composer friend with a demo record which accidentally gets broadcast by the BBC, instantly making her a star. There's a mild romance between her and soldier, but luckily he prefers Patricia Roc so the Forces' Sweetheart can give all her love to Our Boys Overseas.
As a film star, Lynn makes a good broadcaster. She's not naturally photogenic but her healthy normality was always one of her main assets. Her acting is best described as friendly and it's only in the more sentimental or patriotic speeches that she sounds like she's reading a script in some studio in Broadcasting House. Besides, when it comes to unconvincing acting she's far from the worst offender here. Patricia Roc is particularly flat.
Most of the intended laughs come from Betty Jardine as a harassed BBC PA but even she can't make bricks from straw like "This hat's a model - Looks like a muddle". The actual laughs come from Brefni O'Rorke in a scene that's a textbook example of how not to do the stiff-upper-lip thing. He plays a museum curator who comes home after trying to salvage something from his bombed museum. He cradles the remains of a Dresden Shepherdess - a symbol of the destruction all around. His delivery, the direction, the sickly music screaming "this is profound", the unconvincing makeup, even his dusty costume (you can see the wardrobe mistress's fingerprints where the dust was dabbed on) all combine to undermine the moment.
Of course, this sort of stuff is only filling in the time while we wait for the main event. As soon as Lynn starts to sing all is forgiven. Her first song is, appropriately enough, the National Anthem and it's never sounded better. By the time she's doing the title song in front of thousands of troops there's little doubt that she deserves her place in the nation's iconography. The forceful reassurance in her voice is all the country needed to face Hitler's bombs with good-humoured defiance.
Script: James Seymour, Howard Thomas
Director: Phil Brandon
Players: Geraldo, Donald Gray, Ronald Ward, Frederick Leister, Marian Spencer, Lesley Osmond, John Watt, John Sharman, Alvar Lidell, Molly Raynor, Aubrey Mallalieu
Women's prison tale. Glynis Johns heads the cast with a good collection of Brit actresses following: Diana Dors, Jane Hylton, Olive Sloane, Athene Seyler, Sybil Thorndike, Ursula Howells, Rachel Roberts, Marjorie Rhodes, Sandra Dorne. Even Hollywood silent star Bessie Love makes an appearance. Only Sylvia Syms is missing.
As prison dramas go, this is one of the most genteel. Any real tension in the story is dissipated by the many flashbacks showing how the women got there. Of these flashbacks only the one concerning Seyler and Thorndyke's plot to bump off A.E. Matthews with weedkiller is memorable. Director J. Lee Thompson did a better job for Dors a few years later with Yield to the Night.
Script adapt.: J. Lee Thompson, Anne Burnaby, (o.a.) Joan Henry
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Players: John Gregson, Sidney James, Anthony Nicholls, Barbara Couper, Joyce Heron, Mary Merrall, Simone Silva, Josephine Griffin, Josephine Stuart, Eliot Makeham, Joan Haythorne, Jean Taylor-Smith, Irene Handl
Romance set during the Crimean war. Barbara Greene and Patric Knowles are the star-crossed lovers who meet again when she joins Florence Nightingale.
Script adapt.: Selwyn Jepson, Hugh Brooke. (o.a. Philip Wade)
Director: Alex Bryce
Players: Ethel Glendinning, Alastair Sim, Bruce Seton, Fay Compton, Naomi Plaskitt, Arthur Young, Derek Blomfield, Billy Dear, David Hutcheson, Michael Wilding
If Sam Peckinpah had made a film for Ealing, this would be it. A bunch of British soldiers billeted on a quiet English village turn out to be German infiltrators. They shoot children and vicars and mow down the Home Guard when they are discovered. The villagers fight back. You won't forget the sight of dear old Muriel George attacking a soldier with an axe, or Valerie Taylor shooting a traitor in the back. Magnificent.
Script adapt.: John Dighton, Diana Morgan, Angus Macphail. (o.a. Graham Greene)
Director: Alberto Cavalcanti
Players: Leslie Banks, Elizabeth Allen, Frank Lawton, Basil Sydney, Mervyn Johns, Edward Rigby, Marie Lohr, C.V. France, David Farrar, Thora Hird, Harry Fowler, John Slater, Patricia Hayes
Gamewarden in Africa tries to destroy an ivory smuggling ring.
This is a sequel to the hugely successful Where No Vultures Fly. Anthony Steel is still on board, though Sheila Sim replaces Dinah Sheridan as his wife. Harry Watt directs again with lots of Technicolor location work, though this time the mixture is less successful. There's a definite end-of-empire feel to the story as it's the interference of the white-led government that causes the most harm. Martin Benson as one of the smugglers has a magnificent rant against British racism which is only slightly undermined by him being a white bloke in brown makeup.
Script: Jack Whittingham, Max Chatto
Director: Harry Watt
Players: Anthony Steel, Sheila Sim, Edric Connor, Martin Benson, Orlando Martins, William Simons, Peter Illing, Juma, Howard Marion Crawford, R Stuart Lindsell, David Osieli, Bethlehem Sketch, Edward Johnson, Joanna Kitau, Roy Cable, Sheikh Abdullah, Fatuma
Two men, appalled at the dreadfulness of Austerity Britain, decide to commit suicide.
This comedy short was commissioned by the COI to cheer folk up, but ended up being attacked in Parliament for having the opposite effect. Starring the king of public information film comedy Richard Massingham, this is an amusing litany of all the petty restrictions and disappointments that plagued post-war Britain. The film is blessed by the lugubrious performances of the two leads, and by Edward Williams' score.
Script: Michael Law, John Krish, Richard Massingham
Director: Michael Law
Players: Richard Massingham, Russell Waters
Patricia Roc and Rosamund John fight over custody of Roc's son in this rotten melodrama.
Script: Muriel Box, Sydney Box, Peter Rogers
Director: Lawrence Huntington
Players: Bill Owen, Patrick Holt, Brenda Bruce, Leslie Dwyer, Sonia Holm, Cavan Malone, Torin Thatcher, Catherine Lacey, Jane Hylton, Muriel George, Ada Reeve, Edie Martin, Noel Howlett
An old man regales his granddaughter with tales of his life in a music hall.
This was an ill-fated attempt to bring better production values to a Frank Randle comedy in the hope of getting Southern audiences to like him too. It features "The Two Leslies" (Leslie Sarony and Leslie Holmes) and Diana Decker.
Script: David Evans, Geoffrey Orme, Frank Randle
Director: John Baxter
Players: Leslie Osmond, Fred Conyngham, Lynda Parker, Jack Melford, Hilda Bailey, Tony Heaton, Lily Lapidus, Gus Aubrey, Ernest Dale
Hay, Moffatt and Marriott are the useless firemen faced with dismissal if they don't buck their ideas up.
Jolly Will Hay comedy from a standard template.
Script: Marriott Edgar, Val Guest
Director: Marcel Varnel
Players: Peter Gawthorne, Eric Clavering, Hugh McDermott, Charles Hawtrey
The Dream of Olwen is the theme tune for this silly melodrama and it was a smash. Olwen's the dead sister of mad Sonia Dresdel. On the anniversary of Olwen's death Carole Raye comes out of the mist and into the living room. Dresdel believes that she is Olwen's reincarnation. Since Raye has amnesia she's as confused as Dresdel. Tom Walls gives a serious performance of monumental dreadfulness as Dresdel's servant spouting wise Cornish sayings at the drop of a hat. The material's hysterical but the cold, dead hand of director John Harlow kills it.
Script: John Harlow, Doreen Montgomery
Director: John Harlow
Players: Clifford Evans, Patricia Burke, John Warwick
It's 1943 and for one Scottish Island the war is becoming unbearable: they have no whisky. That is until a ship full of the stuff runs aground. There's just one little problem - English Home Guard captain Basil Radford and the customs men he calls in to find the contraband.
As in all the best Ealing comedies, this has a sharp edge. Here the conflict is between the locals and the English land owners who can't grasp local cultural imperatives (and the need to get rat-arsed). If you want to get po-faced you can call it an allegory of imperialism; if not, you can just laugh at one of the funniest comedies made by Ealing.
Script adapt.: (o.a.) Compton Mackenzie, Angus Macphail
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Players: Joan Greenwood, James Robertson Justice, Gordon Jackson, Wylie Watson, Jean Cadell, Catherine Lacey, Bruce Seton, Henry Mollison, John Gregson, Duncan Macrae, Compton Mackenzie, A.E. Matthews
Worthy biopic of Mozart by Basil Dean. Mozart is played by Stephen Haggard and his missis is Victoria Hopper (Mrs Dean) and the film concentrates on their marriage rather than his career but there is some good music on the way.
Script: Margaret Kennedy
Director: Basil Dean
Players: John Loder, Liane Haid, Marie Lohr, George Curzon, Jean Cadell, Hubert Harben, Frederick Leister, Lawrence Hanray