• U.S.

Cinema: Hoedown in Vienna

3 minute read
Jay Cocks


Directed by ANDREW L. STONE

Screenplay by ANDREW L. STONE

In Mel Brooks’ delirious comedy The Producers, two shysters raise far more backing than necessary, then mount the worst musical play they can find, hoping to abscond after a disastrous opening (and closing) night with their pockets full of unspent production money. For their sure-fire disaster, they chose a project called Springtime for Hitler. Had the script of The Great Waltz been available, it might have served just as well.

“This is a factual portrayal,” the opening credits claim “concerning the life of Johann Strauss Jr.—of the conflict with his father; his struggles; his triumphs.” Aside from the fulsomeness of the introductory language, there does not seem to be much opportunity for comedy here. But wait.

Waltz begins with a singing narration stating that we are about to glimpse Johann Sr., “founder of the house of Strauss.” Lyricists Robert Craig Wright and George Forrest make great capital of this rhyme, employing it later when Johann Jr. is toiling over his operetta and the narrator boasts in his brazen tenor: “In 43 days/ Inside this house/ Johann Strauss/ Composed Die Fledermaus.”

Junior (Horst Buchholz) is a callow youth whose mother (Yvonne Mitchell) is fiercely ambitious for him. She indignantly accosts her estranged husband (Nigel Patrick) one evening while he is conducting (“Johann, I must talk to you”), and despite his protestations (“What—in the middle of a waltz?”) demands he pay more attention to Junior who blanches in the background. When Papa proves uncooperative, Mother arranges her son’s debut herself. “How quickly can you get together an orchestra?” she asks Junior, who assembles 15 pieces in a trice and becomes the toast of Vienna almost as fast.

Fame introduces Strauss to the celebrated (“I admire your versatility, Offenbach”) and the notorious, in the person of Jetty Treffz (Mary Costa), described by Johann’s sister-in-law as “the woman who has been scandalizing Vienna.” They marry, and Mother’s resistance is quieted when she learns that Jetty is not a common gulden-digger after all. There is some nastiness about Jetty’s illegitimate son and Johann’s trifling with coarse café singers. All comes right at the end, however, to the strains of The Blue Danube and the assurance of a subtitle that “the house of Strauss lives on.” A rather dubious prophecy on the basis of this film.

∎ Jay Cocks

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