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Friday, April 24, 2015

THE GREAT WALTZ (1938)

From Orson Welles after touring RKO Studios: ‘This is the biggest toy train set any boy ever had.’ No doubt, the exact sentiments of French director Julien Duvivier, new to Hollywood after PÉPÉ LE MOKO/’37 swept the world box-office, and availing himself of the unfathomable resources at M-G-M studios. Stateside for a handful of jobs over the war years, his first was this berserk behemoth of an operetta, something to do with the life, loves & ländlers of Johann Strauss, Jr. Sincere & ridiculous (ridiculously sincere?), there’s much nonsense on Johann’s immortal waltzes & marches inspiring Vienna’s progressive revolution while he wavers between his goodie-two-shoes wife (an insufferably suffering Luise Rainer) and tempting coloratura Miliza Korjus (pronounced ‘Gorgeous’ as the ad copy would have it). But it hardly matters beside a series of musical set pieces staged & shot with riotous abandon by Duvivier, using wildly canted angles and arrhythmic editing quite at odds with the normal M-G-M playbook, gleeful cinematic horseplay, laid on with a trowel. It’s something to see, even if forgotten an hour after viewing. If only those stratospheric Korjus high notes dissipated with equal speed.

DOUBLE-BILL: Hard to believe, but Hitchcock did a slightly less fanciful Strauss bio-pic in WALTZES FROM VIENNA/’34. Not a success. Instead, see this film’s Strauss (Fernand Gravey, pronounced ‘Gravy’?) in Noël Coward's operetta BITTER SWEET/’33. It doesn’t all work, but much does, and Gravey (pronounced ‘Gray-vay’?) is very good, indeed.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: A pet project of studio chief Louis B. Mayer, the film was a success, yet all three leads and director Duvivier had ankled M-G-M by the end of the year. For debuting Korjus & back-to-back Oscar’d Rainer, their movie days were pretty much over.

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