NR | 1 hr 46 min | Musical, Comedy | 1948
An American in AustriaAmerican traveling gramophone-salesman Virgil Smith (Crosby) goes to Vienna to peddle the new invention. Having ascertained that the country’s reception to new inventions is determined by the Austrian emperor’s purchases, he determines to sell Emperor Franz Joseph (Richard Haydn) on the “talking machine.” While Virgil is waiting for his appointment with the emperor, the other people in the waiting room mistake the gramophone for a bomb.
Before Virgil is thrown out of the palace grounds, his little dog, a male mutt named Buttons, gets into a fight with a female pure-bred poodle, Sheherezade. Her owner is also purebred Austrian nobility, Countess Johanna Augusta Franziska von Stoltzenberg-Stolzenberg (Fontaine). Johanna is a beautiful but cold young widow with a very greedy, enterprising father, Baron Holenia (Roland Culver).
The Road to ViennaAfter the success of “The Lost Weekend” in 1945, Paramount gave Wilder carte blanche on his next film. He was excited about the idea of making his first musical comedy in Technicolor and using Crosby, Paramount’s biggest star at the time.
During Bing Crosby’s long and successful film career, he traveled to many foreign settings from the comfort of a Paramount soundstage. For instance, most of his “Road to ...” movies with Bob Hope are set in exotic locales.
“The Emperor Waltz” is much more serious, as Wilder went to great lengths to make “The Emperor Waltz” a realistic, loving tribute to the Vienna he knew before the devastation of World War II.
Filming in Europe wasn’t possible, but they did location shooting in Jasper National Park in Canada. Since it didn’t have the ideal appearance, especially for Wilder’s first Technicolor film, he transported pine trees from California and painted transplanted white daisies blue to improve the authenticity and the overall appearance of the outdoor settings. Nevertheless, even with such attention to detail, Wilder was not happy with the finished result.
Serious ThemesWilder and his frequent co-writer and producer, Charles Brackett, developed an idea based on the real-life incident when Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen tried to interest Emperor Franz Joseph in a magnetic recording device.
Before this movie went into production, Wilder visited Austria, searching for his family who were victims of the Holocaust. After that experience, the Jewish director wanted to make a lighthearted tribute to the lost beauty of Vienna, resulting in this operetta parody. However, the film includes a serious example of eugenics, and classism in the forbidden romance between the dogs, using mongrel puppies as a graphic illustration of what the Nazis did to Jews.
There are so many delightful moments in this movie. In one scene, an entire village plays a beautiful waltz together on different stringed instruments. In another, a redheaded chambermaid (Roberta Jonay), a gangly chauffeur (Bert Prival), and a pleasantly plump inn proprietress (Alma Macrorie) perform a charming dance trio. Crosby croons some unforgettable songs of Viennese inspiration, including “I Kiss Your Hand, Madame” and “The Kiss in Your Eyes.” The talented canine actors make the movie especially entertaining.
The story is a classic fairy tale, but with some interesting added elements, making it very entertaining and uniquely charming.