Duvivier made his Hollywood debut with this opulent MGM musical about the romantic early years of composer Johann Strauss, written by the émigrés Gottfried Reinhardt and Samuel Hoffenstein and gorgeously photographed by the Oscar-winning Joseph Ruttenberg. Attempting to capture the lilting rhythms and charms of Strauss’s waltzes and operas (set here to lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and performed by the Viennese-born soprano diva Miliza Korjus), Duvivier moved from lavish set piece to lavish set piece, in the café, the garden, the palace, and the opera house—leading one critic to call the film “a symphony in soft focus”—before Josef von Sternberg stepped in to direct the wonderfully kitschy final sequence, the carriage ride through the Vienna Woods during which Strauss was inspired by birdsong to write The Blue Danube. Called by its admirers “The Great Schmaltz,” The Great Waltz is said to have been a favorite of Stalin’s. —BAM/PFA
Born in Lille in 1896, Julien Duvivier was a stage actor and then production assistant on André Antoine’s films before starting as a director in 1919. His prolific career – over 60 films – only ended on his death in 1967. After twenty or so silent movies inspired from many different sources, he attained international recognition in the 1930′s with movies which have become classics of “poetic realism”, notably the sound remake of Poil de carotte (1932), La Belle équipe (1936) and Pépé le Moko (1937).
After exile in Hollywood during the war, he returned to France in 1946 but failed to regain his former critical standing, despite such remarkable films as Panique (1947), Voici le temps des assassins (1956) and Pot Bouille (1957). He enjoyed international succes with The Little World of Don Camillo (1951). —Octuor de France
Victor Fleming entered motion pictures as a combination driver and stunt man at the Flying A studio in Santa Barbara, California, in 1912, following a series of jobs that included bicycle mechanic, taxi driver, auto mechanic (He also did a little racing on the side), chauffeur and auto salesman. Allan Dwan took credit for hiring him after he repaired Dwan’s car, but Fleming’s real conduit was his actor pal Marshall Neilan, whom he had met as a chauffeur.
After two years with Flying A, Fleming joined Neilan at Kalem, making the early Ham and Bud comedies, and in 1915, he joined the Douglas Fairbanks unit at Triangle, where he worked under Dwan and John Emerson. His first picture there was The Habit of Happiness, and he was one of several cameramen who worked on D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance in 1916. By the outbreak of World War I, Fleming was Fairbanks’ supervisory cameraman at ArtCraft Pictures. After Signal Corps service that included serving as President Woodrow Wilson’s personal… read more
Born in Vienna, director Joseph von Sternberg spent much of his youth in New York; his entrée into show business was as a film repairer for the World Film Company of Fort Lee, NJ. After returning to Austria to complete his education, he joined the U.S. Signal Corps as a photographer in 1917, then took assistant director jobs after the end of World War I. It was either actor Elliot Dexter or an anonymous producer who suggested that Sternberg would go farther in the industry if he affixed a “von” to his last name, à la Erich von Stroheim. Von Sternberg went whole hog in creating a “genius” veneer, adopting a strutting, imperious attitude, dressing in regulation beret and puttees, and even growing an obnoxious little mustache so he would be certain to be hated and feared. This posturing tended to obscure his genuine cinematic gifts, especially in the field of photographic lighting and composition (at one point, he was the only director permitted to carry an American Society of Cinematographers… read more
FAR better than it is given credit for. The lengthy "Tales From Vienna Woods" is a dazzling attempt to take the movie musical somewhere it had not been before. Also, watch for the sinister close-up of Lionel Atwill as he prods mousy Luise Rainer into fighting for her marriage. A fascinating film.
Also: Elizabeth Taylor, accidental feminist? And John Malkovich revisits Les liaisons dangereuses.