The Emperor Waltz (1948)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BB.  

USA, 1948.  Paramount Pictures.  Directed by Billy Wilder.  Screenplay by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder.  Cinematography by George Barnes.  Produced by Charles Brackett.  Music by Victor Young.  Production Design by Franz Bachelin, Hans Dreier.  Costume Design by Edith Head, Gile Steele.  Film Editing by Doane Harrison.  Academy Awards 1948.

Corny nonsense that marks a rare misfire for director Billy Wilder and screenwriter Charles Brackett.  Bing Crosby is ludicrously out of place as a phonograph salesman who arrives in turn of the century Vienna with his dog Buttons, hoping to gain audience with the emperor in order to get an endorsement for his product.  The monarch is busy in a private meeting with an impoverished aristocrat and his daughter (Joan Fontaine), whose dog Scheherazade has been selected as the ideal mate for the emperor’s pet, from whom he hopes to spawn a host of pure-bred puppies.  For Fontaine and her father, this is a great opportunity for them in their dire circumstances, but their chances are ruined when Crosby’s pup gets into a vicious fight with theirs, traumatizing Scheherazade so much that Fontaine is forced to find out where this low man is staying and put away her disdain in order to repair her dog’s mental equilibrium.  Naturally, this also means that this beautiful woman will spend plenty of time in the company of this romantic crooner, the very emblem of World War II American music somehow existing in Europe’s Belle Epoque, and they embark on a romance that threatens the dictates of class partnerships in her world.  The story is, for the most part, drivel, the canine stars far more enchanting and displaying much better chemistry than their dull human counterparts (Fontaine is particularly wooden).  The only moments of charm come from the framing narrative, in which the love story is related to the archduchess (Julia Dean) attending the emperor’s waltz, who finds the story inspiring despite the fact that it is being related with complete disapproval by her companions (did anyone ever do a funnier job of sounding disapproving than the great Lucile Watson?)  There’s enough songs to qualify it as a musical film, though don’t bring too big an expectation on that front.

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