Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Eine versunkene Welt

Eine versunkene Welt (Die Tragödie eines verschollenen Fürstensohnes) [A Sunken World] [The film was not released in Finland]. AT 1922. PC: Sascha-Filmindustrie. P: Alexander Kolowrat; D+SC: Alexander Korda, based on the novel Serpolette by Ludwig Biro; DP: Hans Theyer; ED: Karl Hartl; AD: Alexander Ferenczy, Emil Stepanek, Max H. Joll; COST: Lambert Hofer Sr.; CAST: Alberto Capozzi (Duke Peter), Karl Baumgartner (Grand Duke), Olga Lewinsky (Duchess Maria Christina), Maria Palma [Maria Corda] (Anny Lind), Harry Loon (Adjutant Ridarsky), Max Devrient (Bartel, servant), Michael Varkonyi [Victor Varconi] (Sailor Vannoni), Julius Szöreghi, Paul Lukács [Lukas], Tibi Lubinszky; 1715 m, 69’ (22 fps); from: Filmarchiv Austria (Vienna). Czech intertitles. E-subtitles in English + Italian, grand piano: Philip Carli. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 6 Oct 2009. - From the GCM Catalogue: "The months following the end of the First World War saw a euphoric welcome of a new democracy in old Europe. The Republic of Austria was declared on 12 November 1918. The Hungarian Socialist Republic of Councils was proclaimed on 21 March 1919. The constitution of the new German Republic was adopted on 11 August 1919.
The young Sándor Korda (1893-1956) was appointed head of the film directorate of the Hungarian Republic of Councils – hence his need to emigrate to Austria when reactionary forces, supported by the Entente, took power after only 133 days of democracy. It is astonishing, then, to find him, only 3 years later, making a film expressing a disillusion in democracy so acute that it strikes strong chords of sympathy in the early 21st century.
The film, with its uncompromising title, Eine versunkene Welt (A Sunken World), was adapted from a novel, Serpolette, by Lajos (in Austria, Ludwig) Biró, a constant collaborator of Korda who wrote most of his films from 1920 until An Ideal Husband (1947).
Book and film however are both closely based on the true story of Archduke Johan Salvator (1852-1890), son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and one of the most colourful and controversial personalities of the House of Habsburg. In 1889, piqued at not getting promotion in the army, he abdicated his title and rights, assumed the name of Johann Orth, and bought a merchant ship, the St. Margaret. On 12 July 1890 Orth and his crew embarked from Mar del Plata bound for Valparaiso with a cargo of nitrate. In the night of 20-21 July the ship hit a hurricane and sank. Orth’s death was officially declared in 1911, though there are claims that he reappeared as “Hugo Kohler” and died in Kristiansand, Norway, in 1945. (His story was the subject of a 1932 film, Willi Wolff’s Das Geheimnis um Johann Orth.)
The protagonist of Korda’s film, Duke Peter, also rebels against the court, its opposition to his democratic ideals, and its refusal to recognize his lover, Anny, a cabaret singer (the real Archduke married a ballet dancer, Ludmilla Strubel, who died with him on the St. Margaret). Peter embarks on his ship, taking Anny with him and giving his crew democratic rights in the running of the vessel. The result is chaotic indiscipline, and Anny is willingly seduced by a handsome sailor. The Duke takes a shocking and fatal step…
To play Duke Peter, Korda chose (for no very clear reason) Alberto Capozzi (1886-1945), who seems to have made no other film outside his native Italy in his prolific career. The rest of the principal actors are old Hungarian colleagues. Anny is played by Korda’s wife, the former Farkas Antonia, under the name Maria Palma: this was her first film in Vienna, but she was to star in all Korda’s subsequent Austrian films as Maria Corda. Even today the erotic aura created about the seducer, with subtle details like his off-the-shoulder shirt, is startling. He is played by Michael Varkonyi (1891-1956), who in Hungary had been Várkonyi Mihály and in 1924 was to become Victor Varconi, when he made the début of a long Hollywood career, partnering Leatrice Joy in Triumph (1924). Another future Hollywood star, Paul Lukacs [Lukas] (Lukács Pál, 1891-1971), appears briefly, as well as two less-remembered artists, the juvenile Tibi Lubinszky (1909-1956) and Julius Szöreghi. A particularly surprising piece of casting, in the role of the Duke’s servant, is Max Devrient (1857-1929), reckoned one of the most important German stage actors of the late 19th century, who made only half a dozen films, in 1920-22. – David Robinson". - A fine restored print based on a tinted and toned Czech version of the film. - There is an atmosphere of style, elegance, and splendour in the film. - The story of the disillusion of the Red Prince: the dancer Anny for whom he abandons his status turns out to be a tramp. The crew to which he admits democratic rights turns the ship into chaos. - The story is interesting, the production is of high quality, and the direction is professional. - Music has a central role in the narrative (Anny is a dancer and a singer), but unfortunately the pianist missed this.

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