Friday, October 13, 2023

Eine Frau von Format / Madame l'Ambassadeur (2018 DCP Bundesarchiv)

Fritz Wendhausen: Eine Frau von Format (Madame l’Ambassadeur) (DE 1928). Peter C. Leska (Count Géza von Tököly, ambassador from Illyria), Mady Christians (Dschilly Zileh Bey, ambassador from Türkisien). Photo: La Cinémathèque française, Paris.

L’ambasciatrice dell’amore / Rakkauden diplomatia
    (DE 1928) regia/dir: Fritz Wendhausen. scen: Fritz Wendhausen, Heinz Goldberg, dall’operetta di/based on the operetta by Rudolf Schanzer & Ernst Welisch, mus. Michael Krasznay-Krausz (première: Berlin, Theater des Westens, 14.12.1927). photog: Arpad Viragh. scg/des: Hans Jacoby. cost: Theatrekunst Kaufmann. unit mgr: Hermann Grund.
    cast: Mady Christians (Dschilly Zileh Bey, ambassador from Türkisien/Turquisie), Diana Karenne (Princess Petra of Silistria), Peter C. Leska (Count Géza von Tököly, ambassador from Illyria), Hedwig Wangel (Mavre, the princess’ confidante), Hans Thimig (Count Géza’s orderly), Emil Heyse (Negruzzi, the Chancellor of Silistria), Robert Garrison (hotelier).
    prod: Terra-Film AG. v.c./censor date: 4.9.1928. première: 12.9.1928 (Terra Lichtspiele Mozartsaal, Berlin). copia/copy: DCP (2K), 98' (da/from 35 mm pos., 2227 m [orig. l: 2711 m], imbibito/tinted); did./ titles: FRA. fonte/source: Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin
    Helsinki premiere: 9 Dec 1928.
    Grand piano: Meg Morley.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): Ruritania 2, 13 Oct 2023

Amy Sargeant, Jay Weissberg (GCM 2023): " When played as light comedy, Ruritania on film occupies similar aesthetic territory as light opera, a genre that specialized in mining mythical Balkan milieux. This affinity is nominally acknowledged in Géza von Bolvary’s 1929 The Vagabond Queen (shown at the Giornate in 2002), which itself was a nod towards the hugely popular Rudolf Friml-Brian Hooker 1925 collaboration The Vagabond King; in both scenarios, a commoner is made “ruler for a day,” no doubt playing into audience fantasies that they too could wear a crown or tiara, no matter how unlikely. Eine Frau von Format, as both operetta and film, doesn’t pretend that those without blue blood can assume a throne, but it allows us to delight in the charms of a soignée Balkan princess, while tossing in some welcome female solidarity. "

" Ruritanian content clearly appealed to librettist Ernst Welisch, whose Der liebe Augustin (1912, Princess Caprice in Britain), a revised version of his unsuccessful 1905 operetta Der Rebell, both scored by Leo Fall, contains many of the classic tropes of the genre: ministers exasperated by royal expenditure; mistaken identity eventually confirmed by the recognition of a birthmark; and a vaguely Balkan location. Welisch revisited some of these themes when he collaborated with Rudolf Schanzer on Eine Frau von Format, which premiered in December 1927 at Berlin’s Theater des Westens with music by Michael Krasznay-Krausz and a starry cast headed by Fritzi Massary and Max Hansen. In less than a year the operetta would become a film. The stage operetta’s premiere was reviewed in Variety as A Lady of Quality; U.S. trade papers mention the film under that title, as well as A Woman of Distinction, but neither was a distribution title. "

" Director Fritz Wendhausen began the production for Terra-Film in Berlin, moving in mid-June 1928 to the Dalmatian coast, where exteriors were shot in Dubrovnik and the nearby island of Lokrum. His greatest strength was his cast: Mady Christians and Diana Karenne, neither strangers to Ruritanian-style subjects. Sadly the 1916 and 1920 adaptations of Anthony Hope’s Sophy of Kravonia, both starring Karenne, are presumed lost, though Giornate audiences had the chance to see Christians last year in Anthony Asquith’s The Runaway Princess (1929). "

"At the beginning of Eine Frau von Format, a hand-drawn map locates the action in the principality of Silistria, to the east of Illyria and to the west of Türkisia. A brief travelogue sequence then itemizes the usual array of attractions via pans and irises, conveying the narrow proportions of the capital’s “grand boulevards” and limited capacity of the country’s army and navy, which seem more than tangentially influenced by newsreels of Montenegro’s royal locales. "

" To the disapproval of her Chancellor, the extravagant Princess Petra proposes to cover her debts by the sale of the picturesque island of Petrasia to either of Silistria’s adjoining states. The Illyrian ambassador Count Géza arrives by train, while the Türkisian ambassadress Dschilly Zileh Bey has to hail a mule cart to tow her over the border when her car breaks down. A soirée held at the Princess’s residence in honor of the visiting dignitaries provides folkloric costuming and dancing and girl flunkeys in lace cravats with satin cummerbunds and breeches. There is further delightful travesty to come, when the diplomats proceed to undermine each other by means fair and foul in order to win the island for their respective country. Max Frankel, writing in Le Matin (17.05.1929), underlined the film’s comedy of the sexes: “The accession of women in various countries to the Bar, Parliament, Medicine, and a Career is increasingly inspiring novelists, playwrights, and screenwriters. There is certainly a wealth of new and comic subjects to be found here. Do women’s charm, seduction, and beauty count for nothing in these serious functions? ... In diplomacy, in particular, their native finesse and subtlety can come into play. So what happens to the poor men who don’t have the resources to please? ... Eve’s daughter hands him the apple, and the idiot eats it!” "

" German critics clearly were tired of the genre, with many complaining that the film lacked originality, and some revealing their prejudices, such as “F. S.” in Der Abend (13.9.1928), who dismissed its Balkan setting with the problematic description “Schweineidyllen” (“swine idylls”). In a similar vein, the reviewer for the Hamburger Echo (8.12.1928) lamented, “It’s set in Illyria and Türkisia, which we’re now as fed up with as Vienna and Heidelberg – or even more fed up.” The critic “m.a.” in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (13.9.1928) was less harsh, but needed help with his memory, as he claimed the story was the same as Ernst Lubitsch’s Forbidden Paradise (they have little in common). "

" Happily, the French reviews one year later were far more positive, charmed especially by the two leads, but also the lighthearted escapism: “Everything picturesque about the Balkan countries, their customs and mores, are evoked with talent … [a] delightful adventure, with a charm and character rarely achieved,” announced Le Petit Parisien (2.8.1929), while La Dépêche (2.8.1930) declared, “It’s a lively, graceful work, with all the color of Viennese operetta and in a thoroughly modern vein. It takes place in the midst of enchanting locales, on a marvelous island that bears a strong resemblance to those of Lake Maggiore, and the perfume of the Borromean Islands wafts ceaselessly in the luminous air.” " 

" The Bundesarchiv’s copy derives from a 35 mm French release print housed at the Cinémathèque de Toulouse. The original German censorship cards have not been found, so the archive has retained the French distribution intertitles. Italian-born German silent film composer Giuseppe Becce (1877-1973), famous for his Kinothek of film themes, head of Ufa’s music department, and music director of several major Berlin cinemas, including the Mozartsaal, wrote a score for the Berlin premiere, but it’s not known if this survives. " – Amy Sargeant, Jay Weissberg

AA: A film adaptation of an operetta about diplomatic intrigue and women's powers of seduction. Brilliantly cast with Mady Christians vs. Diana Karenne, two talented artists with extraordinary careers. I have never paused to reflect on Fritz Wendhausen, the director, but maybe I should. This is a film full of style, wit and humour. Perhaps the special secret of this film is the undercurrent of emotion between the leading female characters.

Beautifully shot on location in Dalmatia.

This digital edition has been produced with tender care. The sepia toning is lovely.

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