Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Story of Vickie (1954)

Just about a year ago I became acquainted for the first time with the SISSI films, a delightful set of German-language films produced in Austria in the mid '50s, starring young Romy Schneider as Empress Elisabeth of Austria. To date I've seen SISSI (1955) and SISSI - THE YOUNG EMPRESS (1956), with SISSI - THE FATEFUL YEARS OF AN EMPRESS (1957) still waiting in the wings for a future viewing.

THE STORY OF VICKIE, also known as VICTORIA IN DOVER, was a film Schneider made with writer and director Ernst Marischka just prior to the SISSI films. In this first Schneider-Marischka collaboration, which was the charming 16-year-old Schneider's third film, Schneider plays the young Queen Victoria.

THE STORY OF VICKIE follows familiar historical ground, most recently seen in THE YOUNG VICTORIA (2009), as we see sheltered Victoria living under the thumb of her domineering mother, the Duchess of Kent (Christl Mardayn), and the Duchess's close advisor, Sir John Conroy (Stefan Skodler). Victoria's main support comes from Baroness Lehzen (Magda Schneider), her former governess and companion.

The film sticks close to history for its first hour, as Victoria becomes queen and is closely advised by Prime Minister Melbourne (Karl Ludwig Diehl). An hour into the movie, the story takes a flight of fancy, and Victoria, frustrated with the matchmaking attempts of those around her, travels incognito to an inn in Dover -- properly chaperoned by the Baroness, of course!

While at the inn, Victoria meets a young German student (Adrian Hoven). They waltz together and are mightily attracted to one another, but alas, a future together cannot be, because the young man is actually Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg (Adrian Hoven), who is on his way to London to meet Queen Victoria. Much as in the film SISSI, this sets up a delightful fairy tale moment when the young lovers meet again and realize they can be together after all.

The movie is completely enjoyable, thanks especially to the performances of the Schneiders. Romy Schneider is natural and spirited as the beautiful young queen, and Magda Schneider is warmth personified as the caring mother figure in Victoria's life. Hoven plays Prince Albert in a rather cocky manner, but he's also appealing, especially when quoting ROMEO AND JULIET. (Although what was with one of his eyes squinting in the final sequence?) Diehl is touching as Victoria's loyal mentor, Lord Melbourne.

At times the movie verges on the edge of being hokey, but it always reels itself back in, and the story is told with such humor and charm that it's simply a lovely piece of entertainment. The brief fictional section works quite well, especially as the film promptly returns to the historical record and the pieces all fit together quite nicely.

The film runs 108 minutes.

For those new to these movies, the well-known tale of THE STORY OF VICKIE provides a nice entry point into the later SISSI films. As enjoyable as VICKIE is, I do feel that SISSI is even stronger, as SISSI has richer production values, including stunning location photography in Austria. VICKIE is mostly set-bound, but it does have gorgeous costumes by Leo Bei and Gerdago.

THE STORY OF VICKIE is available on DVD as part of the Sissi Collection. It's in the original German, with English subtitles. As with the SISSI movies, the films are so well acted and engrossing that I gradually forgot I was reading subtitles. The other films in the DVD set are the trilogy SISSI, SISSI - THE YOUNG EMPRESS, and SISSI - THE FATEFUL YEARS OF AN EMPRESS, along with FOREVER, MY LOVE (1962), a condensed version of the films dubbed in English. The set is quite expensive; I would dearly love to own it one day if I can ever find it for a more reasonable price! These colorful films are worth watching, and then watching again in the future.

The DVD is available from Netflix.

It's been a terrific experience getting to know these beautifully made family films, created in Austria over half a century ago. They deserve to be more widely seen.


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