Sunday, May 09, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Sissi (1955)

Last month Moira Finnie wrote a very interesting post on the Hapsburg royal family in general and the SISSI films, starring Romy Schneider, in particular. I was intrigued, as royal biographies, whether in print or on film, have always been an interest of mine.

Moira's comparison of SISSI to Disney films of the '50s caught my eye, and being a huge SOUND OF MUSIC buff, I was even more curious when she wrote "Each glorious, flower bedecked meadow, babbling brook and ancient forest looked as though it was just waiting for the location team for the production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC to show up some years later."

SISSI was this weekend's Netflix film, and it did not disappoint. It's a German-language film with English subtitles, but I became so caught up in the story I think I almost forgot I was reading subtitles. (My younger daughter, who is a first-year German student, thoroughly enjoyed the film and was pleasantly surprised by how much she understood.) SISSI was the film equivalent of See's Candy: on the sweet side but absolutely delicious.

Sissi was the nickname of Elisabeth of Bavaria, who became Empress Elisabeth of Austria when she married Emperor Franz Josef. It was initially planned that Franz Josef would marry Sissi's older sister Helene ("Nene"), but he fell in love with young Sissi and insisted on marrying her instead. Franz Josef was played by Karlheinz Bohm, and Nene by Uta Franz; Bohm and Franz are still alive today, ages 82 and 74.

The real Sissi, as Moira writes, had a happy childhood but an adult life which was marred by stress and tragedy. Such hardships are only hinted at near the end of SISSI, as the young princess goes toe to toe with steely Archduchess Sophie (Vilma Degischer), who was both her mother-in-law and her aunt. The film is a fairy tale, and a most enjoyable one at that.

Schneider is winning as the free-spirited Sissi, whose sweet and open nature captures Franz Josef's heart. She played Sissi in two more films, SISSI: THE YOUNG EMPRESS (1956) and SISSI: THE FATEFUL YEARS OF AN EMPRESS (1957). The films were later condensed into an English-dubbed version called FOREVER MY LOVE (1962), but based on the first film I'd recommend sticking with the full-length originals. Schneider was a teenager when she made the trilogy; sadly, she died fairly young, in 1982.

Romy Schneider's real mother, Magda Scheider, plays her mother, Duchess Ludovika. The portrayal of the marriage of Ludovika and Duke Max (Gustav Knuth) is one of the most appealing aspects of the film. Max is a bit unconventional and not overly concerned with royal protocol, while his wife is more straight-laced, yet they are a happy pair and when the situation arises, Ludovika springs to her husband's defense. The scenes where they are surrounded by their many children have a definite SOUND OF MUSIC quality to them, along with the glorious location shooting, which took place in Salzburg, Vienna, Innsbruck, and elsewhere.

Sissi was directed by Ernst Marischka. It runs 102 minutes.

SISSI is available on DVD. A trailer is here, but with its shouted, hokey narration -- apparently the Austrian style in the '50s -- it does not do a good job capturing the film's charm.

SISSI was as addictive as Moira suggested -- I hope to watch the sequels in the near future.

Update: My review of SISSI - THE YOUNG EMPRESS has been posted.


Blogger Irene said...

When I read your previous post about this movie I checked with the library and they did have a copy in the system so I put a hold on it right away. I'm currently 6th on the wait list. I'm so happy to see your review which makes me even more excited to see it.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Barb the Evil Genius said...

Ironically, Sissi ended up being a pretty lousy mother-in-law to Rudolf's wife.

12:26 PM  

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