Jessie's 7th starring talkie role is from the play "Walzerkrieg" by Ernest Marischka and D A Wilmer. She plays a Pastry cook's daughter, Rasi, who helps budding composer Johann Strauss Junior to fame.
Waltzes From Vienna is a ficticious musical farce set in Vienna in 1867 involving the Strauss dynasty about the evolution of the Waltz - 'The Blue Danube'. Johann 'Schani' Strauss is an ambitious musician employed by his famous father to play fiddle in his Orchestra. Schani not content to be a fiddler is internally compelled to compose contemporary music which he always dedicates to his singing student girlfriend Rasi Ebeseder, played by Jessie.
Whilst singing Schani's latest composition, a fire breaks out at the cafe to which Schani and Rasi are oblivious upstairs. 'Keystone' type antics ensue as a rescue from the fire is performed. Meanwhile a Countess, Helena, has taken up a diversion from life as a wife married to Prince Gustav Van Stahl - writing poems. By way of a chance meeting after the scene of the cafe fire, Helena commissions ambitious Schani to write a composition for her lyrics. Covetousness consumes Rasi and superciliousness consumes Johann Sr who is masterfully played by Edmund Gwen.
Rasi is determined her boyfriend demonstrate loyalty to her in return for which she will provide loving support of his music. She finds a way to provide Schani with inspiration in the most unlikely of places - her father's bakery.
The Music and Performances
The music was adapted for the screen by Hubert Bath from the 1931 West End Stage Musical. Originally the stage show had about a dozen songs as well as two beautiful orchestral pieces. However, with a time slot of around 80 minutes Producer Tom Arnold and Editor Charles Friend chose to use just 3 songs and and kept the 2 orchestral pieces from the stage show. There were many scenes and much music to fit into the schedule. The reduction in musical content was not a decision made in haste. The unusual characteristics of the film result from Gaumont British's choice of Director - Alfred Hitchcock. According to Hitchcock the film gave him many opportunities for working out ideas in the relation of film and music. He claimed every cut in the film was worked out on the script before shooting began and the musical cuts were worked out too.This was the origin of the interaction between Hitchcock's visuals and music responsible for that thrilling Hitchcock feel prominent in his later masterpieces e.g. Vertigo. However, for Hitchcock, the musical genre was anything but a marvelous experience and Waltzes From Vienna was his only venture into musical comedy.
The song 'Danube So Blue' (An der schönen blauen Donau) in the real world was commissioned by Johann Herbeck for his Vienna Mens Singing Society. The poem from which the lyrics originated were written by Karl Beck and adapted for the song by a policeman member of the singing society - Joseph Wely. Johann Stauss Junior composed the music for the song on 9th February 1867 and later reorchestrated it as a full movement 'The Blue Danube' for the World Fair in Paris.
Apart from'Danube So Blue' Jessie sang the torchy 'Like A Star In The Sky' and the frivolous 'With All My Heart' The other musical piece (to 'The Blue Danube') was Johann Strauss Senior's 'Radetzsky March'. In later screenings of the film some footage was lost and video piracy further cut the film, so much so, that most reviews today quite incorrectly call this a musical without song. Fortunately the British Film Institute held the Gaumont British Library stock and struck off a pristine complete print from the negative to screen at the National Film Theatre in London. Seeing the lovely crisp print is an altogether more joyous experience than watching a pirated DVD or cine print that is ravaged by time.
Jessie was visibly unnerved by Hitchcock in most of her scenes, but gave an enchanting performance throughout despite her nerves. Jessie's and the cast's period costumes are positively flamboyant. That combined with nervous acting, Hitchcock direction, and Ruritanian sets, make this a somewhat quirky timebound piece of entertainment. Seen in it's entirity it is thoroughly enjoyable viewing, much deserving a DVD release.
BFI National Film Theatre " Another film that has alot more going for it than it's reputation suggests!"
Charles Barr Author of 'English Hitchcock' reviews the film providing an insight into Hitchcock's long shot technique: "The (long) shot in Waltzes From Vienna uses our awareness of off-screen space to erotic effect with its on screen kissess gaining excitement from the fact that they are unseen, not by us, but by the couple's employers and also by the way they are snatched between conversational interruptions - a forerunner of the celebrated long-take kiss between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious.The device of having wealthy persons instructions passed on from menial to menial is one used in the restaurant scenes both of the Pleasure Garden and of Champagne and that here finds, at the third attempt, its wittiest elaboration. The relatively simple figure of the undressing scene of 1926 has, then, been refined into a scene that is highly complex formally, that plays with off screen sound as well as off screen space. That forms a bridge between the generally more utilitarian static technology long takes of the first sound films and the intracacies of Rope and Under Capricorn.What is more the scene doesn't neglect to be functional e.g. one of the questions relayed across between wife and husband is "What colour is the Danube?"