Operetta Research Center
4 May, 2019
Finally – and that’s really the only appropriate word for it: finally the updated 1950s movie version of Die Fledermaus, by the Powell-Pressburger team, has been released on DVD in the UK. It stars the incomparable Anton Walbrook/Adolf Wohlbrück as Dr. Falke, Michael Redgrave as Colonel Eisenstein and Ludmilla Tcherina as his tempestuous wife Rosalinda, and there is Anneliese Rothenberger as a bright young Adele. The action is moved to post-WW2 Vienna, a city occupied by the American, British, and Soviets. Which makes this tale of adultery and midnight partying poignantly political.
The update of the story is done far more intelligently than in the recent Deutsche Oper Berlin staging by Rolando Villazon, where act 2 was also moved to a communist underground party. But without bothering to move all other details around too, to make the storyline develop logically. Here, the script writers took great care to make all the necessary nuances fit the new time frame.
Alois Melichar conducts the Strauss score, with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra who later re-recorded the operetta with Robert Stolz and Wilma Lipp/Rudolf Schock. For the movie the orchestrations were only slightly touched up.
Co-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger filmed at the Elstree Studios and created an almost blindingly colorful Pop Art set. A reviewer on the International Movie Data Base website writes: “Think Dr. Caligari crossed with […] Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland […]. Or maybe The Third Man on a tremendous amount of ecstasy.” Another commentator wrote: “The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffman pioneered the daring fusion of high art and popular entertainment that would inspire MGM’s great postwar musicals, and Oh… Rosalinda! shows how much cross-pollination was going on between Powell in London and Stanley Donen in Hollywood. I can imagine Rouben Mamoulian ordering a screening of this film as part of preproduction for Silk Stockings.”
Visually speaking, you may indeed locate Oh… Rosalinda! somewhere between Silk Stockings, Red Shoes and MGM. And that makes it unique: because how often does a Johann Strauss operetta end up in such grand company?
Lylah Clare from the Anton Walbrook fan club on Facebook says about the movie: “What I like about the film is its visual appearance, though it‘s evident that the absolute superficiality of the sceneries won‘t appeal to everyone. The first scene after the opening credits is a hilarious satire of Soviet-like news, inside a Soviet-like design! The sceneries are always willingly flat, and in fact, paint. It is a deliberate, and daring, parti-pris by Michael Powell and the production designer Hein Heckroth, who had joined the Archers team since The Red Shoes. There are even purely visual gags, like the moment where the English Major Frank (Dennis Price) is imprisoned and literally sees double (we see what he sees) in a weird perspective. And at one moment, he sees Frosch entering – twice. What I find funny is that the double vision is not the same: the two Froschs are different!”
In his autobiography, Michael Powell reminds us that the original cast he dreamt about was different to the final one. The only actor that was already there in his “ideal” cast was Anton Walbrook! The French Eisenstein was to be played by Maurice Chevalier, the English Frank by David Niven, the American by Bing Crosby and the Russian Orlovsky by none other than Orson Welles (who kept the suspense up for very long about his participation before disappearing)!
Ludmilla Tcherina shows she‘s really gifted for comedy in the movie, besides her stunning beauty. It’s funny that Michael Redgrave dances nearly more than she does. In the end, it’s great that he got the part: he‘s sensational. And his scenes with Anton Walbrook are among the very best of the movie!
In the movie, Sir Michael Redgrave, Anneliese Rothenberger, and Sir Anthony Quayle do their own singing, everyone else is dubbed. (Sari Barabas sings Rosalinde, Walter Berry lends his voice to Dr. Falke.) But who cares? Audrey Hepburn was also dubbed in My Fair Lady and sounds marvelous, maybe because of it. As does Leslie Caron in Gigi, or Natalie Wood in West Side Story.
Miss Rothenberger as the reigning “German Fräuleinwunder” of those years is quite a sight and holds her own in the company of experienced movie stars, though Ludmilla Tcherina does not allow anyone to steal the show from her. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be, ever since the days of Marie Geistinger who premiered Die Fledermaus at Theater an der Wien in 1874.
One of my personal reasons for adoring the movie is the fact that Anton Walbrook is in it – years after he stared in operetta classics such as Zigeunerbaron, Der Walzerkrieg or the post-war hit La Ronde, for which Oscar Straus wrote the music.
He’s as dashing as ever in Oh… Rosalinda! and brings an almost wicked sense of humor to the tumultuous development of marital affairs. Talking of which: he was rumored to have had an affair with Michael Redgrave at the time of filming, which makes their underwear scene together all the more interesting.
Lylah Clare from the Anton Walbrook fan club clarifies, though: “The affair between Anton and Michael Redgrave seems to have only existed in Michael Powell‘s dreams (or phantasms): I bought Redgrave‘s bio (Secret Dreams, very good by the way), and what comes out of it is that Anton and him were good friends, but that‘s all.”
As for the rest: Mel Ferrer is the ex-lover Alfred, and if you watch closely you might spot director John Schlesinger in uniform in a jeep.
The fact that a British company Simply Home Entertainment has now, belatedly, released the movie on DVD is a blessing. Why the DVD is not yet on offer in the Amazon universe is a slight mystery. But hey, that such a great movie with so many outstanding people involved was not released earlier is also mysterious. I’d say it’s easily one of the most intelligent updates of an operetta, and as such a role model many modern day directors should watch before attempting to do the same. And the cast is one-of-a-kind that deserves re-watching, again and again.