song at twilight – 48 years ago today

Portrait of AW, from ‘Duett im Zwielicht’ theatre programme, 1966
AW died on 9 August 1967 at the home of his old friend Hansi Burg, where he was convalescing after a heart attack suffered on stage some four months earlier. Although the play, Noel Coward’s Duett im Zwielicht (Song at Twilight) was then running at the Kleine-Komödie in Munich, it had actually opened in December 1966 at the Renaissance-Theater in Berlin, so today I am posting a couple of photographs from the original theatre programme and some contemporary press cuttings. 
This caricature shows the three lead actors – AW (Sir Noel Latymer, a famous writer nearing the end of his life), Heli Finkenzeller (Hilde Latymer, his wife) and Friedel Schuster (Carlotta Gray, a former lover.) The play was first produced in London in April 1966, with AW’s roles performed by Noel Coward himself, and Hilde and Carlotta played by Irene Worth and Lilli Palmer respectively.  The play had been translated into German by Martin Dongen and was directed by Viktor de Kowa – who had co-starred with AW and Hansi Burg’s father, Eugen Burg, in Der Stolz der 3 Kompanie (Fred Sauer, 1932.)

The distinctive art deco frontage of the Renaissance Theater, a former club and cinema, it opened as a theatre in 1922.
Among the press-cuttings I have reviewing the opening night of Duett im Zwielicht at the Renaissance Theater is a favourable one by Dora Fehling in Der Telegraf , who was impressed by AW’s ability to elicit sympathy for Latymer’s unattractive character: a difficult task, she admitted, but on in which the actor succeeded. Heinz Ritter went further, describing AW’s distinguished appearance in his green smoking jacket, and praising his ability to soften Latymer’s abrasive nature with an air of Schnitzler-like resignation, making the character understandable to the audience and providing him with a poignant sense of tragedy.  Ilse Urbach was less impressed by AW’s performance, however, finding too much of the grand old silent-film star about him. Perhaps she would have been kinder had she realised that this grand old man had only a few months left to live. May he rest in peace.

Wohlbrück and Tauber in ‘melodie der liebe’ (1932)

On my last visit to London I managed to locate the grave of the famous tenor Richard Tauber (1891-1948) and thought I should write a short post about his collaboration with AW. Despite his self-confessed musical range of ‘two and a half notes’ Anton’s career involved a considerable amount of musical performances, from operetta films through to concerts, stage musicals and even an appearance at Glyndebourne. In 1932 he co-starred with Tauber in Melodie der Liebe – also known as Right to Happiness.

Tauber was born in Linz to theatrical parents, and began performing professionally in his early twenties. After the end of World War One his career really took off, with a contract to the Vienna State Opera, the first of over 700 recordings, and hugely successful excursions into the popular genre of operetta. His first film appearances were during the silent era, but with the advent of sound there was clear potential for adapting his operetta performances for the screen.

Many of these films were, to be frank, of no great merit, having little other purpose was to provide a vehicle for Tauber’s singing. Despite his popularity, Die grosse Attraktion (Max Reichmann, 1931) failed badly at the box office,
leading to the collapse of the Richard Tauber Sound-Film Company. As would happen again during his career, he recouped the financial losses with a lucrative concert tour of Britain and America. When he returned to Germany in 1932, it was clear that a different approach would be necessary if he was going to be attempt another film.

Thankfully the script for Melodie der Liebe (Georg Jacoby, 1932) was much stronger than previous screenplays and provided cinema audiences with a decent story to follow between the musical sequences. Tauber played Richard Hoffman, an eminent singer who has lost his wife and is travelling in the company of his brother in law Bernhard (Szoke Szakall) and young daughter Gloria (Petra Unkel), prior to his departure for a tour in America. After a chance meeting in a pub, he falls for a young woman named Lilli (Alice Treff), unaware of her real intention: she is already engaged to Erwin Richter (AW), an ambitious conductor who sees Hoffmann as a means of furthering his own career.  While this pair devise a plan to exploit Hoffman’s infatuation, and Lilli’s hard-up parents do their best to secure a match, the singer’s daughter has met charming young artist Escha (Lien Deyers), who sees right through Lilli’s pretence. Things come to a head as Hoffman prepares for his farewell performance of Tosca: will he find true love before he sails for New York in the morning?

Looking pensive: AW as Erwin Richter
One strength of the storyline is that it allowed Tauber to perform songs and arias that were integral to the plot, rather than being contrived interruptions of it. Audiences particularly enjoyed little Petra Unkel’s performance as Gloria, and Szakall’s antics as her hapless Uncle Bernhard. The film premiered in Berlin on 26 April 1932 and was well received, later being released in Britain and America as The Right to Happiness. 

AW in a characteristic pose. Only one more film and his elegance would be perfected with the appearance of his trademark moustache
Very few could claim their right to happiness in Nazi Germany, however, and several of the film’s cast were forced to leave soon after the film was released. Deyers and Szakall both went to Hollywood, the latter finding fame in Casablanca. Tauber’s grandfather was Jewish but he was raised as a Catholic after his father converted. Nazi papers began attacking him nonetheless, drawing attention to his ancestry as well as criticising the amount of money he was making. He left Germany for his native Austria in 1933, later moving to Britain where he achieved some success with more films as well as concert and opera performances. In 1936 he married English actress Diana Napier (1905-82) and remained in Britain throughout the war, dying in London of cancer on 8 January 1948.

Tauber’s grave in Brompton cemetery

Ten years later the BBC Home Service presented an hour long programme, ‘The Richard Tauber Story’ to mark the anniversary of his death. The radio programme was broadcast at 8 pm on Wednesday 8 January 1958, narrated by Evelyn Laye (AW’s co-star in the 1954 musical Wedding in Paris) with contributions from Walbrook, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Percy Kahn, Jane Baxter and Tauber’s widow Diana Napier.

Lola Montez (MAX Ophuls 1955) Part 1

There are two things I haven’t done for a while – 1) posted here and 2) watched Lola Montes (Ophuls, 1955.) Both are long overdue, and so today – the first day of another month – I thought I’d post a couple of film stills from my collection. Both are black and white, which does no justice to the lush cinematography and gorgeous Eastmancolor of the film – as well as being Ophuls’ final film, Lola Montes was his only venture into colour, and we’ll never know what wonders he might have achieved had it been otherwise.

AW as King Ludwig I of Bavaria in ‘Lola Montes’
AW plays Ludwig I (1786-1868), King of Bavaria from 1825 until he was dethroned by the revolution 1848. The king’s downfall was partly due to his public relationship with Lola Montez (1821-61), a former dancer and courtesan who wielded influence over Ludwig ever since they met in Munich in 1846. Born in Ireland, her early life saw her flitting around between Liverpool, London, Montrose, Calcutta and Paris, and by the time she met Ludwig she had been married, separated, had an affair with Franz Liszt (other alleged lovers included Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers) and performed on stage under the pseudonym of ‘Lola Montez, the Spanish Dancer.’ Her risqué ‘Spider Dance’ would later become notorious.

Lola (Martine Carole) and the KIng

After the fall of Ludwig, Lola had to flee Bavaria, spending time in Switzerland and England before emigrating to America where she took part in public lectures and performances about her past.  It is probably this period of her life that suggested the bold concept of Ophuls’ film – to present Lola’s life as a circus performance. As a historical event this is pure fiction, but it provides scope for playing with ideas about public life as a visual spectacle, with the sins of a celebrity forming the centre of (quite literally) a media circus.

Such a circular visual device obviously recalls La Ronde (Ophuls, 1950) where again there is a central narrator around whom the story revolves: however, the Ringmaster (Peter Ustinov), is a much darker and more cynical character than AW’s master-of-ceremonies in La Ronde. There is a cruelty about the Ringmaster’s exploitation of the woman, who is forced to answer questions  about her past life in exchange for money. Her life in the circus ring is in sharp contrast to her former life with Ludwig, probably the happiest period of her life. In my next post on Lola Montes I hope to write more about AW’s performance and include some colour pictures from the film. 

Essex Man: Adolf Wohlbrück, Ferdinand Bruckner and ‘Elisabeth Von England’

Statue of Ferdinand Bruckner in Vienna

Elisabeth von England (Elizabeth of England)  was published in 1930, and was the work of Theodor Tagger (1891-1958), better known under his pseudonym of Ferdinand Bruckner. He legally changed his name to Bruckner after the war, so I’ll continue to refer to him in this way. Broadly speaking, his life paralleled that of A.W’s, with his early life spent between Vienna and Berlin, followed by an interest in music and poetry that drew him into the theatrical world. He founded the Berlin Renaissance Theatre in 1922, took over the Kurfürstendamm Theatre in 1927, published Krankheit der Jugend (The Pains of Youth, 1929), Die Verbrecher, (The Criminals, 1929) and Elisabeth von England before migrating to Paris after the Nazis came to power in 1933. In Paris he wrote Die Rassen (The Races), the first anti-Nazi play to be written by an exile. It had its premiere at the Schauspielhaus in Zurich in 1934. He migrated to America the same year as A.W., publishing another historical play – Napoleon der Erste in 1937 – and joining the German-American Writers Association, the fellow members of which included Thomas Mann and Oskar Graf. During the war he worked for Paramount Studios and did not return to Germany until 1953 when he translated Miller’s Death of a Salesman for a production. He worked as an advisor to the Schiller Theater in Berlin until his death there in December 1958.

Bruckner wrote Elisabeth von England while working as a theatre director and did not reveal his authorship until its success had been proved. The play draws on Lytton Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex: a tragic history (1928), focussing on the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. It is a wordy piece, heavy on psychoanalysis (Freud wrote to Strachey on Christmas Day 1928 offering a detailed treatment) in its portrayal of the complex psychology of the ageing queen in her relationships with three men: her father Henry VIII, the much younger and attractive Essex, and the religious zealot of Philip of Spain, to whom she is also attracted.

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, (1596) by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

Essex had been part of the royal court since the late 1580s and was a favourite of the queen. Aware of this, he tended to her sympathy for granted, pushing his luck several times with occasions of insolence and disobedience. Other factions at court resented his behaviour, and a disastrous attempt at rebellion in February 1601 led to the Earl’s arrest and beheading on Tower Hill a few days later.

Using a device made popular in Berlin by Edwin Piscator since the 1920s – the Simultanbühne or split stage – Bruckner’s The Criminals was set in a tenement house which was cut away so that the audience could watch action taking place simultaneously in different parts of the building. This time, the split stage was used in the final scene of each Act to show the respective situations in the English and Spanish courts as they responded to events. By asking the audience to compare the behaviour of the two courts, the play was also inviting comparisons to be made with contemporary events in the real world. England’s pragmatism and dislike for war was contrasted with Spanish warmongering and sense of destiny.

Cover of the November 1930 programme
Very similar parallels were drawn in A.E.W. Mason’s novel Fire Over England (1936) which was adapted for the screen in 1937 with Flora Robson as Elizabeth (in  my opinion, the best screen portrayal of the monarch) and Raymond Massey as Philip II. The film in fact was originally planned as an adaptation of Bruckner’s play, but this was changed due to production problems: Alexander Korda passed the job of directing onto Erich Pommer – it was eventually directed by William K Howard – and the Bruckner version was abandoned in favour of an adaption of Mason’s novel. Clear parallels were made between England’s past and present – Spain and Germany, the Inquisition and the Gestapo, Philip II and Hitler. Both Britain and Germany produced a large number of historical films during this period, projecting current tensions onto past events, and using these thrilling costume dramas to influence popular perceptions of national identity and international relations.

An 18th century engraving of Essex by Jacobus Houbraken, reproduced inside the programme.

There are elements of this in AW’s performance as Prince Albert in Victoria the Great (1937) and Sixty Glorious Years (1938), and I discuss this in my forthcoming conference paper ‘Walbrook’s Royal Waltzes’ which is due for publication later this year in The British Monarchy on Screen (Manchester University Press.) The paper also looks at AW’s earlier stage performances in Schiller’s Maria Stuart.

Returning to Bruckner’s play, its mix of historical drama and gripping psychology proved popular. Elisabeth von England opened in November 1930 and ran for 122 performances. The cast looked liked this:

There are many familiar names here. AW and Gustaf Gründgens worked together many times and their friendship survived the war years. Max Gülstorff had a minor role in Ich war Jack Mortimer (1935) playing the father of AW’s girlfriend. It is interesting to note that Agnes Straub (Elizabeth) and Werner Krauss (Philip II) had both appeared in Der Graf von Essex (1922), a silent film version of the Earl’s relationship with the queen, adapted from a much earlier 18th century account.

The Kammerspiele from the outside. Adjacent to the Deutsches Theater, it was acquired by Max Reinhardt in 1906 in his second season as director.

Although this photograph was taken after the refurbishment in 1937, it gives a good sense of the auditorium’s modest size.
Elisabeth von England was staged in the Kammerspiele, next door to the Deutsches Theater. The auditorium here was less than half the size, seating around 230 people, and was used for contemporary plays that required a more intimate setting, leaving the main theatre for large-scale classical productions.  AW had only moved to Berlin from Dresden a few months earlier and the success of the play ushered in a new chapter in his career. Even greater things lay ahead.

Warsaw Concerto on Vinyl

During some charity shop browsing a couple of days ago I came across two old records of film music, both of which offered different recordings of Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, the theme from Anton’s film Dangerous Moonlight (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1941.)

‘Music from the Film’ (1963) played by the London Variety Theatre Orchestra
The solo piano playing is by Joyce Hatto (1928-2006), and unlike her later CD releases, is definitely genuine!

‘Big Concerto Movie Themes’ (1972) played by Geoff Love and His Orchestra
Geoff Love (1917-91) was responsible for a number of popular vinyl collections of classical film music in the 1960s and 70s, and as a child I actually owned his two preceding albums: Big Western Movie Themes (1969) and Big War Movie Themes (1971.) The solo pianist for the ‘Warsaw Concerto’ here was Robert Docker (1918-92), who was a fellow soldier with Love in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

Radetzky in the Ruins: detail from the record sleeve
After listening to both records several times, I must confess that I remain undecided as to which version I prefer. The original performance that we hear in Dangerous Moonlight while watching Anton at the piano – was of course played by Louis Kentner (1905-87), a Hungarian emigre who was later the brother-in-law of Yehudi Menuhin. Although I have always loved the music in the film, I find its appeal somewhat diminished once isolated from Stefan and Carole’s story. 
The Warsaw Concerto was composed specially for the film by Richard Addinsell (1904-77), who had also written the music for Anton’s previous film Gaslight (1940.) After the release of Dangerous Moonlight the concerto became one of the most popular and familiar pieces of music in Britain – a phenomenon that caught the film-makers on the hop: underestimating public interest, they had not bothered either to release it on gramophone record or have sheet music printed. This oversight was hastily corrected, and the record sold millions of copies. 

The Warsaw Concerto plays for less than ten minutes and therefore fitted perfectly onto two sides of a 78 rpm disc
The orchestration was arranged by Roy Douglas, with Kentner and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Muir Matheson, whose distinguished career was closely linked with the British film industry. In relation to Anton’s films, he was musical director for Victoria the Great (1937), The Rat (1937), Sixty Glorious Years (1938), Gaslight (1940), Dangerous Moonlight (1941), 49th Parallel (1941) and I Accuse (1958.) He also conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra for their Columbia recording of The Red Shoes

There were of course numerous subsequent vinyl releases of the music, recorded by different performers – including in America where the film had been given the more dramatic title of Suicide Squadron:

Probably the worst likeness of Anton Walbrook to appear on any film poster
Others who recorded the Warsaw Concerto included George Greeley, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra, David Haines and the Paris Theatre Orchestra, Ron Goodwin, The Carpenters and Richard Clayderman.
I think it’s unlikely that I’ll start collecting recordings of the Warsaw Concerto, but I was pleased to add these two records to my Walbrook collection, taking their place on a shelf along with other vinyl and shellac items.