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Pilgrims' Progress: Powell and Pressburger Revisited
Oh ... Rosalinda!!
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Producers: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Screenplay: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Based on the operetta: 'Die Fledermaus' by:
Director of Photography: Christopher Challis
Editor: Reginald Mills
Production designer: Hein Heckroth
Original Opera: Johann Strauss Jr.
New Lyrics: Dennis Arundell
Anthony Quayle (General Orlofsky)
Anton Walbrook (Dr Falke (The Fledermaus))
Richard Marner (Colonel Lobotov)
Ludmilla Tcherina (Rosalinda)
Michael Redgrave (Colonel Eisenstein)
Mel Ferrer (Captain Alfred Westerman)
Nicholas Bruce (hotel receptionist)
Anneliese Rothenberger (Adele)
Dennis Price (Major Frank)
Oskar Sima (Frosh)
Barbara Archer, Hildy Christian, Caryl Gunn,
Grizelda Hervey, Jill Ireland, Olga Lowe,
Ingrid Marshall, Alicia Massy-Beresford,
Eileen Sands, Herta Seydel, Anna Steele,
Dorothy Whitney (ladies)
Betty Ash, Igor Barczinsky, Yvonne Barnes,
Cecil Bates, Denis Carey, Pamela Foster,
Patricia Garnett, Peter Darrell, Annette Gibson,
David Gilbert, Eileen Gourlay, Robert Harrold,
Prudence Hyman, Jan Lawski, Maya Koumani,
William Martin, Maurice Metliss, Sara Luzita,
Kenneth Melville, Kenneth Smith,
Jennifer Walmsley (dancers)
Michael Anthony, Richard Bennett,
Nicholas Bruce, Ray Buckingham, Rolf Carston,
Terence Cooper, Robert Crewdson,
Edward Forsyth, Roger Gage, Raymond Lloyd,
Orest Orloff, Robert Ross, Frederick Schiller,
John Schlesinger, Frederick Schrecker
Walter Berry (singing voice of Dr Falke)
Sari Barabas (singing voice of Rosalinda)
(singing voice of Major Frank)
Joyce Blair (lady) *
Arthur Mullard (Russian guard) *
1955 was not a particularly felicitous time for filmed operetta in England. Ivor Novello's King's Rhapsody (with Anna Neagle and Errol Flynn in Novello's stage role) and Oh...Rosalinda!! were released virtually side by side in November. Both Neagle and Flynn were considered well past their prime, and King's Rhapsody, without the saving grace of Novello himself, was judged hopelessly old-fashioned. It was released in the U.S. with virtually all of the music removed, an act somewhat akin to taking all the dances out of the Astaire-Rogers Swing Time and offering it as a straight romance. But at that, it fared better than Oh ... Rosalinda!! which had the misfortune of being the only film that Powell and Pressburger made for Associated British-Pathé.
Pathé at that time had a reciprocal distribution arrangement with Allied Artists (recently self-promoted from the old Monogram) which handled Pathé's British product with some reluctance through its art-house subsidiary, Stratford Pictures. Many of Pathé's films were admittedly old-fashioned and tough to sell. Oh ... Rosalinda!!, though well received in Britain, was clearly a very specialised item that needed subtle and hand-tailored distribution and advertising over here. Stratford Pictures was virtually a one-man operation, and considering Oh ... Rosalinda!! too problematical, (and expensive to boot, in view of the cost of colour and Scope prints,) passed it on. At the time, one assumed that the film, if only on the momentum of The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffmann, would pick up an independent art house distributor and open at the Paris or the Sutton in due time. Incredibly, some thirty years have gone by and the film is still unreleased here. Recently it was given its American premiere (of sorts) at New York University, mainly because both Martin Scorsese and Michael Powell's new bride (Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese's chief editor) both wanted to see it for the first time, and Powell himself was curious to see it again. Admittedly, the audience, including Kim Hunter (who appeared in two films for Powell) and students, almost all of them devoted Powell/Pressburger admirers, were predisposed to like it - especially after Powell's charming and self-depreciating introduction. Nevertheless, everybody in the film seemed to be having such a good time that the infectious gaiety spread to the audience. It remains a specialised film, needing specialised handling but what highly individual film does not? In London this past July, the once-maligned Powell/Pressburger The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, restored to its original full length and with beautiful new colour prints, was re-premiered to astounding results. Most of the newer, younger critics, never having seen it, were bowled over by it, devoted whole pages to reviews, and wondered aloud where it - and Powell - had been all these years. Since Blimp is bound to make the Atlantic crossing, mightn't one hope that some U.S. distributor would take a chance on Oh ... Rosalinda!! too? The thirty years delay hasn't increased its commercial viability to any great extent (although its names, taste and imagination are qualities that we could take for granted then and alas can't any more) but in many ways, as a film, it is more interesting now than it was then.
Associated British Picture Corporation
Associate Producer: Sydney Streeter
Production Manager: Charles Orme
Production Secretary: Dora Thomas *
Assistant Director: John Pellatt
2nd Assistant Director: Alec Gibb *
3rd Assistant Director: David Mycroft *
Continuity: June Faithfull *
Camera Operator: Norman Warwick
2nd Camera Operator: Jimmy Stilweil *
Focus Puller: Kevin Pike *
Clapper Loader: Peter Hendry *
Stills: Ronnie Pilgrim, Bert Cann *
Assembly Cutter: Allan Tyrer *
1st Assistant Editor: Nicholas Gurney *
2nd Assistant Editor: Henrietta Gordon *
Assistant Designer: Terence Morgan II
Associate Art Director: Arthur Lawson
Assistant Art Director: Peter Sarron *
Draughtsman: Peter Pendrey *
Scenic Artist: Olga Lehmann *
Ludmilla Tcherina's clothes created by:
Jean Desse of Paris
Make-up: Constance Reeve
Hairdressing: A.G. Scott
Music Performed by:
Wiener Symphoniker Orchestra
Music Director: Frederic Lewis
Choreography: Alfred Rodrigues
Leslie Hammond, Herbert Janeczka
Boom Operator: Dennis Whitlock *
Boom Assistant: Hugh Strain *
Dubbing Editor: Noreen Ackland
Dubbing Crew: Len Shilton, Leonard Abbott,
H. Blackmore, M. Bradbury *
United Kingdom 1955
As Powell has remarked, 'The trouble with operettas in that their stories are so awful. If you film them faithfully, you may have good operetta but you'll have a bad film. And if you try for a good film, you'll no longer have good operetta.'
Operetta (on film) is often difficult to define. If The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) can be considered one, then it is certainly good because it is a film first (and a Lubitsch film to boot) and an operetta second. And if Golden Dawn (1930) is to be considered a bad movie operetta (and it certainly is, though in almost endearing and entertaining way!) it is mainly because of its lack of stylisation. Mamoulian or Whale might have made something of it, but it was handed to Ray Enright, an efficient director of thrillers and Rin Tin Tin actioners, who seems to have taken its absurd melodramatic storyline quite seriously. (In fairness, it must be admitted that in its original Technicolor it might have seemed appropriately artificial, but in the harsh black and white prints that are all that has survived, the melodramatic content is further emphasised).
Die Fledermaus, with a plotline vaguely similar to Molnar's The Guardsman, can easily approach vulgarity and bad taste, and often has in movie versions which have tried to open up its sex farce possibilities. An Austrian version of the late '40s was singularly heavy-handed, though redeemed to a degree by the polish of Siegfried Breuer in the Dr Falke role. (It is hard to imagine the pint-sized Ivor Barnard exuding much charm in that role in the 1933 British version, Waltz Time, with German Wilhelm Thiele directing and Evelyn Laye as Rosalinda). The immediate precursor to the Powell/Pressburger film was a very successful and spectacular stage revival in London in the mid-'40s, with Richard Tauber conducting the orchestra, and offered under the title Gay Rosalinda.
Perhaps operetta truly belongs on the stage, but having handled the stage to screen transition for ballet (The Red Shoes) and opera (Tales of Hoffmann) Powell and Pressburger felt the need to experiment at least once with operetta. If it is not as successful as its two predecessors it still has the vitality and courage of all the Powell-Pressburger works, and much of what was experimental in 1955 remains so today. Very little was done with the wide CinemaScope screen in the early British uses of that device - certainly the concurrent King's Rhapsody, also in Scope, neither experimented with nor exploited the space. But Oh ... Rosalinda!! uses the space to its maximum, cramming the screen with activity, and giving designer Hein Heckroth his head in crating deliberately unreal and often expressionistic sets.
The original text of the Strauss operetta remains relatively intact, other than for updating it to the immediate post-World War II period in Vienna. While this tends to make the moral conventions of the farce seem somewhat out--dated, it does provide writer Pressburger (and actor Walbrook, the Pressburger spokesman here as in 49th Parallel, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and The Red Shoes) with some wonderful opportunities for trenchant commentary on that Cold War period. One of the best moments in the whole film is Anton Walbrook's superbly delivered speech to the representatives of the Occupying Powers - telling them that they have become friends, but that even friends can outstay their welcome. 'Come again,' he invites them, 'but go home, now!' Pressburger compresses a wealth of feeling and emotion into just a few sentences, and Walbrook, with his flawless diction and impeccable if unorthodox timing, delivers it so beautifully that one almost wishes it could have been a longer, climatic speech à la Chaplin's in The Great Dictator. To Walbrook also goes the honour for the funniest and subtlest moment in the film - and that the delivery of a mere two-letter word! 'Have you ever read Ten Thousand Ways to Say No?' asks Russian official Anthony Quayle, handing Walbrook a massive tome. Walbrook looks, ponders, hesitates - and finally says 'No' in a manner that suggests it is the ten thousand and first way to say No.
On this recent single screening, Powell felt that the film took too long to get under way and that he'd personally like to cut the opening in which Walbrook takes the audience into his confidence and talks to it informally, setting the mood of the story in a pre-credit sequence. In a dramatic and narrative sense Powell might well be right - but Walbrook's presence, with relatively little to do, adds so much to the persuasive charm of the film that deletion of any of his material could only work to the film's disadvantage.
But if Walbrook dominates the film, then the rest of the cast, for the most part, make major contributions too, Michael Redgrave, complete with a Maurice Chevalier accent, does all his own singing and dancing, and clearly revels in the chance to let his hair down and have fun after a 14-year stretch of unrelievedly heavy dramatic roles, broken only by the single lightness of The Importance of Being Ernest, Ludmilla Tcherina is a real charmer as Rosalinda - provocative, sensual, funny - though rather surprisingly she has few facial close-ups. Dennis Price makes more than the most of his small role, and the array of Cold War types allows Pressburger to spice up the proceedings with a few topical quips here and there. Only Mel Ferrer, clearly trying to enlarge and reshape his role, doesn't entirely come off and is the one weak spot in the cast. Apparently he was employed primarily because Powell and Pressburger were planing on Ondine (which Ferrer and his wife Audrey Hepburn had done on stage successfully, and were due to repeat on film) as their next production, and since Ferrer was already on hand and apparently making signs of being disruptive, it was decided to keep him busy acting instead. He just does not have the charm or the lightness of touch to match Redgrave and Walbrook.
Incidentally, Powell decided to emulate the traditions of the theatre by having a 'company' of approximately fifty young ladies and gentlemen who would dance and sing with the chorus and play extras and bit roles. The easily recognisable John Schlesinger, well before he hit his directorial stride in 1960, can be seen in many roles (a cafe musician, a Russian officer) while Jill Ireland is one of the more recognisable of the young ladies.
William K. Everson, Films in Review, October 1985