by Allan Fish
(USA 1928 115m) not on DVD
p Pat Powers, Jesse Lasky Jnr, Adolph Zukor d Erich Von Stroheim w Harry Carr, Erich Von Stroheim ph Hal Mohr, Ben Reynolds, Ray Rennahan ed Frank Hull, Josef Von Sternberg, Julian Johnson md Carl Davis (including various classics) art Erich Von Stroheim, Richard Day cos Erich Von Stroheim, Max Ree
Erich Von Stroheim (Prince Nicholas Ehrhart Hans Karl Maria Von Wildeliebe-Rauffenberg), Fay Wray (Mitzi Schrammell), Matthew Betz (Schani Eberle), Zasu Pitts (Cecelia Schweisser), Maude George (Princess Maria Immaculata Von Wildeliebe-Rauffenberg), Cesare Gravina (Herr Schrammell), George Fawcett (Prince Ottakar Von Wildeliebe-Rauffenberg), George Nicholls (Schweisser), Dale Fuller (Frau Schrammell),
The opening caption to Von Stroheim’s romantic folly confirms that it is “dedicated to the true lovers of the world.” That in itself might seem a supremely romantic statement, were it not for the fact that Von Stroheim is referring not just to physical romantic lovers, but to true lovers of any aesthetic, in this case Von Stroheim’s beloved Vienna. He’s not the only master director to create love letters to that most imperial of cities (Max Ophuls did so many times a few decades later), but Von Stroheim’s films have an altogether grander quality. They are follies, but also amongst the most grandiose statements in silent cinema history. None of his classics can be seen as originally intended; Greed, Queen Kelly and Foolish Wives only survive in grossly butchered states, and The Wedding March is actually only part one of a story which was continued in The Honeymoon, which is now probably the most sought after lost film of them all. Originally the second film finished on a note of doomed romance. As it is, minus the second stanza, this poem to romance leaves a somewhat cynical but in some ways more realistic aftertaste.
The film is set in the very period prior to World War I that marked the final days of the Imperial Hapsburgs. Nikki, the hard-drinking, womanising and extravagantly living son of an impoverished aristocratic family, finally agrees to marry. As his parents have often harangued him, he decides to “marry money” and is engaged to the crippled daughter of a wealthy industrialist. Meanwhile he falls for a young lower class girl, Mitzi, and they enjoy a brief affair before her parents want her married off to the brutish Schani.
The final shots of the film are incredibly emotional, as Nikki marries his rich cripple while his rain-soaked beloved cries so hard even the rain cannot hide her tears. In a final deliciously cynical ironic coda, his crippled bride says “how sweet these apple blossom are, won’t they always remind you?” Von Stroheim can only interject “yes, always” while thinking of his lost love crying amongst the throng. And this is just one memorable scene amongst many. We have the opening satirical swipe at the aristocracy in their bedrooms, the immortal apple blossom love scene to Strauss, the incredibly salacious and dizzying orgy sequence to Lizst’s ‘Hungarian Rhapsody’, Mitzi praying inside St Stephen’s cathedral to Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’, the ornate detail of the two tone Technicolor pageant scenes and the final fateful shot of the laughing Iron Man of St Stephen’s hovering over the city like the Grim Reaper. Scenes that no-one who saw them would be able to forget and in many ways the summit of American visual silent cinema.
Much has been made of the look of the film and certainly the photography is shimmering (though the print could do with some restoration, oh for a Kino or Criterion to get their hands on it) and the décor splendorous, with its ornate palaces, authentic beer gardens and cathedral interiors. Much credit must also go to the lead performances; Von Stroheim was never better in a silent role, nailing the multi-named (“I bet you have a name a kilometre long” says Mitzi) aristocratic lover (he had the mannerisms down pat and boy did he love the knee-length military boots) and the then twenty year old Fay Wray is a pictorial beauty in her frail lace and straw hat, a million miles from Scream Queendom. All in all, the greatest silent about romantic loss ever made and, without it, one doubts co-editor Von Sternberg’s later The Scarlet Empress could have been made.