Satiric comedy-with-songs featuring some meaningful insights beneath its frothy surface. 3.5 Stars

There is more to Billy Wilder’s The Emperor Waltz than meets the eye: a frothy comedy of manners on the surface which hides some more deeply felt and blunt observations on the venality of social class consciousness.

The Emperor Waltz (1948)
Released: 02 Jul 1948
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 106 min
Director: Billy Wilder
Genre: Comedy, Musical, Romance
Cast: Bing Crosby, Joan Fontaine, Roland Culver
Writer(s): Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder
Plot: A brash American gramophone salesman tries to get Emperor Franz Joseph's endorsement in turn-of-the-century Austria.
IMDB rating: 6.1
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 46 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 08/17/2021
MSRP: $24.95

The Production: 3.5/5

Those who have denigrated Billy Wilder’s The Emperor Waltz as nothing but a frothy light operetta filmed lavishly in Technicolor really aren’t paying much attention. Produced just after the end of the horrific World War II which had seen the wholesale extermination of six million of his fellow Jews for being racially impure, it’s not surprising that Wilder took this opportunity to comment on that folly disguised as an off-the-cuff comedy with music with the cinema’s most popular and affable leading man Bing Crosby as his spokesman to scoff at such bigotry. Yes, it’s possible to watch The Emperor Waltz and think it’s merely a frivolous musical, but you’d be missing the celebrated writer-director’s point completely.

In 1901 Vienna, American gramophone salesman Virgil Smith (Bing Crosby) is determined to get Emperor Franz-Josef’s (Richard Haydn) endorsement of his product so he can blanket the region with the amazing new invention. But the Emperor has more pressing matters on his aged mind. He wants his prized but aging poodle to sire a royal litter, and the female dog he’s chosen as the mother-to-be, a stately black poodle named Scheherazade, belongs to his niece Johanna (Joan Fontaine). Scheherazade, however, has other ideas, her heart belonging to Virgil’s fox terrier Buttons who represents his company’s logo (“His Master’s Voice”). In trying to work out things between their canines, Virgil and Johanna likewise fall in love, but she’s convinced their coming from different worlds would spell doom to any potential relationship while he’s cocksure they can make a go of it back in America.

By focusing their disdain of the superiority-of-class question first pinpointed on the dogs’ pedigrees (or lack thereof) and later extending it to the difference between the brash American and the exalted (though penniless) European Countess, screenwriters Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett can heap their scorn to their hearts’ content and yet soft-pedal it with the lilting Strauss waltzes, the glorious Oscar-nominated costumes, and the gorgeous location photography (with Canada substituting for Austria). Though we don’t have our first song from our star until almost half an hour into the movie, with Wilder’s deft direction, Oscar-winning cinematographer George Barnes captures the charm of the Tyrolean Alps in “Friendly Mountains” with lots of locals dancing and yodeling while der Bingle later warbles two lovely ballads “I Kiss Your Hand, Madame” and “A Kiss in Your Eyes,” each of which melts to increasing degrees the icy snobbishness of Countess Johanna as her contempt begins to turn to love (all paralleled by their dogs’ similar loathing-to-loving scenario). It’s not strictly a musical (there were almost as many songs in both of Wilder’s satirical comedies A Foreign Affair and Some Like It Hot as we have here), and Wilder certainly shows no interest in the genre itself, never venturing throughout his lengthy career to anything resembling a real musical (he even filmed the stage musical Irma La Douce without its songs as a straight satirical comedy). The resolution of the various class-related conflicts (and with a clear implication pointing to the extermination of “undesirables”) may come too easily and too predictably much to Wilder’s fans’ antipathy, but the movie went wildly over budget, and a happy ending was probably a necessity for the film to make back its $4 million costs (which it did with a tiny profit).

Bing Crosby once again plays a brash American loose in a foreign locale (but the Wilder-Brackett dialogue for him seems a bit 1940s anachronistically hep rather than more turn-of-the-century om-pah-pah), but there’s no denying he’s never been in better voice with his mellow tone and breezy manner (one must never forget that at this time, he was the number one movie star at the box-office, number one on radio, and number one on the Hit Parade, a true triple threat star that we’ve never seen the like of again). Joan Fontaine looks lovely and wears the Edith Head gowns beautifully, but she and Crosby don’t have much of a spark to their coupling, and neither one seems to have enjoyed playing with the other. Almost unrecognizable is Richard Haydn in a canny performance as Emperor Franz-Josef. Hidden behind billowing white mutton chops, he gives the best performance in the movie (and astonishing to note that in the same year, he played the prissy fussbudget Mr. Applegate in Sitting Pretty). Lucile Watson narrates the film (it’s told mostly in flashback) as the haughty Princess Bitotska who has her eye on the rather desperate father of Johanna, Baron Holenia played strictly by Roland Culver. Sig Ruman has several amusing moments as the veterinarian Dr. Zwieback.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharp when it needs to be and softer in glamour close-ups of the stars, there are no problems with clarity or detail in the imagery. Paramount Technicolor always seemed very warm and inviting, and there is no difference here: beautifully hued with the unmistakable richness in colors that three-strip Technicolor provided. There are occasional bits of dust, dirt, and debris (and one moment that appeared to be a slight tear in the lower left corner), but it’s generally a most pleasing picture offered here. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix offers a rich, distinct auditory experience that will greatly pleasure fans of this film. Fidelity is sure and true with dialogue and song lyrics well-recorded and mixed deftly with the music under Victor Young’s supervision and the sound effects (the echoes in that early song are most impressive as Bing harmonizes with himself). There are no problems with hiss, crackle, flutter, or pops on the soundtrack.

Special Features: 2.5/5

Audio Commentary: Billy Wilder biographer Joseph McBride offers a thoughtful commentary on the film, a movie that no one associated with it seems to have liked in the final analysis. McBride offers a fine case for its renewed appreciation.

Billy Wilder Interview (2:49, SD): film historian Volker Schlöndorff gets a few words from the Oscar-winning writer-producer-director on The Emperor Waltz.

Trailers: Road to Morocco, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, The Lost Weekend, Five Graves to Cairo, A Foreign Affair, Witness for the Prosecution, Irma La Douce, One, Two, Three, The Fortune Cookie, Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Overall: 3.5/5

There is more to Billy Wilder’s The Emperor Waltz than meets the eye: a frothy comedy of manners on the surface which hides some more deeply felt and blunt observations on the venality of social class consciousness. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray release offers a lovely picture and solid sound for fans of the stars, the director, or the genre.

Post Disclaimer

Some of our content may contain marketing links, which means we will receive a commission for purchases made via those links. In our editorial content, these affiliate links appear automatically, and our editorial teams are not influenced by our affiliate partnerships. We work with several providers (currently Skimlinks and Amazon) to manage our affiliate relationships. You can find out more about their services by visiting their sites.

Published by

Matt Hough

editor,member

View thread (18 replies)

roxy1927

Supporting Actor
Joined
Jul 10, 2018
Messages
959
Real Name
vincent parisi
This doesn't seem to be a particularly popular musical even among the most avid of old movie musical fans or barely mentioned as a Billy Wilder film during a golden period for him. Maybe it's the lack of interest in the Crosby Fontaine pairing. It didn't help that it opened the same summer of one of the crown jewels in movie musical history Easter Parade which is the musical everyone had to see that summer of '48.
 
Last edited:

Matt Hough

Reviewer
Senior HTF Member
Joined
Apr 24, 2006
Messages
23,638
Location
Charlotte, NC
Real Name
Matt Hough
This doesn't seem to be a particularly popular musical even among the most avid of old movie musical fans or barely mentioned as a Billy Wilder film during a golden period for him. Maybe it's the lack of interest in the Crosby Fontaine pairing. It didn't help that it opened the same summer of one of the crown jewels in movie musical history Easter Parade which is the musical everyone had to see that summer of '48.
Yes, and of course Roger Edens and Johnny Green won the Oscar for their musical adaptation for Easter Parade that year over Victor Young's work on The Emperor Waltz.
 

RobertMG

Second Unit
Joined
Jun 23, 2006
Messages
448
Real Name
Robert M. Grippo
Have the double dvd with this title the eye candy Technicolor work and Crosby's warbling made it a fun watch I had never seen this before -- will pick up the blu
 

Chris55

Auditioning
Joined
Nov 18, 2019
Messages
11
Real Name
chris
Really don't know why they decided to release that particular Paramount Technicolor movie on Blu Ray, as it was a flop at the time and still isn't a great movie. What about releasing Paramount's brilliant "Blue Skies" (46) or "Lady in the Dark" (44) on Blu Ray ?. That would be more to the point and wonder who decides these things.
 

dukiejosh54

Stunt Coordinator
Joined
Jan 20, 2021
Messages
155
Location
Ohio
Real Name
Josh
Really don't know why they decided to release that particular Paramount Technicolor movie on Blu Ray, as it was a flop at the time and still isn't a great movie. What about releasing Paramount's brilliant "Blue Skies" (46) or "Lady in the Dark" (44) on Blu Ray ?. That would be more to the point and wonder who decides these things.
Kino Is releasing Blue Skies but they have yet to announce a release date for it.
 

Matt Hough

Reviewer
Senior HTF Member
Joined
Apr 24, 2006
Messages
23,638
Location
Charlotte, NC
Real Name
Matt Hough
Has Lady in the Dark ever been released on a home video format? I only have it on a VHS tape I recorded from AMC back when they actually showed American movie classics. In fact, I watched it not too long ago. The color was nice, but I prefer the Ann Sothern/Carleton Carpenter TV version if I want to see something that even approaches the stage version. The movie certainly doesn't.
 

TravisR

Senior HTF Member
Joined
Nov 15, 2004
Messages
37,998
Location
The basement of the FBI building
Really don't know why they decided to release that particular Paramount Technicolor movie on Blu Ray, as it was a flop at the time and still isn't a great movie. What about releasing Paramount's brilliant "Blue Skies" (46) or "Lady in the Dark" (44) on Blu Ray ?. That would be more to the point and wonder who decides these things.
Assuming that Kino doesn't have plans to eventually release those movies, I'd guess that they feel that this being a Billy Wilder movie will make it a better seller.
 

Astairefan

Supporting Actor
Joined
Sep 7, 2013
Messages
524
Real Name
Neil Powell
Assuming that Kino doesn't have plans to eventually release those movies, I'd guess that they feel that this being a Billy Wilder movie will make it a better seller.
Again, Blue Skies IS coming from Kino, we just don't have a release date yet because they are doing a new 2K master (which means it takes them a bit longer, depending on where it is in the queue). Lady In The Dark, if Matt is right about its lack of release on home video, is going to be a much harder sell. I mean, I've never seen it at all (so I have no idea what shape the film elements are in), but if it has *some* demand and it hasn't come out, something is causing it to be held back.
 

Chris55

Auditioning
Joined
Nov 18, 2019
Messages
11
Real Name
chris
Assuming that Kino doesn't have plans to eventually release those movies, I'd guess that they feel that this being a Billy Wilder movie will make it a better seller.
Interesting as Billy Wilder considered it his worst film of all time.
 

James Luckard

Second Unit
Joined
Apr 21, 2003
Messages
254
Location
Los Angeles, CA
Real Name
James Luckard
I'm surprised this got a 5/5 for audio.

KL clearly tried to clean up the audio. The dialogue sounds clearer than my French BD, with less background noise.

However, their audio work seems to have introduced some strange artifacts that are not present on my French disc.

The biggest issue is that every 5-10 minutes there is a strange deep bass "thump" sound, almost like a finger hitting a microphone. This audio issue is not present on the French disc. It's not super loud, but you can hear it even over speakers.

Also, there are frequent soft pops, every minute or two, which are not on the French disc. They're clearly not age-related crackle. They sound like some sort of faint digital pop. These are relatively minor, however. I only heard them when I listened on headphones. When I tried unplugging them, they blended into the other audio. They are definitely not a reason to pass up this disc.

I will say, however, that the French disc is not a viable option, as it has forced French subtitles for all onscreen text and all song lyrics.

There's also a recent Spanish disc direct from Universal. I don't own it, so I can't comment on the audio.

The video transfer appears to be from the DVD era. It's decent, but there are issues with the layers of the three-strip color not always aligning perfectly. A 4K remaster could have made this really shine, like some of the recent WAC titles. That said, since KL just gave 4K remasters to two other Paramount/Universal/Wilder titles - Five Graves to Cairo and The Lost Weekend - I know they don't have limitless resources, and those are MUCH better, more important films, so I'm glad they chose those instead. This movie really is only a curio for Wilder completists.
 

James Luckard

Second Unit
Joined
Apr 21, 2003
Messages
254
Location
Los Angeles, CA
Real Name
James Luckard
Interesting as Billy Wilder considered it his worst film of all time.
I think he says in the Cameron Crowe book that he felt Buddy Buddy was his worst (and I'd agree) but I think he placed this a close second (and I'd agree about that too).

I agree, I suspect KL gave this film priority because it's a Wilder title. Flawed films by a genius are always worth watching, and there are some fascinating elements in this film. :)

I would even buy a BD of the dreadful Buddy Buddy, though I believe the rights situation for that one is tangled.
 

roxy1927

Supporting Actor
Joined
Jul 10, 2018
Messages
959
Real Name
vincent parisi
What's going on with sound at Kino? You're complaining about the sound of Emperor Waltz, they left the entr'acte off of Sweet Charity and now with Thoroughly Modern Millie it is being said that the overture, entr'acte and exit music are in mono. Considering all the roadshow prints of Millie would have been in stereo to put this music out in mono would have taken a real effort.
 

Chris55

Auditioning
Joined
Nov 18, 2019
Messages
11
Real Name
chris
I think he says in the Cameron Crowe book that he felt Buddy Buddy was his worst (and I'd agree) but I think he placed this a close second (and I'd agree about that too).

I agree, I suspect KL gave this film priority because it's a Wilder title. Flawed films by a genius are always worth watching, and there are some fascinating elements in this film. :)

I would even buy a BD of the dreadful Buddy Buddy, though I believe the rights situation for that one is tangled.
I do have the Universal DVD of it, which is excellent picture quality anyway. Can't really see the BD being much better.
 

dukiejosh54

Stunt Coordinator
Joined
Jan 20, 2021
Messages
155
Location
Ohio
Real Name
Josh
From my understanding I don't think all of the issues are Kino's fault. They are just working with what Universal gives them (maybe I'm wrong). I didn't notice any sound issues with Waltz but I just skimmed through it. I'll have to check it out again.
 
Last edited:

roxy1927

Supporting Actor
Joined
Jul 10, 2018
Messages
959
Real Name
vincent parisi
But then isn't it responsibility of Kino to let the consumer know?
Because the consumer is left wondering what is going on. They should say we have this in mono because this is what Universal provided us with.
But then it begs the question why is this in stereo on the DVD?
Something very sloppy seems to be going on.
 

James Luckard

Second Unit
Joined
Apr 21, 2003
Messages
254
Location
Los Angeles, CA
Real Name
James Luckard
From my understanding I don't think all of the issues are Kino's fault. They are just working with what Universal gives them (maybe I'm wrong). I didn't notice any sound issues with Waltz but I just skimmed through it. I'll have to check it out again.
I don't know what Universal gave them, but the French BD of The Emperor Waltz from 2019 seems to be the exact same master, and doesn't have these minor audio flaws. Again, I want to stress, they really are minor, they don't ruin the movie. Most people will never even notice them. But they're definitely there. I can describe a few spots, if anyone would like.
 

Chris55

Auditioning
Joined
Nov 18, 2019
Messages
11
Real Name
chris
Instead of concentrating on a rather nondescript Technicolor movie such as "The Emperor Waltz", what about the complete two-strip Technicolor versions of the 1930 "The Vagabond King", "Mamba" and the 1929 "Mysterious Island". all of which are extant in Technicolor now and very much need releasing on either DVD or better still BD. What is the point of having these movies when the general public never get to see them, hopefully restored. They've done such a good job with "Dr. X" and "The Mystery of the Wax Museum" on BD, isn't it about time we saw these classics as they were originally meant to be seen ?.
 

James Luckard

Second Unit
Joined
Apr 21, 2003
Messages
254
Location
Los Angeles, CA
Real Name
James Luckard
Instead of concentrating on a rather nondescript Technicolor movie such as "The Emperor Waltz", what about the complete two-strip Technicolor versions of the 1930 "The Vagabond King", "Mamba" and the 1929 "Mysterious Island". all of which are extant in Technicolor now and very much need releasing on either DVD or better still BD. What is the point of having these movies when the general public never get to see them, hopefully restored. They've done such a good job with "Dr. X" and "The Mystery of the Wax Museum" on BD, isn't it about time we saw these classics as they were originally meant to be seen ?.
Those are both Warner Archive titles.

I'm sure the sole reason that The Emperor Waltz was released by KL is that it's one of the last remaining titles not to reach US BD from one of the most important directors ever. I doubt that it being in B&W or color, or the format of color, played any part in their decision. KL is single-handedly responsible for the release of half of Wilder's films on US BD, and I think they deserve great praise for that.

I certainly only bought the film because it was a Wilder film. :)