Director: Steve Previn / Writers: Fritz Eckhardt (story), Maurice Tombragel / Cast: Kerwin Mathews, Brian Aherne, Senta Berger, Peter Kraus, Fritz Eckhardt, and Kai Fischer
By: Asst. Admin Matt
Disney has a long reputation of being a family oriented studio. While this is true, today “family” translates into “kids stuff”, and typically refers to the latest animated feature, and those family comedies that flood the theaters during the Christmas season. How different it was in the early 1960′s! Walt Disney Productions certainly made its bread and butter on programs and features aimed at families with young children, but it did so while making sure to develop films that were appealing to adult audiences as well. This brings us to The Waltz King. Originally premiering as a two part program that aired on October 27th and November 3rd, 1963, and released abroad as a feature, Waltz King is definitely not aimed at children. While it contains nothing objectionable (save for a German operetta song, where an on stage character reminds others playing nobility to ‘Watch the kissing, think about tomorrow’, and some rather flirty can-can dancers who show their bloomers while dancing), rather it’s subject matter and screenplay seems aimed at the Parents. I can’t see any kid wanting to sit through nearly two hours of classical music, German Operetta, and parlor conversation.
Set in Vienna, our film follows Johann Strauss, Sr. leaving another concert event, after discovering his son Johann Strauss, Jr. (nicked named Schani) has been moonlighting as a violinist. Coming home, the elder Strauss reprimands his son for not studying law and instead going after a musical career. The scene seems like a echoing of James Dean’s Rebel without a Cause confrontation with his father, with Heir Strauss lamenting how now his 20 year old son can so blatantly disobey him. However this is over quickly, after the elder Strauss smashes his son’s violin. His father becomes a sort of villain for the first half of act one, something that isn’t quite clear. His father claims that Schani will hate a career in music, making it sound as if it was a painful horrid thing.
However Herr Strauss,Sr. is himself famous as a composer, as well as wealthy and well loved by his peers and fans! He has women throwing themselves at him at every performance— aside from the annoyance what is so bad about it? The film never explains beyond the fact that his father is unhappy with his career, and apparently briefly jealous. I will admit here that the film doesn’t have much of a plot. After getting kicked out of his father’s house, Schani meets a young operetta singer named Jetty, and together they finance an orchestra and get a booking at one of the nicer concert halls in town. His father hears of it and plans to sabotage it by paying men to use whistles to interrupt the performance. It backfires however, and his father disappears from the film. The rest of film deals with Strauss’s rise to fame, his slight dissatisfaction of it (the same issues his father complains about, still the only thing that seems to be a real issue is the teeny-bopper like woman followers), and his grand Operetta that acts as a (anti) Climax.
It does get a little long in the last act, but considering this was meant to be seen over two nights, it’s pretty interesting. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under 12 due to it being fairly long and verbal. Everyone else may find it of slight interest, especially if you’re a Classical music lover.
‘The Waltz King’ comes to DVD as part of ‘The Disney Generations Collection’, a DVD-R made on demand collection , offered exclusively at amazon.com.
It’s packaged in a surprisingly heavy DVD case. Maybe I’ve gotten use to studios using the cheaper and thinner eco-cases, but this case is nice. My Only complaint is that the box is a bit bowed leaving a gap on the closing seam on the top and bottom. I imagine this is from the case not having been closed as soon it was made, and rather closed when the DVD was ordered. A few weeks on a tight shelf should fix that in no time.
I’m not sure the original run time of ‘Waltz King’, but compared to other two part programs seem to have a bit longer running time than the DVD’s 95 minutes. My guess is that the 95 minute cut is the European theatrical cut, but I’m not 100% sure on that.
It may come to your attention that there is a quality standard in the home entertainment industry regarding vintage titles. This is not it. Seriously, this master wouldn’t be approved for broadcast on television today. The film starts with oddly window boxed credits, similar to what Turner did with their cartoon short subjects in the late 80s. Unfortunately it is not a great start. The opening reels are very washed out and it literally rains dirt, scratches, and film emulsions. The film is not much better, while the dirt and scratches only come back during reel changes, the color remains washed out.
If anyone has ever seen a public domain color film that is worn out you’d get pretty close to ‘The Waltz King’. While sporting bright reds, the film seems to only retain red, gold, white and black hues. While this is tolerable in smaller scenes, the large concert halls and theaters with their golden décor, and decked out crowds make a nauseously warm picture. Ball gowns seem either red, a dirty white, or creams , the only other colors coming through would be dark purples and navy blues (they look bluish black here). Skin tones seem either very light, or pasty depending on the scene. Skies either appear as white, black, or a pale blue, and greens (when they are dark enough to appear) look like boiled spinach in color. All together a very ugly washed out picture.
This seems to be the master from the VHS from the late 80s, and although I don’t have a copy to compare it to the DVD, I can’t see a master this bad being made any later than 1993. The clarity is ok, seeming like a very good VHS, and the only video sourced issue seems with crane shots, which have this strange shaking image that doesn’t seem to be from the original presentation.
Strangely enough, during the montage scene showing the different places Schani goes, the title cards are sourced from a different print, with black bars on the top and bottom of the image. It’s misaligned, and faded back into the main print but it brings up the question if the film is in its original aspect ratio. Considering it was made for television, 1:33:1 (full screen) seems to be the proper ratio, but since the plan included a European theatrical release it still possible it was reframed.
Popping it into a Blu-Ray player, is a laugh as nothing really improves. The film is not window-boxed for widescreen TVs, and looks pitiful. While colors get a slight boost (you can actually make out what color some of those ball gowns are suppose to be), color wavers, and you can see several interlacing issues especially with sudden movement, or a moving shot. The Paris Can-Can performance is nauseating here; as not only is it VERY red but the interlacing, stripped stage background, and stripped skirts of the dancers seem like dancing lines going at high speed. The only scene that really benefits, is the finale opera, it was one of the best looking scenes color wise on my first viewing, but here it looks almost glowing. The only downside is that light colors such as yellow, and skin tones waver, wash out and become unnaturally pasty before wavering out again.
The DVD presents the film in 1:33:1 full screen, and aside from some print based issues, seems nicely framed with no tell-tale signs of misframing or pan and scan.
‘Waltz King’ was most likely originally presented in mono, however the DVD presents it in 2.0 stereo here. This doesn’t prove to be a problem for the most part, coming across clearly. It would seem that the European theatrical run would have had stereo sound, so it’s likely Disney recorded the film in stereo and is presented faithfully here. There are two moments in the scene where Schani meets Jetty in the music shop, where the dialog seems to be sourced from a different source. They are brief, but as obviously sourced from a scratched up and hallow sounding print. Makes one curious why those 2 lines needed a different, more damaged source.
‘Waltz King’ offers only its original English track, but thankfully is subtitled, a nice change from other earlier Generation titles. Unfortunately the film is not closed captioned, and the yellow captions have a habit of blending in with the print’s yellow-red tone.
MENU AND EXTRAS:
As usual with Disney catalog titles, no effort was given toward presentation. After going through disclaimers, FBI warnings, and ‘The Opinions within are not reflective of The Walt Disney Company…” screens we are presented the underwhelming menu. Using the blue back ground from the DVD cover, the menu has the film’s title a large PLAY button in the center and an embarrassingly pixilated ‘Disney Generations Collection’ logo at the bottom. Surprisingly we aren’t given a single Disney, Walt Disney Pictures, or Disney DVD logo or introduction. While no option is given for scene selection, the film does have chapter stops.
A rather plot-less trip through period costumes, beautiful locations, wonderful singing, and interesting conversations is almost ruined by a severely below standard film print. A disappointing release for a catalog title in 2011, with a presentation in such bad shape that I’ve seen Public Domain DVDs from Wal-Mart with better masters. While too slow for children, it would provide interest for Classical music lovers and Walt-era fans, if they can stand the look of a worn VHS. Still, as this most likely will be the last time we see this film released on a physical format, fans of the film may want to pick it up. However, at $19.99, you might want to wait for the price to lower a few dollars or get this second hand.
Buy The Waltz King HERE!