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Sunday, August 2, 2015
Anatole Litvak | Mayerling
mad about love
By Douglas Messerli
Joseph Kessel and Irma von Cube (screenplay, based on the book by Claude Anet), Anatole Litvak (director) Mayerling 1936
Then how do you extend this well-known tragic love affair into an hour and a half movie? Call in Russian-born German and Paris-based director Anatole Litvak and provide him with a large enough budget that he can twist the simple story around grand palace balls, an abridged two-act ballet, an astounding athletic gypsy dance, that’s what you do. Litvak brilliantly dollies and cranes his camera up and down grand staircases, and follows the stories’ secret spies throughout Vienna with all the pomp and music of the day.
When Litvak’s camera is done with moving around in the grand sweeps of the costume drama, he scurries about with gossipy facilitation of the affair by Countess Larisch (Suzy Prim), Marie’s Nanny, and Rudolph’s loyal valet, Loschek (Andre Dubosc). And finally, for long periods of time he simply lets his hero and heroine to sorrowfully stare into the camera focusing on their beautifully expressive eyes.
No matter how corny these scenes might be on the surface, given the wonderful costumes, music, and credible acting by both Boyer and Darrieux, it all works quite gloriously, even if there’s no “there” there in terms of story or even significance, and ultimately, after a few grimaces and, if you’re very sentimental, a tear-drop or two, Mayerling leaves the viewer with very little remember except some pretty images and the excellent dancing.
If Litvak weighs in with any political commentary about the couple’s doomed love, it is in the film’s muted criticism of the Hapsburg dynasty’s inflexibility with regard to its notions of power and familial responsibility. Rudolf’s mother, the unhappy Elisabeth, was later assassinated in Greece, and Rudolf’s death resulted in the crowning of his cousin, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose own assassination in 1914 resulted in World War I and the fall of the Hapsburg empire..
The success of Mayerling brought Litvak, Boyer, and Darrieux to Hollywood, where Litvak specialized in what one might describe as movies wherein women faced deep psychological problems, often relating to affairs of the heart. Boyer became one of Hollywood’s major lovers and, on occasion, villains. Darrieux became a noted romantic and sophisticated woman in both American and foreign films, most notably in La Ronde and Madame de…., where she starred, once again, with Boyer.
Los Angeles, August 2, 2015