The Great Waltz

The Great Waltz tells the story of Johann Straus II, the King of Pop in the mid-1800s. The opening sequence takes pains to tell us that they are trying to convey the spirit of his life, not the facts. The movie revolves around Johann, his wife Poldi (played by Luise Rainer), and his opera singer mistress.

There is one truly charming sequence when Johann composes "Tales From the Vienna Woods" while taking a carriage ride with his mistress. While the horse clip-clops in three-quarter time, pieces of the waltz can be heard in various bucolic sounds, from birds trilling to shepherds playing notes to each other on reed instruments. He and his singing paramour combine these sounds on the fly and end the trip with the full blown composition.

From looking at old newspapers on Google, I found that MGM sponsored a nationwide waltz contest to promote this movie. Local cities would have a contest in conjunction with the release of the movie. Winners would go to state finals, then regionals and then to a national final. The winners, Mr. and Mrs. Charles L. Smith, were awarded a three month Hollywood contract handed to them by Luise Rainer herself in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf.

Familiar face: Hugh Herbert as Strauss's music publisher.

From a quiet carriage ride... a rousing waltz!


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