It had to happen eventually. A Hitchcock film that’s bad. Not hard to get in to, not an acquired taste – bad. Actively bad. It comes at the end of Hitchcock’s career decline in the early ’30s and it’s worst of the lot.
Waltzes from Vienna was Hitchcock’s only attempt at a musical, which were very popular in the early ‘30s – presumably from the novelty of being able to hear screen actors sing. If you wanted to be generous you could say that at least he was branching out and trying something new. After all, the idea of a campy operetta directed by Alfred Hitchcock is so bizarre it could have been weirdly brilliant.
But it’s not. It’s feeble. It’s a paper thin non-entity of a film. If Hitchcock’s name wasn’t on the credits there would be no way of knowing he’s behind it and if, for some unfathomable reason, this film happened to be your introduction to Hitchcock you would baffled as to how he came to be known as the Master of Suspense. There’s no passion in this project, no flare, no vision. It’s an extremely monotonous affair.
Johann Strauss Jr (Esmond Knight) is forced by his controlling father (Edmund Gwenn) to work in a bakery instead of pursuing a career in music. He falls in love with Rasi (Jessie Matthews), the daughter of the bakery’s proprietor. The film takes us through his struggles and insecurities as he composes The Blue Danube, tries to keep his relationship together and seeks reconciliation with his father.
The characters are bland, the performances lazy, the songs forgettable, the comedy humourless, and the tone unremitting saccharine.
There’s an especially embarrassing sequence where Strauss gets finds inspiration for the beat to his waltz from the rhythms of the bakery workplace. It’s about as corny as the “Toot Sweet” scene from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but nowhere near as fun.
Since Hitchcock took on the project during the “lowest ebb” of his career, there are apologists who say it is of interest because you can interpret Strauss’s fear of failure as reflective of Hitchcock’s professional woes. It’s an interesting theory. But it doesn’t make the story any better.
The film’s cast was as dismissive of the film as Hitch was; Matthews wrote it off as “perfectly dreadful”. That’s being generous.