Emperor Waltz, The (1948): Billy Wilder’s Oscar-Nominated Tale Starring Bing Crosby

The sensibilities of crooner Bing Crosby and writer-director Billy Wilder are not exactly in synch in the strange and senseless period musical, “The Emperor Waltz,” made at Paramount, where the two artists were under contract.
The Emperor Waltz
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Theatrical release poster
As if to prove that he is the most versatile (and unpredictable) director in Hollywood, Wilder made the film after the somber 1945 Oscar-winning “The Lost Weekend,” Hollywood’s first major movie about alcoholism, and “Foreign Affair, a film set in post-WWII Berlin, starring Marlene Dietrich and Jean Arthur.
Wilder and his reliable collaborator set their tale in Franz Josef’s Austria, through the film was actually shot in Canada‘s Jasper National ParkCrosby plays Virgil Smith, a phonograph salesman who tries to sell the emperor (Richard Haydn) one of his machines, hoping that the rest of the country will begin clamoring for record players.
At the palace, Virgil meets the emperor’s niece (Joan Fontaine, probably miscast) and takes an immediate dislike to her. Which means that the two are fatefully meant for each other?
The dialogue is uneven, though there are some witty and funny lines.  All in all, the material is more suitable for Ernst Lubitsch–and his famously subtle touch–whom Wilder admired.
The story makes no sense (not sure that it’s meant to), but Crosby is pleasant enough and some of the tunes are melodic enough to turn the viewing into something more agreeable than it has the right to be.
The songs include “The Emperor’s Waltz,” “Friendly Mountains,” “Get Yourself a Phonograph,” “The Kiss in Your Eyes,” “I Kiss Your Hand, Madame,” and “The Whistler and His Dog.
The secondary cast includes Lucile Watson, Sig Rumann, and Richard Haydn.
Oscar Nominations: 2
 
Scoring of Musical: Victor Young
Costume design (color): Edith Head and Gile Steele
 
Oscar awards: None
 
Oscar Context
 
The Scoring Oscar went to Johnny Green and Rogern Edens for “Easter Parade.”
Dorothy Jeakins and Karinska won the Costume Design for the historical epic, “Joan of Arc,” which prompted Head’s nasty comment, “How could Ingrid Bergman’s sackcloth and suits of armor win over my Viennese finery.”

 

Credits:

Directed by Billy Wilder
Produced by Charles Brackett
Written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett

Music by Victor Young
Cinematography George Barnes
Edited by Doane Harrison

Production company: Paramount Pictures

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Release date: July 2, 1948

Running time: 106 minutes
Budget $3.8 million
Box office $4 million (US/ Canada rentals)