Waltzes from Vienna: Hitchcock’s Operatic Musical, Career’s Lowest Point?

Hitchcock himself considered “Waltzes from Vienna” to represent the lowest point of his career, and he might have been right. The movie came after such striking pictures as “The Lodger” and “Murder!”

It’s hard to tell what motivated him to undertake a film that was out of his league and out of his interest. Was he eager to conclude his contract with British International Pictures? Was he intrigued by the music (which he will use in future films)?

No matter: Looked upon on its own terms, “Waltzes from Vienna” is a schmaltzy musical biopic about “the Waltz King” Joseph Strauss and his son Joseph Jr.

“Waltzes from Vienna” was part of the cycle of Operetta films made in the U.S. and Britain during the 1930s. The film tells the story of the writing and performance of The Blue Danube.

Edmund Gwenn stars as the elder Strauss, with Esmond Knight as his talented progeny. The little drama that the narrative has resides in the intense rivalry between the two Strausses. The conflict is later sort of resolved by the inaugural performance of Joseph Junior’s “The Blue Danube.”

Displeased with his work in this film, Hitchcock at one point threw up his hands and confessed to his actors “I hate this sort of stuff.” Hitchcock regarded “Waltzes in Vienna” and his silent feature “Champagne” as his worst films, and never essayed anything like them again. There is not a single biopicture in his large and diverse output, let alone a musical movie, even if score features prominently in most of its work.

According to Hitchcock: “Waltzes from Vienna” gave me many opportunities for working out ideas in the relation of film and music. Naturally every cut in the film was worked out on the script before shooting began. But more than that, the musical cuts were worked out too. Hitchcock told François Truffaut that this film was the lowest ebb of his career. He only agreed to make it because he had no other film projects that year, and wanted to stay working. He never again made a musical film.

Even so, each and every Hitchcock movies has some redeeming qualities and “Waltzes from Vienna” is no exception. Among other things, “Waltzes from Vienna” is one of the shortest films (79 minutes) in Hitchcock’s canon.