“And a prince after all is only a human being”
Ever since I became a fan of Norma Shearer’s her silent film The Student Prince of Old Heidelberg is mentioned when people talk about her greatest films (along with The Divorcee, A Free Soul, and The Women). Every review of the film I have read raves about how beautiful it is and how great Shearer was along with Ramon Novarro. I was finally able to see the film when TCM aired it a few weeks ago and from start to finish I adored it.
Crowned Prince Karl Heinrich (Novarro) was sent to live with his uncle King Karl of Karlsberg at a young age. Since that time he has been isolated from the town’s people or anyone his own age and has lived a very sheltered life. After he graduates from prep school he is allowed to go to college at Heidelberg along with his tutor Dr. Friedrich Juttner (Jean Hersholt).
Karl Heinrich is immediately taken with the town. Student and Tutor stay at a normal inn among the common people. Upon arriving the inn keeper’s pretty niece Kathi (Shearer) recites a speech but forgets it because she is so taken with the prince. Karl Heinrich is also taken with Kathi.
That night Karl Heinrich sees that the courtyard is full of fellow students and longing to be a part of something and meet people his own age he goes down. The other students immediately take him and they have a wonderful night of fun and drinking and bonding. Kathi is the barmaid that all the students enjoy seeing. They carry her on their shoulders and are very sweet to her. Karl Heinrich before he came down was shocked to see her chug a glass of beer! After everyone has gone Kathi and Karl Heinrich are left alone. He climbs over a wall where she is on the other side and he chases her and kisses her. In a field they profess their love for each other.
A few days later a letter comes for Karl Heinrich from his uncle that he has chosen a princess for him to marry. Dr. Juttner reads the letter first and hides it from the prince since he knows the young man is so much in love with Kathi. Not much long after the letter arrives news comes that the king is very ill and that Karl Heinrich must return. He and Kathi know that they will most likely never see each other again even though they promise they will. Karl Heinrich’s face is one of torment between family tradition and love. They also promise not long after that they will never forget each other they will always have a strong for the other.
The ending is sad. Neither Kathi nor Karl Heinrich die but it is just sad.
Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer were just all around perfection. They brought their sweet and innocent characters to life beautifully to the point where you would think they were really a couple in love. Novarro was adorable and so handsome as the naïve to the world prince. The look on his face when the students treat him as if he had been their best friend for years is so touching. He beautifully portrays his torment over a lost love that will leave you feeling his pain. Shearer is just lovely. I may love her in her pre-codes where she is a bad ass chick looking for a man to sleep with but I adored her to pieces this was such a welcome change from her other films.
Jean Hersholt was very good as Dr. Juttner. He was the only one who really saw that Karl Heinrich was a young man in a castle prison. I loved how he let loose and had some fun when they were in Heidelberg. He makes the ending sad as well. The young actor Philipe de Lacy who plays the young Karl Heinrich was excellent. He was a very good looking boy. I had to chuckle a little bit because he was wearing guy liner and in one scene where he cries the liner runs.
From the moment the film began I was mesmerized by how gorgeous and touching it was. One aspect of the story that I really liked was how three times Ernst Lubitsch had people say how great it must be to be the prince/king since had a lot of toys when he was younger, he was handsome and could get any girl when he was a teenager, and how great it must be to be a king at the end. This was genius because Karl Heinrich’s life was not great he was sheltered until he was a teenager and he was not free be with the girl he really loved. The story could have been an overused fairytale love story but Lubitsch turned the story into a realistic drama.
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg is an absolutely beautiful and touching silent film. This is definitely one of Norma Shearer’s, Ramon Novarro’s, and Ernst Lubitsch’s best films. It is a film that moves you in so many ways from the touching story, the sweet characters and their love and heartache, to the direction and even the acting. Hopefully one day The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg will be available on DVD so more people to see and enjoy.