Monday, December 16, 2013

RIP Joan Fontaine/The Emperor Waltz (1948)

Yesterday, December 15, 2013, Joan Fontaine passed away at age 96. She was one of the last actresses alive from the Golden Age of Hollywood. She made films from the mid 1930s to the mid 1960s and TV films and appearances until 1994. Fontaine’s passing yesterday was one of several among Classic Hollywood this month. Eleanor Parker, Audrey Totter, and Peter O’Toole all passed within days of one another.   
            Even though Fontaine was 96 years old her death came as a bit of shock and it broke my heart. She and her sister Olivia de Havilland are two of my favorite actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood who were/are still alive. All my other favorite actresses have been dead for many years (In all honesty I thought de Havilland would have been the first to go!) so I have never experienced one passing away. This is probably odd but to me whenever I watched Fontaine in a film it was cool to know she was still alive and in some way that made me enjoy her films even more. Weird I know but it is the truth. I guess I was proud of her for still being alive!
            Joan Fontaine is one of the reasons I became a fan of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Back in 2006 I was working at Best Buy in the Media section (which at that time included CDs, DVDs, video games, and MP3s). It was around that year that I began to become really interested in old movies. My great grandma mother is in love with Cary Grant (she is 96 now and still alive) and she always went on and on about him. I decided to see what all the fuss was about so with my discount I bought An Affair to Remember and Notorious. I loved him in those films especially Notorious. From Notorious I fell in love with Ingrid Bergman so I bought Spellbound and Casablanca. I also became a big Hitchcock fan and wanted more of his films. For Christmas that year I bought my great grandma Spellbound and Notorious on DVD. I asked her about Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rebecca since the store was selling that as well. She told me it was a great movie and it is one of her favorites and that I would love it . And boy was she right. At the time I had no idea who Joan Fontaine was since she was not listed as one of the “big” iconic classic actresses. I adored Fontaine in Rebecca she was wonderful as the shy timid young girl in a big house full of sinister secrets. I could not wait to see more of Fontaine in other films and the more I saw of her the more I came to admire her. She became less of the shy timid girl from Rebecca and Suspicion and more a beautiful confident and at times funny woman. I can never get enough of her young innocent sweetness in The Women. I love her comedic side in You Gotta Stay Happy and Casanova’s Big Night. Fontaine truly had a wide range of talent as an actress and played every one of her parts to perfection. I have enjoyed all her films I have seen so far… yes, even The Witches which was truly terrible.
            Joan Fontaine will forever be that shy, timid twenty-three year old from Rebecca to me no matter how many of her films I have seen her in. I feel I was meant to be a fan of Joan Fontaine’s when I was working at Best Buy all those years ago and I am very proud to say I am and will always be.
            For today’s post I have decided to watch one of Joan Fontaine’s films from the late 1940s called The Emperor’s Waltz. I chose this film because I wanted to watch something light and funny, not something dramatic and heavy.


“Who is he?”
“The most vulgar, impossible, obnoxious, ill-mannered...”
 “In one word, he's an American!”

            I love history. I always wish I could go back in time and experience it. I say “experience” because I would never want to live in the parts of history I would like to go visit. Well, maybe I would like to live in 1920s and 30s Paris and hang out with all the Surrealist artists and photographers. Actually, never mind the living in the time either, I do not think I would have fit in too well. I would just want to meet Lee Miller, Many Ray, Chanel, Schiaparelli, and Jean Cocteau. Anyway… one time period I would like to visit would be the late 1800s/early 1900s. The world at this time was coming into a new modern age. Art was moving away from the academies and into new unexplored territories. Fashion for women was slowly becoming less restrictive, less elaborate with layers of fabric, and beautifully simple. Industries were booming. Needless to say this time is one of my favorite time periods to study especially in terms of art history. The Emperor Waltz takes place in turn-of-the-century Austria, a time when the world was still peaceful and quiet and somewhat innocent. A time I would like to experience.
            The film opens with a man sneaking into a ball. He finds the woman he is looking for and she is not happy to see him. He wants to speak to her. Some old bats sitting above the party see the man who one of them says his name is Virgil (Bing Crosby) and he is an American. The same woman says that Virgil and the woman Countess Johanna (Fontaine) had been having an affair that rocked Vienna for four months and what makes everything worse is that Virgil is not only an American but he is a traveling salesman.
            The film then goes to telling the story in a flashback form of how Virgil and Johanna fell in love. Virgil had gone to castle of Emperor Franz-Josef with his small dog Buttons and a big black case with his record player inside. Inside the castle he is told to wait in a hallway with dozens of other people. Two of the people waiting are Johanna and her father with their poodle. Father and daughter have been summoned to meet the Emperor. The father believes the Emperor will arrange a marriage for her with someone rich from a foreign country. Johanna does not think the same way as her father. She is still getting over the loss of her husband from two years before. When they meet with the Emperor he has arranged for a match but the match is not for Johanna it is for her dog and his dog who have pure pedigree blood lines. Johanna’s dog begins to bark and outside in the waiting area Buttons hears her and he begins to bark.
            When the barking is under control everyone in the waiting area hears a clicking sound. Virgil says the wrong things about what is in his box and everyone panics thinking he is there with a bomb. Once he is brought outside he demonstrates the box. The Emperor’s protector tells Virgil there is no way he will ever be allowed to see the Emperor and show him the product. Johanna, her father, and dog come out and just as they are about to leave when Buttons sees the dog and runs towards her. Virgil is mad because Buttons is hurt and Johanna just left. He finds out where she lives and goes to yell at her and show her what happened to Buttons. Johanna does not really care for a scroungie dog like Buttons or Virgil for that matter because of their difference in class. Before he leaves her house Virgil walks right up to Johanna and kisses her. She lightly pushes him away. He does not say much he just walks away whistling.
            Virgil found out the Emperor will be up at his hunting lodge for a while. His plan is to play the record player while the Emperor is in the woods thinking the man would like what he hears and want to buy one. Johanna and her father and dog are heading up to the lodge as well. Their car passes Virgil as he is walking. The two dogs attack each other yet again. Not long later Johanna’s dog has a nervous breakdown because of Buttons. A doctor tells her the only way the dog can get over her fear is if she confronts the dog that has scared her. Johanna finds Virgil staying at an inn in the village. Virgil has a talk with Buttons about being nice to the girl dog and to not let his pride get in the way with being nice to her. Buttons and Johanna’s dog become friends and Johanna falls in love with Virgil.
            Johanna cannot stop thinking of Virgil. She tells her dog not to think of Buttons when really she is telling herself not to think of Virgil. For weeks owners and dog are inseparable. Virgil wants to marry Johanna and take her back to his mother in Newark, NJ (**woo Old Hollywood Jersey reference!!**). Johanna does not want to at first but then agrees. She tells Virgil he has to speak to the Emperor first. The Emperor asks Virgil if he really love Johanna and wants to see her happy. If she were to go live with him and his mother and live their lifestyle she would never be happy again. Virgil does love her so he decides to break things off.
            Now back at the party, Virgil wants to tell Johanna he loves her and he broke things off because he loves her. After a series of events Johanna decides to be Virgil.
            Joan Fontaine and Bing Crosby were cute together. This is only the second time I have seen Crosby in a film and I found him very charming and quite funny. There was a scene where he just went crazy with anger and it made me laugh. Fontaine looked wonderful in color she was so pretty in light colored dresses against light backgrounds. She was so elegant and beautiful in her costumes. It seems as though she was meant that period.
            The dog scenes were hilarious. The scene where Johanna’s dog is in psychoanalysis was so damn funny. Every time to psychologist mentioned Buttons or another dog she freaked out. Oh, the dog was actually laying on a couch just like a human which made the entire scene. I was dying a slow death of adorableness when Johanna brings her dog to see Virgil and Buttons. Virgil gives Buttons the command to kiss the dog’s paw in an act of kindness. I am a dog owner (my “little” nine month old spoiled girl is a yellow lab) so I was going crazy with all the cute dog scenes.
            I thought it was awesome how the character if Virgil was supposed to be from Newark. I just recently wrote a paper about Victorian house that is a part of the Newark Museum called The Ballantine House. The Ballantine’s were a prominent Newark family who owned a brewery and the son built his house that is now part of the Museum. It used to face a nice quiet beautiful park and was surrounded by houses similar in size to it. Now of course the houses and park gone and it remains a symbol of a lost time when Newark was respectable and thriving. Newark was also home to many groups of immigrants. It was also home to many important businesses including jewelry. When Virgil said he was from Newark I immediately imagined what type of business he worked for and where he would have lived in the city in this time. It actually depended on what his ethnicity was because there were different quarters for the different cultures during the late 1800s early 1900s. (If any of you reading this live in NJ please go to the Newark Museum it is a beautiful wonderful place. It is in a decent area Rutgers is right next to it and Seton Hall Law is not too far away. I promise nothing bad will happen to you here).  

            The Emperor Waltz was entertaining and a good light watch. The storyline is really silly and not good by any means. Joan Fontaine and Bing Crosby carry the entire boring story. You watch for their scenes together and the dogs and that is about it. And maybe for the clothing and beautiful scenery that takes your imagination away. Only watch The Emperor Waltz if you are fan of either Joan Fontaine or Bing Crosby.