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  • Congress Dances (Der Kongreß tanzt) by Erik Charell
  • Scott Weiss
Congress Dances (Der Kongreß tanzt) (1931)
Directed by Erik Charell
Kino Lorber
99 minutes

The Kino Classics division of Kino Lorber has slowly been releasing some important films of the Weimar Republic (1918–1933), which may be less familiar to those acquainted only with classic German cinema of the era, such as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920), Nosferatu (1922) or Metropolis (1927). Rights to these films have been secured from the F. W. Murnau Foundation which is engaged in the restoration and remastering of films from the era. These films represent a broader sampling than those typically encountered in film history courses or film society showings, and the foundation has been releasing them in the German market. A smaller and select group of these releases have been put on the American market through Kino Classics and have included early features by well-known Hollywood directors Douglas Sirk (produced under the name Detlef Sierck), Robert Siodmak, Ernst Lubitsch, and Max Ophüls, and films with singing stars Hans Albers and Zarah Leander.

Recently, a Blu-ray edition of Congress Dances (1931), an Operettenfilm (which were film musicals reminiscent in plot and location of popular Viennese operettas), has been released. Other types of musicals, such as Tonfilmlustspiele (lit. “sound-film-comedy”) and Singspiele (lit. “sing-play”), were also produced, attesting to the rich catalogue of musical entertainment during this early period of sound in German cinema. Congress Dances is a high point in this genre, representing the best of the broadly talented and deep-pocketed UFA (Universum Film-Aktien Gesellschaft), the most technically impressive and powerful film production unit in Germany at the time.

Congress Dances takes place during the Congress of Vienna (1814–15) where the major European powers convened to establish a new geographical and constitutional order following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte. Christel Weinzinger, a pretty young glove seller in Vienna, promotes her business by throwing bouquets of flowers with visiting cards to the arriving diplomats as they pass in their carriages. One of Christel’s bouquets lands in Tsar Alexander’s carriage which causes a panic and Christel is accused of attempting an assassination and is condemned to corporal punishment. The punishment is waived, however, as Tsar Alexander takes a romantic interest in the young woman. When she attempts to tell her friends they laugh at her, until a beautiful coach arrives to take her to the Tsar. This leads to one of the most glorious set-pieces of the film, with Christel singing “Das gibt’s nur einmal, das kommt nicht wieder” (“That only happens once and never will again”), one of the most celebrated show tunes to come from these early musicals. Meanwhile, Prince Metternich is hoping the romance between the Tsar and Christel will keep Alexander away from the Congress long enough to promote his own interests. Tsar Alexander is nevertheless wise to Metternich’s plans and has, unbeknownst to the Prince, a double stand-in for himself at the Congress. Bonaparte escapes from the island of Elba and marches on Paris at which point the rulers hastily depart Vienna, ending both the conference and the romance.

Director Erik Charell was a prolific musical theater impresario responsible for tuneful and colorful Weimar stage benchmarks such as Ralph Benatzky and Robert Stolz’s Im weißen Rößl (The White Horse Inn, 1930) with popular stage star Max Hansen. After fleeing Hitler’s Germany in 1933, Charell had a successful Broadway career, leading the New York Times to dub him “the German Ziegfeld.” Congress Dances was only one of two films directed by Charell (the other being Caravan, a 1934 American film with Charles Boyer and Loretta Young), but his gift for staging romantic settings, energetic comedy, and spirited musical numbers is fully evident in this film. Cinematographer Carl Hoffman, responsible for the gleam of so many other Weimar classics (such as Fritz Lang’s Die [End Page 53] Nibelungen, 1922–1924, and F. W. Murnau’s Faust, 1926), brings the same luster and movement here.

The contribution of composer Werner Richard Heymann and stars Lilian Harvey and Willy Fritsch to the...