Waltzes from Vienna (Alfred Hitchcock / United Kingdom, 1934):

Alfred Hitchcock described this as his "lowest ebb," which excused parrot-critics from having to actually watch it. The beginning -- the musician too absorbed to notice the burning building -- became the ending of Hangover Square, here it's Johann Strauss the Second (Esmond Knight) performing with the chipmunky ingénue (Jessie Matthews) in a Lubitschian gag sequence done in an accelerated tempo. Strauss struggles with his talent, Strauss Senior (Edmund Gwenn) is his harshest critic: "Such masterly contempt for form," he sneers at his son's composition, anticipating the film's own clueless reception. The protagonist is torn between Matthews' chummy brunette and Fay Compton's regal blonde (Vertigo), and extracts the timbre for his musical opus from the movement of bread rolls and bagels at the bakery (Duvivier's The Great Waltz, Russell's Mahler). Music and pastry are for consumption, he's told, Schubert himself put the Unfinished Symphony on hold to enjoy cakes. All the same, "this Blue Danube monstrosity" is written, signed and launched victoriously, with circular tracking and pulsing montage fused in constructionist accord and with the brooding old man's furtive approval. The perception of it as a fumbled trifle is dismissed as soon as Hitchcock lays out the artist's dilemma, the kind that would keep hounding him: "Either you're a musician, or a confectioner." With Frank Vosper, Robert Hale and Betty Huntley-Wright. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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