(The Angel with the Trumpet)
Director: Karl Hartl
Production: Vindobona Film; black and white, 35mm; length: 3370 meters. Released 19 August 1948 in Salzburg, Austria.
Producer: Karl Ehrlich; screenplay: Karl Hartl, Franz Tassié, from the novel by Ernst Lothar; photography: Günther Anders; art directors: Otto Niedermoser, Walter Schmiedl; music arranger: Willy Schmidt-Gentner.
Cast: Paula Wessely ( Henriette Alt ); Attila Hörbiger ( Franz Alt ); Oskar Werner ( Hermann Alt ); Hans Holt ( Hans Alt ); Maria Schell
Awards: Sascha-Pokal, Vienna, 1948; Venice Festival, 1948.
Lothar, Ernst, Angel with the Trumpet , New York, 1944.
Lothar, Ernst, Das Wunder des Überlebens , Vienna and Hamburg, 1961.
* * *
On August 19, 1948, people in the American occupation zone in Salzburg, Austria, could witness the premiere of a film which claimed to be an Austrian national epos, spanning the time from the suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf in Mayerling in 1889 to the present. The film was based on a novel of the same name by Ernst Lothar (1890–1974), a successful Austrian writer, theater director, and friend of Max Reinhardt. Like so many others, Lothar had to flee into exile in the United States in 1938. He joined the American army to return to Austria as soon as possible, and in June 1946 he arrived in Vienna charged with reviving the theaters, operas, and the Salzburg festival. He also took part in the de-Nazification of actors and musicians.
Lothar had published his book in English during his American emigration; the German edition also met with success. He wanted to expose the scandals hidden behind the attractive baroque facade of the Viennese home of the wealthy Alt family, decorated by the angel with the trumpet. This house symbolizes Austria: The piano manufacturer Franz Alt and his brother Otto Eberhard imitate the Emperor Franz Joseph's dedication to the status quo and suffocation of progressive ideas; Franz's wife Henriette lives a life of outward submission and deception; their son Hans, well-meaning but without orientation, represents the typical Austrian, in Lothar's view.
Lothar entrusted the filming to the experienced director Karl Hartl, the production head of Wien-Film during the Nazi era from 1938 to 1945, although he himself was no Nazi. Hartl gathered prominent actors of divergent ideological positions: returned exiles like Helene Thimig, Max Reinhardt's widow who also directed the Salzburg Festival, and Adrienne Gessner, Lothar's wife, as well as Paula Wessely and Attila Hörbiger, who had starred in the notorious anti-Semitic Nazi film Heimkehr (1940). It is at least surprising, if not tactless and inappropriate, that Wessely would play Henriette, this half-Jewish woman who ultimately fell victim to the Nazis. But Lothar himself reports in his autobiography, Das Wunder des Überlebens , that the Americans wanted Wessely for this role as a means of restoring her acting career: they considered the film a vehicle for helping Austrians to overcome the past. The filming promoted reconciliation over the settling of accounts.
The Austrian past is mirrored in the family history of the Alts and their four-story villa in the first district of Vienna. When Franz Alt, neither young nor good-looking, marries Henriette, the worldly daughter of a Jewish university professor, he knows that she had been close to Crown Prince Rudolf. However, as a patriarchal male, he never suspects that Rudolf had been his wife's great love and that she only married him when she recognized that there would be no life with Rudolf. The wedding is interrupted by the news of the Crown Prince's sudden death at Mayerling. Henriette knows that the prince committed suicide because of his father's mistreatment, but at her audience with the emperor she consoles him with the lie that he did not cause his son's death.
Several years later, the bored Henriette begins an affair—portrayed as platonic in the film, in contrast to the book—with Rudolf's friend Count Poldo Traun. The wordly count makes her all the more conscious of the restricted life in which she is trapped. When by chance her husband discovers the relationship, he challenges Count Traun to a duel, kills him, and then calmly returns to his business as usual.
The end of World War I brings not only the collapse of the monarchy and with it the value system of the Alts, but also claims other sacrifices: Franz has become paralyzed; Hans, a prisoner of war, does not return for six years but at any rate healthy; Hermann becomes a weapons dealer and Hitler follower.
Hans takes control of the family piano factory, marries an aspiring pianist, and has a family with her. In 1938, when three Nazi storm troopers try to arrest Henriette, the old woman throws herself out of the window. Lothar's book is more brutal: she is strangled by the Nazis. In 1945 Vienna lies in ruins from the bombing attacks. Only the angel with the trumpet projecting out of the rubble marks the Alt House. Hans, who now has a grown family, expresses modest optimism for the future to his workers and his children, speaking for Austria as well as for his business. He personifies the self-righteous Austria that is not conscious of any guilt.
The film offers a tame version of Ernst Lothar's angry, unsparing book. The splendid performance of Paula Wessely also leads the film in the direction of the usual lighthearted Viennese film; Henriette appears as a positive heroine, which she definitely is not in Lothar's novel. Most viewers therefore accept the film as a generational love story set in Old Vienna rather than as a mirror of the darker side of the Austrian soul and of Austrian history.
Numerous compromises were made to ensure the film's commercial success. Since film had become prudish in the late 1940s and the 1950s, care was taken to avoid offensive or controversial topics. In the book Henriette had sexual relationships with the Crown Prince and Count Traun, but the film pretends that these relationships stayed platonic. Neither is Hans the wholesome character portrayed in the film. In the book his wife Selma continues her career as an actress at the Burgtheater, while in the film she sacrifices her career as a pianist to devote herself solely to her family. Her representation as the virtuous German hausfrau reflects involuntarily that, perhaps unconsciously, the female role model of the Third Reich was still present in the fifties.
The Aryanization of the Alts' piano factory is never mentioned in the film. Clearly, one did not want to stir up such matters. Hermann's attraction to Nazism is glossed over by explaining that his character was damaged in the First World War. His preference for modern American dances instead of classical music proves he has a criminal character, the same naive suggestion made in some 1950s Heimatfilme which equate bad character with modern music or art. The film tries to serve the purpose of reconciliation by explaining the difficult political ordeal which Austria had to undergo in a relatively short time span.
The success of the film induced Sir Alexander Korda, who knew Hartl from the time they worked together for the Austrian film pioneer Count Sascha Kolowrat, to produce a British version, The Angel with the Trumpet (1950). Only the actors of minor roles were retained, including Maria Schell and Oskar Werner, for whom this film signified the beginning of their international career.
—Gertraud Steiner Daviau