Wednesday, November 29, 2017

THE SISSI COLLECTION: Blu-ray (Herzog-Filmverleih/ Paramount 1954-62) Film Movement Classics

Elisabeth of Bavaria (born Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Munich on Christmas Eve, 1837) was a rapturous and fascinating historical figure with enough melodrama to fill twelve movies dedicated to her life story. Nicknamed ‘Sisi’, she was born to a royal house – Wittelsbach – and wed to Austria’s Emperor Franz Joseph I by the age of sixteen. As the less than congenial intrigues of court life at Habsburg deadened her resolve, not to mention her mounting and chronic fatigue over the furies with mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie on the rearing of two daughters (one to die in infancy) and a male heir, Rudolf (mysteriously rumored, either to have been murdered or committed suicide along with his mistress, Mary Vetsera), Elisabeth would eventually distance herself from both her critics and husband – despite the latter’s blind devotion. For clarity and to regain her sanity, Sisi retreated to Hungary, a nation for whom her natural affinity helped foster the Austro-Hungarian alliance of 1867. Emotionally fragile yet incorrigible, Sisi would die at the hands of Italian anarchist, Luigi Lucheni, cutting short her 44 years reign as a beloved monarch.
Those who know something of the Empress’ rocky history will be able to recognize a good deal of truth in director, Ernst Marischka’s ‘SissiTrilogy. All three movies essentially promote our fairy tale fascination with royalty. Marischka’s approach has taken the facts of Sissi’s life story and polished them into a sweetly orchestrated fable, rather than creating fanciful substitutes through artistic license. This isn’t history, folks. That said, it’s also a lot of fun. Within these movies, we meet all of the principles who, in fact, played their part in the fateful and fitful life of our much-adored royal. Sissi is played by an utterly luminous 17 yr. old Romy Schneider with far more wherewithal and intuition than befits her youth. Sissi’s parents, the whimsical Duke Maximilian Joseph (a jovial Gustav Knuth) and more level-headed Princess Ludovika (Magda Schneider – yes, Schneider’s real-life mother) are ebullient figures. Emperor Franz Joseph (Karlheinz Böhm) – herein reconstituted as ‘the great love’ of Sissi’s life and his mother, the domineering and destructively influential Princess Sophie (a viperous Vilma Degischer) serve their purpose. For counterbalanced bouts into periodic comedic relief and grave tragedy we also get noted bon vivant, Joseph Meinrad as the bumbling, but ever-devoted Gendarmerie-Major Böckl, and, the stunningly beautiful Uta Franz as Sissi’s elder sister, Princess Helene (nicknamed Nené) whom Sophie has hoped to push into a marriage of state with her son.
As fortune would have it, the arrangement was not to be, much to Sophie’s dismay and Néné’s chagrin. Franz preferred ‘Sissi’. And so, the Emperor wed Sissi eight months later in Vienna on April 24, 1854. The union was hardly ‘joy galore’; Sissi’s introverted nature and rather informal education immediately clashing with the rigid protocols and strict etiquette ascribed her new station in life. Director, Marischka eschews the more unpleasant aspects of Sissi’s great unhappiness here; her weakened health and fits of anxiety. For the most part, Franz and Sissi enjoy an idyllic union, intermittently intruded upon by Sophie’s criticisms. In the movies, as in life, Sissi gives birth to a daughter, unceremoniously whisked away by her mother-in-law, who not only names the child after herself without the couple’s permission but, at least in the movies, attempts to prevent Sissi from partaking in any part of child-rearing. In life, this cruelty was repeated when Sissi gave birth to a second daughter, Gisela, one year later.
The movies make no mention of this child, nor of the constant badgering Sissi received from Sophie to ‘produce’ a male heir, nor even acknowledge she eventually did give birth to a son, Rudolph. Director Marischka also avoids delving into the psychological complexities that plagued the Empress in times of personal crisis; her slavish devotion to regimented exercise to maintain an obscenely petite sixteen-inch waist through the barbaric practice of ‘tight-lacing’. The real Empress had to be hand-sewn into her clothes. And while some may consider her as a style forerunner and progressive – preferring simple, form-fitted fashions to the then wildly popular cage-crinoline hoop skirts, bypassing waistbands, creases, and wrinkles to exaggerate her wasp waist, equipping every castle with a gymnasium, and, adding to her grueling personal hygiene, steam baths to shed a few more pounds and 2 hours plus daily to braid and arrange her hair, these aberrations are, in fact, far more closely aligned to the disease of anorexia, more readily understood today. Mercifully, we get none of this in the Sissi Trilogy. Marischka also omits the grave tragedy that befell Sissi; the death of 2 yr. old Sophie, likely due to typhus.
But the movies do touch upon the Empress’ political influence to have impacted her husband’s dealings with rival nations; a trip to Italy, as example, where she coaxed Franz to remain tolerant toward several political prisoners is chronicled in the last movie: Sissi: The Fateful Years of An Empress (1957), and, also Sissi’s ever-increasing dedication to an alliance of equals with Hungary’s Count Andrássy (Walter Reyer) – once a great skeptic of the Emperor’s influence. Sissi’s trip to Hungary in 1857 is well-documented in Marischka’s second movie, Sissi: The Young Empress (1955); her first acquaintance with the aristocrats, scorned by Sophie as ‘rebels’, leading to Austria’s recognition of the Hungarians as a proud, steadfast people. In this understanding, Franz was to realize his wife as a powerful tool for smoothing over hostile relations between Austria and Hungary while, in her own elevated appreciation of the people, the Hungarians simply adored Sissi in return.
Would the director have addressed any of the other fascinating realities of Sissi’s later years? We will never know, as actress Romy Schneider absolutely refused to take up the part again after the 1957 release. In hindsight, the actress’ decision probably had a lot more to do with concerns over being typecast than any lingering animosity split between Romy and Magda (who enjoyed renewed popularity and steady employment as Sissi’s fictional mama, not only in the Sissi movies, but also Romy’s breakout performance in Victoria in Dover (made in 1954, the year before her ‘official’ and star-making turn in the first, Sissi). Magda’s career had, in fact, been derailed in the post-war years by the family’s warm pre-war friendship with Adolf Hitler. Indeed, the Schneiders were frequent guests at the Führer’s holiday retreat, Obersalzberg. While the public ostensibly forgave Romy this ‘indiscretion’ (she was, after all a mere child then) the pall clung to Magda’s professional reputation. She was rumored to have been Hitler’s favorite actress. Romy, who embraced the reoccurring role as Sissi would shun it after 1957, and repeatedly deflate and poke fun at its lasting appeal with audiences thereafter. But her indelible creation of this enigmatic and forthrightly mature monarch radiates near mythical luminosity well beyond Schneider’s obvious beauty. In short, she personifies a lithe and engaging charm that is outwardly graceful and stimulating.  
Schneider, born in 1938 as Rosemarie Magdalena Albach in Vienna, heralded from a long lineage of actors. Yet, despite her heritage and inauspicious debut in 1953’s When the White Lilacs Bloom it was for her role as the young Queen Victoria that proved the ideal test run for the Sissi films. Marischka’s movies were not the first attempt to immortalize Empress Elizabeth on celluloid. Indeed, a 1921 silent production, Kaiserin Elisabeth von Österreich, was to kick off the Sissi craze, followed a decade later by Adolf Trotz’s Elisabeth of Austria (1931), and then, in America, The King Steps Out (1936), directed by Josef von Sternberg and loosely based on the operetta, ‘Sissi’, sandwiched between these two movies, and, dubiously credited with the misspelling of the Empress’ nickname. She had always been known as ‘Sisi’ – not ‘Sissi’. Nevertheless, this incorrect spelling since, has been trademarked and endures as the ‘official’ facsimile in lieu of the truth). During the post-war years French director, Jean Cocteau made his attempt at immortalizing Sissi on celluloid with 1948’s The Eagle with Two Heads (an adaptation of his own play, remade in 1981 by Michelangelo Antonioni as The Mystery of Oberwald. And while all of these incarnations have added something to the miraculous mixture of fact and fiction, Marischka’s Sissi Trilogy (Sissi 1955, Sissi: The Young Empress 1956, and finally, Sissi: The Fateful Years of An Empress 1957) has remained the ensconced ‘definitive’. Indeed, perennially all three movies reappear on television in Germany and Austria as a beloved reminder of two bygone eras; one, relegated to ancient history, the other, to that equally as departed epoch in motion picture-making when dream-like opulence trumped reality in spades.
The first film in the anthology, Sissi (1955), is loosely based on Sissy’s Brautfahrt (Sissy's Bridal Journey) by Ernst Décsey and Gustav Holm; the narrative charting Elisabeth’s rather idyllic childhood and marriage to the Emperor. The second eldest daughter of Duke Maximilian Joseph and his wife, Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, Sissi is the apple of her fanciful father’s eye but something of a minor disappointment to her mother. Ludovika instead dotes on their eldest, Helene who is amiable, accomplished and statuesque. By contrast, Sissi is impulsive, earthy and carefree. The girls, along with seven other siblings, reside in Possenhofen Castle on the shores of Lake Starnberg. Rumors abound of an arranged marriage between Helene and the Emperor Franz Joseph I. Indeed, Franz’s mother, Archduchess Sophie would welcome such an alliance and does everything except force Franz to acquiesce to the marriage. Franz is receptive to the idea…at first. Indeed, Helene’s virtue is beyond reproach and her beauty far beyond compare. Alas, fate intervenes. To quell Max’s suspicions for their planned ‘trip’ to the capital, Ludovika takes Sissi along, never planning to include her in any of the pre-arranged festivities. Left to her own accord, the girl escapes her locked bedroom and sets out with her fishing rod to a nearby lake. Inadvertently, Sissi casts her line and hooks the Emperor’s heart instead. Franz is immediately enraptured.
Meanwhile, Gendarmerie-Major Böckl mistakes Sissi for an anarchist threatening the monarchy. His feeble attempts to intervene are comical diversions from the otherwise serious plot. Archduke Carl-Ludwig (Peter Weck), who is an old friend of the family has harbored affections for Sissi ever since they were children – unrequited and pure. Alas, Franz and Sissi go off into the woods on a hunting expedition. She provides him with a false name, knowing he is to wed her sister. He does not clearly recall her from his youth and so, when later introduced to Sissi at a ball given in his honor, Franz becomes more determined to make his intentions known to all, including Helene and his own mother. Unable to see how deeply he has wounded Helene, Franz refuses to accept anyone but Sissi for his new bride. He makes the announcement for all to hear. Sophie is mortified; Ludovicka, chagrined. But Sissi and Franz are deeply in love. In Possenhofen, wedding preparations are dampened by Helene’s departure on an extended ‘vacation’. Sissi is certain her sister will never forgive her. But after a rather clumsy attempt to end her engagement, Sissi is enthralled when Helene comes home with a new suitor, Maximilian Anton, Hereditary Prince of Thurn and Taxis. Helene bares no ill will and gives her blessing to Sissi for the marriage. A steamer carrying Franz and Sissi along the Danube is met by throngs waving in adoration, the movie concluding with the couple’s nuptials in Augustinian Church on April 24, 1854.
Sissi, and its subsequent sequels were authentically filmed wherever possible in locations the real Empress had visited, including the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace and the Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl. Substituting for Possenhofen Castle on Lake Starnberg is Fuschl Castle on Fuschlsee in the Salzkammergut region, with St. Michael’s in Vienna, standing in for Augustinian Church. As the rights to Sissy’s Brautfahrt had already been acquired by Columbia Pictures, Ernst Marischka bought and based his movies on Maria Blank-Eisman’s novel, Sissi. All three pictures, magnificently photographed by cinematographer, Bruno Mondi in the hyper-real pastel hues of Agfacolor (Ansco in the U.S.), belong to a certain vein of German cinema known as Heimat – literally, homeland escapism, thematically extolling the virtues of a resplendent natural beauty and gemutlich charm. As nearly 25 million people flocked to theaters to bask in the afterglow of Fritz Juptner-Jonstorff’s ravishing production design, with lavishly appointed costuming by Leo Bei, Gerdago and Franz Szivats, Sissi: The Young Empress was almost immediately green lit, debuting less than a year later.
This second movie charts Sissi’s slow acceptance of court life. At almost every turn the young newlyweds’ happiness is sabotaged by Archduchess Sophie, still reeling from the snub of having her choice of bride overlooked for the coveted title of Empress. Sophie intends that Sissi’s free-spirited good nature be brought to heel to the court’s rigid protocol and etiquette.  Furthermore, almost immediately after the birth of the couple’s first child – a daughter, named after the Archduchess – Sophie quietly convinces Franz the best thing is to remove the baby from Sissi’s care. Dutifully, and rather idiotically, Franz concurs with his mother’s assessment and is bewildered when Sissi rebels; first, by retreating to her ancestral home to confide in Max, then later, leaving Austria altogether for an extended respite in Hungary. Almost immediately, Sophie senses a scandal brewing; especially when Sissi turns her efforts toward Count Gyula Andrássy, a staunch crusader for Hungary’s independence, but whose political allies are decided no friends of the monarchy. Alas, Sissi intimately relates to the plight of Hungarians to be considered equals of the Empire. And Franz, having seen the error of his decision, elects to follow the Empress in Hungary to plead for forgiveness. Predictably, Sissi has also had a change of heart and packs for the journey home. The two travelers meet ‘cute’ at an inn on the open road. Each of them vows never again to let anything or anyone stand in the way of their happiness.  Andrassy, smitten with Sissi, watches as she is crowned Queen of the Hungarians in Budapest. In reality, this coronation did not occur until 1867; the movie using it to cap off Sissi’s newfound status, every bit Franz’s equal, despite her lack of formal diplomacy.
Sissi: The Young Empress is every bit as visually accomplished as its predecessor. And yet, somehow it lacks the impetus of the first picture to propel its narrative clearly and concisely. Instead, Marischka wallows in the particulars of Sissi’s daily conflicts with Sophie. Perhaps to keep the mood lighter, there is more comic bumbling with Gendarmerie-Major Böckl, who dutifully serves the royal household, but whimsically confesses he is deeply in love with the Empress. To divert Böckl’s affections, Marischka introduces a new – and easily forgotten character; Gräfin Esterhazy (Helene Lauterböck), as Böckl’s passionately temperamental Hungarian playmate and love interest. Their scenes go absolutely nowhere as Böckl is chronically distracted by both his sense of duty and pining affections for Sissi. As wildly popular with audiences as its predecessor, Marischka and company immediately began crafting yet another sequel: Sissi: The Fateful Years of An Empress – in retrospect, a penultimate installment to a fairy tale, cut short by Romy Schneider’s decision not to partake of any plans for subsequent installments in the anthology.
This last movie is as opulent, but unevenly paced.  Having won over Andrássy, the Empress has secured an invaluable ally to the crown. Alas, Andrássy makes an incalculable error in judgment when he confesses his passion for Sissi to her. She is wounded by the inference she might have misrepresented their ‘friendship’. At Andrássy’s house party, Sissi falters during a dance and is taken aside to ascertain her weakness. She makes light of this sudden transient episode but nevertheless plans to her return home post haste. Sissi and Franz take a much-needed vacation to Bad Ischl. And although the return to nature does Sissi a world of good, while picking flowers on the mountainside, she once again falls ill: this time, rushed to the doctor and diagnosed with fatal tuberculosis. Aside: the word ‘tuberculosis’ is never uttered, but its inference is clear.  On Dr. Seeburger’s (Hans Ziegler) advice Franz orders his beloved to take immediate bed rest. Still, her condition worsens. Now, a cablegram arrives to alert Max and Ludovika of their daughter’s illness. Meanwhile, Sophie mercilessly suggests Franz should begin considering amiable second choices for ‘the next Empress’ in the event of Sissi’s death.
For once, Franz defends Sissi’s honor. Mama has overstepped not only her bounds, but also those of sincerity, good taste and common decency. Franz makes it quite clear. He will never remarry should Sissi die. Deprived of the company of her husband and child, Sissi’s resolve weakens. Ludovika arrives to rescue Sissi from her isolation, the two vacationing in Corfu where the climate is more conducive to her recovery. Yet again, Oberst Böckl’s clumsy admiration strikes the right comedic chord. Under her mother’s auspices, Sissi is restored to health. She returns to Austria to rejoin her husband on an official tour of Milan and Venice; both possessions of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Alas, nationalists have prepared a hostile welcome for the Habsburg sovereigns. The Milanese nobility send their servants, dressed in castoff formal attire, to a royal command performance at La Scala, where they sing it protest against Austrian rule. Refusing to accept this rebuke, except with humility, the Emperor and Sissi receive the servants at a formal reception thereafter.  When the aristocrats learn of this, they fret incessantly at the notion the Emperor has mistaken the lower class for them. In Venice, the reception toward Franz and Sissi is frostier still; the Venetians closing their shutters and barring their doors, unfurling nationalist flags as the royal barge sails down the Grand Canal. But the Italian standoff softens when Sissi is reunited with her child, Sophie at St Mark's Square; the crowds wildly cheering in support of motherhood.
Although not an official part of the Sissi Trilogy, Film Movement Classics has elected to include two additional films with this new-to-Blu release: the first, Marischka’s Victoria in Dover (1954); itself, a remake of Erich Engel’s similarly titled 1936 movie, loosely based on a 1932 play by Sil-Vara. Victoria in Dover is set in a fanciful London, circa 1837. Victoria’s mum pens a letter to her brother, Leopold, the King of Belgium (Fred Liewehr) to take charge of her daughter’s tutelage. The young queen is bored with her studies. Indeed, her only real friend is German lady-in-waiting, Baroness Lehzen (Magda Schneider). Ah, but now Leopold arrives with terrible news; England’s King is dying. Victoria will be the next sovereign of England.  Overjoyed, Victoria asks that she be allowed one hour a day unbothered by others. But her mother perceives this as a criticism of herself. Furthermore, Victoria’s mother’s judgement is clouded by her artful romantic alliance with the enterprising Sir John Conroy (Stefan Skodler) who advises her to convince Victoria to dismiss the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (Karl Ludwig Diehl), thereby leaving the new queen vulnerable, and presumably susceptible to advice from Conroy in his stead.
Shrewdly perceiving this treachery, and more over knowing her own mind, Victoria orders Conroy from her court and realigns her loyalties to Melbourne who, having already read his letter of dismissal drafted by Conroy, is very pleased with this unexpected turn of events. Melbourne is devoted to Victoria. Together with Baroness Lehzen, the two confidants represent a united front with only the Queen’s best interests at heart. With the announcement of the King’s death, Melbourne quickly bones up on court protocol for Victoria’s pending coronation. Afterward, focus shifts to lining up a husband for the newly ensconced monarch. Victoria also orders Lords Melbourne, Palmerston and Russell to draft a decree in Parliament to address the concerns of the poor.  Still determined she should quietly be the woman behind the throne, Victoria’s mother plots to inveigle her with Prince Henry of Orange (Peter Weck), while Uncle Leopold puts forth Archduke Alexander of Russia (Rudolf Lenz) as his candidate for Victoria’s hand in marriage. Mercifully, Melbourne has a candidate too: Prince Albert of Sachsen-Coburg (Adrian Hoven); by far the most handsome, forthright and sincere of these viable suitors. To sweeten the deal, Melbourne informs the Queen that Parliament has since approved reforms for a welfare system.
Daunted by the ploy to marry, Victoria plots an escape/vacation, instructing her servant, George (Rudolf Vogel) to make the horses and carriage ready. But on the road, presumably to Windsor – but actually, Dover – she inadvertently meets Prince Albert at a country inn. The two become immediately and mutually smitten without first realizing the identity of the other. Albert is travelling with his tutor, Professor Landmann (Paul Hörbiger) who is both precious and coaxing. Believing Albert to be the innkeeper’s son, Victoria orders him to start a fire in the fireplace. Clumsily, Albert complies. Again, misdirection ensues; Victoria asking ‘the stranger’ if Prince Albert was aboard the boat on which he was traveling. Albert replies “yes” without actually revealing his identity. He then suggests in the third person, Albert will never marry Victoria as it is rumored she is too slight for his liking. Insulted, Victoria orders Albert to leave her room. Still, neither knows who the other truly is. A short while later, Victoria attends dinner in the inn’s great hall and is introduced to composer, Johann Strauss (Eduard Strauss Jr.) and his musicians, headed to London for Queen Victoria’s birthday.  Strauss performs one of his newly composed waltzes and Albert invites Victoria to partake of the dance.  As she has never danced before, Albert willingly offers to teach her. 
As the night dwindles to a close, Albert – a little worse for the wine – attempts to woo Victoria by yonder balcony. She is not impressed and sends him away. Undaunted, Albert informs Landmann “I will marry this girl!” Unruffled by this declaration, the Professor nervously labors over how he will break the news to the Queen. Determined to save face, Landmann retreats to Victoria’s room where he divulges Albert’s identity, imploring Victoria to reconsider the young man’s reputation. Amused, and satisfied she has selected the right man to jointly rule by her side, Victoria plays along, accepting Landmann’s payoff of 30 pounds to leave the inn and disappear forever from Albert’s life. Now, Victoria attends her birthday gala, introduced to Princes Henry and Alexander; neither of whom strike her fancy. Albert and Landmann arrive late to this soiree; Albert, overjoyed to learn the girl he passionately adores is, in fact, the woman already preordained to be his wife. Engaging Victoria in a waltz, Landmann directs the Prince not to hold his beloved so tight.
Inadvertently, Victoria takes this as a sign Albert’s affections toward her have cooled. She withdraws from the ball in a huff, leaving all three suitors confused and spurned. Once more, the benevolent Lord Melbourne intervenes, assuring Victoria of Albert’s affections. Hope renewed, Victoria decides to make Melbourne a Knight of the Order of the Garter.  Recognizing its significance, Melbourne magnanimously refuses the title, opting instead for retirement. Victoria reluctantly agrees. He has earned his place in the sun. Melbourne withdraws and Prince Albert returns. Both bashful and stumbling for something meaningful to discuss, Albert and Victoria rekindle their romance as George looks on. At last, Albert comes to his truer self and affinity for the Queen. She reciprocates in kind and the two mark their future alliance with a passionate kiss. George is stunned, then pleasantly pleased as he quietly steps back and closes the door to allow the royals their privacy.
Victoria in Dover is pure hokum, but so winningly put across with oodles of charm that it is easy to overlook its historical inaccuracies and simply bask in the sumptuousness of its regal appointments in set decoration, costume design and, of course, romance. Like the Sissi Trilogy, Victoria in Dover is a fairy tale, not historical epic; its strengths – Marischka’s lissome screenplay, that effortlessly moves from one palace intrigue to the next, and Romy Schneider’s luminous turn as the heartfelt ingenue about to become England’s longest reigning monarch. The other film to be included in this collection is, in fact, not a movie at all, but an amalgam of all three Sissi movies, re-issued in a poorly dubbed English version, distributed by Paramount Pictures. Forever My Love (1962) is 147 min. of badly re-edited storytelling with a rather syrupy title tune composed by Burt Bacharach.  Once you have seen the Sissi Trilogy as it was originally intended, there really is no comparison. And, in fact, none made by Film Movement Classics, who did not even think enough of Forever My Love to properly remaster it in hi-def. No, we get only a badly worn and thoroughly faded print, transferred with a lot of edge enhancement to standard DVD.
Now, for the very good news. All three of the Sissi movies have been digitally restored and remastered in 2K. The results are impressive to say the least. Film Movement has not only given us some gorgeous looking discs here, but they have even elected to feature each Sissi movie in two aspect ratios: the original 1.33:1 for purists, and a re-composed 1.78:1 image to satisfy those who prefer not to have ‘black bars’ to the left and right of the image when displayed on their flat widescreen TVs. Naturally, the 1.33:1 framing is preferred, showing far more information on the top and bottom of the image. In either format, all three of the Sissi movies positively glow with vibrant hues. Reds are the most dramatically rendered; greens too and the occasional splash of royal blue. Fine detail abounds. We get to see intricate patterns gone into the fabric of Leo Bei, Gerdago and Franz Szivats’ exquisite costuming, and bask in the afterglow of Bruno Mondi’s breathtaking cinematography. In short, there is nothing to complain about visually. Were we could say as much for the audio. Sissi and her sequels were originally recorded and released in mono – usually, not a problem. But the DTS is quite strident and crackles in spots. Mercifully, these discs also contain a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix that minimizes, but does not alleviate all of these anomalies. The first Sissi movie is the most egregious offender here, with improvements made regarding the last two films in the trilogy.
Now, about Victoria in Dover. Although Film Movement has obviously made an effort to restore and remaster this movie in 1080p, its color balance is far less dramatic, and in some regards, quite anemic. We get marginal fading scattered throughout; color fluctuation from scene to scene, and in certain instances, from shot to shot. Flesh tones are very thin. Could Victoria in Dover have looked better? Arguably, yes. It’s the lushness of color that seems to be lacking here; also, fainter than anticipated contrast. Everything falls into a sort of mid-register tonality without the anticipated pop and pizzazz. Again, Film Movement gives us the option to view Victoria in Dover either in its original 1.33:1 or 1.78:1 aspect ratios. Choose the former and be glad that you did. The audio, again, in either DTS or Dolby Digital won’t win any awards. But it has been competently rendered. Finally, there are the extras to consider – or rather, bypass. From Romy to Sissi is a vintage featurette; Romy Schneider briefly discusses her involvement while making the original movie. Sissi’s Great Grandson at the Movies is a bizarrely truncated snippet from the documentary, Elisabeth: Enigma of an Empress. It begins abruptly and ends unceremoniously right in the middle of the grandson’s recollections. Dumb, wasted opportunity to include the whole documentary.
Bottom line: The Sissi Trilogy is beloved and for very good reason. Romy Schneider is magnificent and the films, while light on reality, are nevertheless glorious escapist outings into that never-never land of magical film-making we are unlikely to ever see again. Film Movement Classics’ remastered Blu-rays do each movie justice, with minor caveats already addressed. Personally, I would have preferred Victoria in Dover be given as much care and released separately to Blu-ray (as it is not a part of the Sissi canon), with far more attention paid to Forever My Love (it looks atrocious herein). But rest assured, if you are buying this set for the original trilogy, you are in for one hell of a treat. Prepare to be dazzled. Such unfettered opulence has rarely made it to the screen. Very highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
Sissi – 5
Sissi: The Young Empress – 4
Sissi: The Fateful Years of an Empress – 3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO

Victoria in Dover – 3.5
Sissi – 4
Sissi: The Young Empress – 4.5
Sissi: The Fateful Years of an Empress – 4.5

EXTRAS


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