Re-Watch: Burgtheater [Burg Theatre] (1936)

Burgtheater
Director: Willi Forst
Writer: Willi Forst, Jochen Huth
Cast: Werner Krauss, Hortense Raky, Olga Tschechowa, Hans Moser, Carl Esmond, Karl Günther
Seen on: 11.2.2021
[Here’s my first review.]

Content Note: attempted suicide

Plot:
Friedrich Mitterer (Werner Krauss) is the star of the Viennese Burg Theater. The eccentric and basically socio-phobic star. He has the prompter Sedlmayer (Hans Moser) take care of most of his social interactions. Even when he meets the young Leni (Hortense Raky) who finds really charming, he relies on Sedlmayer to establish contact. With these social skills, it’s no wonder that he doesn’t notice that Leni is head over heels for the aspiring actor Josef (Willy Eichberger). When Leni finds an invitation for the Baroness Seebach’s (Olga Tschechowa) weekly party for the rich and famous at Mitterer’s place, she steals it without thinking and gives it to Josef, setting quite a few things in motion.

I had forgotten that I’d seen Burgtheater before. Seeing it again, I started to remember, but only vaguely. This time, I didn’t love it as much as the first time – and it generally struck me very differently. It does have a pretty great and very memorable character in Mitterer, though.

The film poster showing the audience at the Viennese Burgtheater and headshots of the three protagonists of the film - Friedrich Mitterer (Werner Krauss), Josef Rainer (Carl Esmond) and Leni Schindler (Hortense Raky).

Burgtheater is a melancholic film that hides that melancholy a little under its sense of humor (especially in the form of Moser who really shines as Sedlmayer). But it boils down to being a film about an ageing actor who slowly realizes that the world has moved on without him. He is honestly convinced that he can pursue Leni, despite their age difference, and that she would be interested in him. He never once catches on to the fact that she is in love with somebody else because he is convinced of his own importance.

When finally he realizes that she didn’t even consider him romantically – so that her behavior towards him can’t even be characterized as misleading because she also wouldn’t dream of the fact that he’d be interested in her – he does the noble thing and withdraws. This moment is his greatest moment as a human being, and an utter defeat at the same time: a new model has come to replace him in love and on stage.

Josef Rainer (Carl Esmond) and Leni Schindler (Hortense Raky) talking.

I could empathize a lot with him, and Krauss brings him to life so well that I almost regretted any moment that the film doesn’t spend with him. And there are plenty of those moments, because the film is also very interested in Rainer. Unfortunately, I didn’t share that interest. His melodramatic narcissim mirror’s Mitterer to a certain degree, but it isn’t softened by the latter’s vulnerability. I just didn’t like him, and I would wish Leni a better fate than him.

That is why the film didn’t work so much for me in the end. But I could see myself watching The Adventures of Mitterer and Sedlmayer for quite a while.

Friedrich Mitterer (Werner Krauss) imploring Leni Schindler (Hortense Raky) .

Summarizing: it’s not bad.

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