CHAMPAGNE WALTZ (Paramount, 1937)
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland. Produced by Harlan Thompson. Screenplay by Don Hartman and Frank Butler from an original story by Billy Wilder and H.S.Kraft.
Gladys Swarthout (Elsa Strauss). Fred MacMurray (Buzzy Bellew). Jack Oakie (Happy Gallagher). Veloz & Yolanda (Larry and Ann). Herman Bing (Max Snellinek). Fritz Leiber (Franz Strauss). Vivienne Osborne (Countess Mariska). Maude Eburne (Mrs. Scribner).
While it occasionally lives up the froth of its well-designed title sequence, Champagne Waltz is one of the oddest films to emerge from Paramount in the mid-30s, although the reasons are hardly shrouded in mystery. It started out as a typical middle-of-the-road “A,” probably quite slick and unpretentious. However, Paramount, delighted with the rushes, decided to turn it into a special, pouring another $40,000 into it (a lot in 1936), and unfortunately threw it entirely off-balance. Not only can one see where the grafting operations took place, but the big new scenes have a size and elegance that suggest that a director like Mitchell Leisen or Mamoulian should have been put in overall charge. The new size invites one to take the film seriously—and the stereotyped plot-line, perfectly acceptable in a “little” film, becomes tiresome in the revamped version. Moreover, characters have a way of disappearing for long stretches of time. In fairness, though, one tends to remember the film favorably, and it's also interesting as an example of early Billy Wilder, in a loose sense something of a forerunner to his later Emperor Waltz. It's the closest Paramount came to giving opera star Gladys Swarthout a major vehicle. She had an excellent singing voice, beauty, and a graceful naturalness, as well as being a surprisingly good actress, and in the major revamping it's a pity that she wasn't given more music, for her song interludes are certainly the highlights of the film—with dear old Herman Bing coming in a close second!
[Adapted from William K. Everson's note for a 1980 screening]