23 October 2013 | SimonJack
Early espionage thriller with light comedy and romance
By the mid-1930s, the Poles and Russians had been feuding bitterly for nearly 1,000 years. The first two decades of the 20th century had been tumultuous for much of the world, culminating with WWI - the war to end all wars. Near the end of that war, France executed Mata Hari, an exotic dancer from the Netherlands. She was convicted of spying for Germany against the Allies. Espionage was now commonly known to exist between rival countries, especially the Soviet Union and Western Europe.
All of this provided a solid background for the plot in "The Emperor's Candlesticks." It is based on a novel by the same name written by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. The Hungarian-born British author was one of the early female writers of mystery and intrigue. Her best works were in historical fiction. The most famous of these were "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and its sequels. Two excellent adaptations of the Pimpernel have been made into movies - in 1934, and 1982 for TV.
While Orczy's book was published in 1899, the 19th century had much of the same political turmoil as the early 20th century. Orczy moved several times throughout Europe with her family before settling in London. No doubt, she had read or heard about suspected espionage between nations in that time. So, she wove a very nice tale of secrecy and intrigue into this story with a subdued but blooming romance.
For its part, Hollywood's MGM team added some wit and glamour to the story and made it an all-around appealing movie with top stars. Some other reviewers before the time of this writing (Oct. 2013) didn't see much in the plot, or thought it very silly. Certainly, the background for the plot was spot on for the time and geography of the film. The story is fiction in an historical setting. It has intrigue and adventure. It is a subtle romance. And with a nice dose of humor spread throughout, it might be considered a caper comedy. A very funny scene has the Baron (William Powell) and Countess (Luise Rainer) in their adjoining hotel rooms bouncing on their beds several times to make the springs squeak so that the other person will think he or she had retired for the night. Then each one sneaks out to catch the night train to Budapest.
That's just great entertainment, and I found this film very interesting and enjoyable. And, in the hands of William Powell, Luise Rainer, Robert Young, Frank Morgan and supporting cast, it's a superb movie.
There's one piece of trivia that might be of interest to viewers. A scene toward the end of the film has the Russian Czar in it, but we never see the actor's face. At the time of this movie, and well into the 1950s, Hollywood would not show on film the faces of actors in roles of key world figures - such as the U.S. President, or kings, queens or other prominent rulers. Today, of course, it would seem awkward not to show the faces of actors in any roles. Perhaps, in times past those offices were held in higher regard and public esteem than they are today?
Here are some favorite lines from the film.
Baron Stephan Wolensky, "Turn out the lights, turn out the candles and turn in."
Baron Stephan Wolensky, "Where's the best restaurant in town?" Hotel Clerk, "This one, sir." Baron Wolensky, "Are you sure?" Hotel Clerk, "Absolutely, sir. It's the only one."
Countess Olga Mironova, "Were you nice looking?" Baron Stephan Wolensky, "When?" Countess, "When you were young."
Countess Olga Mironova, "I thought you never read newspapers." Baron Stephan Wolensky, "I don't. I listen to what other people read."
Col. Baron Suroff, "Does your highness want me to be exiled to Siberia?" Grand Duke Peter, "I sometimes wonder."
Baron Wolensky, "What time is it, Albert?" Butler, "Half past two, sir." Baron Wolensky, "Ah, ah, good to get to bed early for a change. That enables me to get up early. Call me at eleven."
Mr. Korum, "I have some interesting news for you. The Countess Mironova is in Vienna. She leaves for Petersburg tonight." Baron Wolensky, "Tonight? Well that's interesting. I hear she's very beautiful." Mr. Korum, "And very dangerous." Baron, "Yeah, the words are synonymous."
Mr. Korum, "She's in the Russian Secret Service." Baron Wolensky, "How do you know that?" Mr. Korum, "We don't. We surmise. But you better be very careful. She may not be traveling through Vienna just by chance." Baron Wolensky, "Hmm, well still, there are always people traveling between here and Petersburg. That might be one reason they built the railroad."
Countess Olga Mironova, "You're Baron Wolensky?" Baron Wolensky, "And you're the Countess Mironova. Strange we've never known each other, isn't it?" Countess Mironova, "It is, isn't it? You're Polish, are you not?" Baron Wolensky, "Oh, yes indeed, and you're Russian. We're neighbors, so to speak." Countess, "So to speak."
Baron Wolensky, "Do allow me to look after your belongings. Those candlesticks, for instance, are more precious than you think." Countess Mironova, "Pardon me - they're more precious than YOU think."
Countess Mironova, "I read my newspaper." Baron Wolensky, "I never do." Countess, "Perhaps you're wise." Baron, "I wish I were. The wise are never lonely." Countess,, "Are you lonely?" Baron, "Yes... So are you". Countess, "Why do you say that?" Baron, "You are, aren't you?" Countess, "I've never thought of it."