26 April 2004 | patrickoc
The last gasp of Viennese/Parisian operetta before WW2
Oscar Straus put together "Les trois valses" as a vehicle for Yvonne Printemps and her husband Pierre Fresnay. In the 1920s, Yvonne Printemps had scored a massive hit in her first husband Sacha Guitry's play "Mariette, ou comment on écrire l'histoire", for which Straus had composed the music. "Les Trois Valses" traces the love story of two people over three eras. In the first waltz (music based on Johann Strauss I), Yvonne is a sensitive Parisian ballet dancer, whose romance with a dashing officer is brought to an abrupt end by his family. She goes off to Vienna to become a big star. In the second waltz, her daughter, an even bigger star, but now of Paris music halls, has a brief flirtation with the rakish man-about-town who is the son of suitor number one. She throws him over pretty quickly for a chance to shine at a Gala performance. (In this scene , Yvonne also plays Sarah Bernhardt, seen entering her box for the big night, while the Prince of Wales is opposite.) The ,music for the second "Waltz" is based on Johann Strauss II, the big song is "Je t'aime". The scenes in the theatre and at a restaurant in the Bois are really gorgeous. Berger's direction gets the mood of the Belle Epoque just right. Finally, in the third waltz, the two get together, when she is a movie star, and he is posing as an insurance salesman. The marvellous moment here is when we see Yvonne's screen test, in many different poses and costumes, as she sings Oscar Straus's "C'est le destin peut-etre". The story is a bit silly, but the sense of the erotic charge between Printemps and Fresnay is never absent. The "Second Waltz" is probably Mlle Printemps's greatest moment on screen. The stage version ran for two years, the film, coming just before the Second World War, didn't get the distribution it deserved.