The gayest of all gay musical films has come again to the Fine Arts Theatre. This German operetta, with its inexpensive sets, its modest casting, its imperfect sound-recording, carries exuberance and spontaneity unknown to Hollywood. American films may be suaver, better sung, more pretentious, but charm evades them. For charm is a volatile essence to which the American temperament and the Hollywood system of incubation remain unkind.
To set the key for the film, there is an exquisite prologue; and to sketch this prologue is to sum up the spirit that runs through "Zwei Herzen." It is a summer's day in Vienna, and the year is 1830. In Franz Schubert's music room, all casements are opened wide. Window-boxes overflow with flowers, and in the crooked street without, sunshine dapples the cobblestones. Schubert, at his harpsichord, looks up from his music, sees the world through the window, and finds it good. His fingers stray over yellowed keys; they frame the melody of a little dance. Too gay a thing to be confined indoors, it overflows the little room, swells out through the casements, and drifts down the sunny street. Men turn from their tasks and listen, as to a Pied Piper; old fingers and young ache to play. Someone in the fields takes up a fiddle; a fine gentleman blows the dust from his guitar. A street boy whistles; soldiers sing. All the street is become a gypsy orchestra. It is happy Vienna, Schubert's town, and the streets are filled with his song.
The prologue has ended; a century has passed. It is 1930 in Vienna; but now as of old, when friends gather and men make merry, there is dancing and singing to Schubert's song. Now a new Schubert sits at the open casement. It is Toni Hofer, writing the last measures of an operetta. On the piano, lilting melodies lie in manuscript, but the one crowning air will not come. The play is dead without a dance, a Viennese walse to give it soul.
One evening at the piano the triumphant waltz-melody of "Zwei Herzen" comes to Toni while the arms of an unknown girl are resting on his shoulder. When he has played, and she has danced to his playing, she slips away. Without her, Toni cannot remember a bar of his waltz. The operetta is about to fail for want of it. But love finds out the way to the fraulein's heart, and hers joins with his to recall his "Zwei Herzen."
You may pick to shreds the elements of the film, the silly story, the crude camerawork, but where on the screen can you match the spirit of the whole? Where on the screen can you find such good spirits to make hearts and steins overflow?