Romy Schneider’s Classic Turn as the Young Princess Elisabeth of Austria
Released as part of the Sissi Collection from Film Movement, Sissi is the delightful period film that turned actress Romy Schneider into an international star at seventeen. Her upbeat, beguiling portrayal of Princess Elisabeth marrying Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria as a teenager instantly won audiences over.
A wholesome, sweet film bolstered by lavish production values, Sissi is enjoyable romantic fluff from 1955. This first entry in the Sissi film trilogy comes from a simpler time with a different set of mores than today’s Hollywood entertainment. All three German films were written and directed by Ernst Marischka.
Sissi (Romy Schneider) is little more than a country girl living in Bavaria, despite being a princess. She enjoys the outdoors and her favorite hobby, horse riding. Far removed from the court of Emperor Franz Joseph (Karlheinz Böhm), she is happy living with her close-knit family. The Emperor is busy running the Hapsburg empire when his mother Sophie (Vilma Degischer) decides it’s time to arrange a marriage for him. Sissi’s mother is sisters with Sophie. The manipulative Sophie decides Sissi’s older sister Helene should marry her son, the Emperor. Sissi barely registers on their radar.
By sheer accident, Sissi meets Franz Joseph on her own as her family visits the city. Love will soon blossom between the pair, despite the impending engagement between her sister and Franz Joseph. Sissi’s ignorance of court customs leads her into conflict with the very formal Sophie, who disapproves of the teenager. Sissi is not used to the established social order in the Austrian court. Sissi being a romantic fantasy through and through, it’s not hard to guess that love will win the day.
Sissi is a real crowd-pleaser
Sissi is a real crowd-pleaser
It’s not hard seeing why Sissi became an instant hit in 1955. The scenic photography of Austria and Germany, its lavish costumes, an appealing romantic fantasy of a young princess marrying the gentlemanly Emperor, Sissi is a real crowd-pleaser. I imagine every 12-year-old girl that watched this movie in the 1950s lived vicariously through Sissi. Her journey from a simple, carefree princess to Empress of Austria must have been their ultimate fantasy.
The period film sings with a rich atmosphere and scenery rarely matched by Hollywood. It just looks different in staging, from the opulent rooms of Emperor Franz Joseph to a spectacular wedding finale. Seeing Sissi riding horses through the forests of Bavaria, everything actually feels like its 1854 setting. Everyone is so impressed by the new telegraph technology.
Anyone into the bright, colorful Hollywood musicals of the era should love Sissi. This is delightful family entertainment from the 1950s and remains a popular classic.
Filmed in Agfacolor, a color film technology produced in Germany, all three Sissi films are presented in both their original Academy Ratio and 1.78:1 widescreen transfers. Agfacolor was used in a few Hollywood productions, including a slew of musicals in the 1950s such as Brigadoon and Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. While not quite on par with the more familiar Technicolor process, these Agfacolor films offer a rich palette and tight saturation that suits their stunning location photography. Each of the films gets their own BD-50, encoded in transparent AVC at decent parameters. Film Movement has done a great job bringing these films to Blu-ray in quality presentations.
The Sissi movies and Victoria In Dover have all been given new 2K film restorations by ARRI Film & TV Restoration Services in conjunction with Taurus Media Digital. This is fine work from strong elements. The film transfers include a hint of mild processing, most notable in the blown-up 1.78:1 widescreen transfers taken from the original 1.37:1 elements. The new scan captures the film grain off guard in a few scattered moments, looking processed. It’s most evident in the opening reel of Sissi, offering a glimpse of edge enhancement that thankfully disappears soon after. Call me a videophile heretic, but the widescreen transfers perform an excellent job of translating the original 1.37:1 compositions.
The beautiful costumes and production design sing in nigh perfect clarity. The Sissi film trilogy offers bold colors with a slightly pinkish hue. Detail is excellent, even considering the overall softer cinematography. It’s possible a touch of filtering was applied but generally the results are consistently loaded with fine detail. A pleasing contrast and clean visuals produce crisp definition and lively picture quality.
Film Movement’s first attempt at a major restoration of classic filmmaking is an unqualified success. The films included in the Sissi Collection represent fully restored transfers from the negative. It’s doubtful more could have been done with these films in 1080P video.
The German audio is heard in adequate 5.1 DTS-HD MA and a lesser 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Originally released in stereo, Sissi is an odd choice to remix into surround. The 1955 film has serviceable audio fidelity, albeit some distortion and harshness is evident during the more active musical passages.
There are surround elements in this mix, surprisingly enough. Not everything is kept to the front soundstage. The sound design isn’t particularly balanced, awkwardly placing some cues to the detriment of other elements. It provides a decent listening experience but the lack of the original stereo mix is unfortunate.
An interesting tidbit of trivia concerns The Emperor Waltz getting played as background music in Sissi during Franz Joseph’s wedding dance in 1854. The Emperor Waltz wasn’t composed by Johann Strauss II until 1889.
Optional English subtitles play in a white font.
The Sissi Collection represents Film Movement as a label entering the big time with a five-disc set (4 Blu-rays, 1 DVD) that captures the entire Sissi film trilogy in beautiful HD. The bonuses are few but significant. The box set also includes actress Romy Schneider’s first film, Victoria in Dover, a precursor to the Sissi films that appeared in 1954. She plays Princess Victoria in that role. This is an appealing package in a sturdy Blu-ray case designed to hold each disc without problem.
Each of the movies are included in both their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios and tasteful 1.78:1 widescreen conversions.
A well-done 20-page commemorative booklet has a lengthy new essay by film critic Farran Smith Nehme.
The special features are confined to the included DVD. Forever My Love is taken from an unrestored transfer in presentable but dilapidated condition. So its inclusion in standard definition is better than nothing.
Forever My Love (145:20 in 1.33:1 SD; 2.0 Dolby Digital) – Paramount released this edited “compilation” of the Sissi film trilogy in 1962, taking scenes from all three entries. The movie is shown with its original English dub. The theme song was written by Burt Bacharach.
From Romy To Sissi (19:22 in SD; in German with English subtitles) – This vintage making-of featurette from 1956 is narrated by Romy Schneider herself with very interesting behind-the-scenes footage. It’s really quite fascinating to watch as the young actress describes the footage from the set being played. It includes footage from Sissi: The Young Empress. This has to be one of the earliest featurettes made for the purposes of film promotion. You almost never get a glimpse like this behind the camera from the 1950s.
Sissi’s Great-grandson At The Movies (04:21 in SD) – An excerpt from the 2006 documentary Elisabeth: Enigma of an Empress. An actual descendant of the historical Princess Elisabeth compares his relative to the Sissi character depicted in the movies.
Film Movement Trailer (01:26 in HD) – A sizzle reel of Feel Movement releases advertising the boutique video label.
The Best Intentions Trailer (02:33)
Pelle The Conqueror Trailer (01:41)
Antonia’s Line Trailer (01:48)
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