It’s easy to forget that two different Hollywood stories occurred during the early ’70s. In the more familiar narrative, the collapse of the studio system allowed young filmmakers to insert their perspective, resulting in the groundbreaking achievements of the New Hollywood. At the same time, veteran professionals perpetuated the old ways of doing things, resulting in bloated super-productions that have since been largely forgotten. One such epic is The Great Waltz, a musical biopic about the classical-music composer Johann Strauss Jr. and a loose remake of the 1938 movie bearing the same name. To indicate how out of step this movie was with the tastes of 1972 audiences, one need only note that the film’s writer and director, Andrew L. Stone, made this picture two years after helming yet another flop musical, Song of Norway (1970). Why did anyone expect different results the second time around? Running an almost interminable two hours and 15 minutes, complete with intermission, this G-rated melodrama tracks Strauss’ conflicts with his overbearing father, his clashes with people who don’t believe in his talent, and his various romantic entanglements. In other words, the usual soapy formula. Playing Strauss is the handsome German actor Horst Bucholz, whose icy quality ensures that the picture feels clinical instead of personal, and even though the title of the picture is The Great Waltz, most of the musical numbers revolve around singing. Sure, there’s a lot of dancing, too, but Stone lets dippy lyrics, rather than expressive body movements, tell the story. Even the narration is sung. The Great Waltz is not as painfully saccharine as Song of Norway, and it’s all the worse for the difference—The Great Waltz is so polite and stilted as to barely exist. It’s all spectacular locations and predictable dramatic rhythms and robotic acting, archaic techniques in the service of a ho-hum narrative. Perhaps that explains why Stone never made another movie.
The Great Waltz: LAME