The singing films of tenor Joseph Schmidt. Finding a way to determine the different versions of his films. - Elisa Mutsaers 2006
I gave the imaginary pair of scales the appearance of a schedule that I used to categorize and appoint the different versions of the films Joseph Schmidt made in the thirties of last century. Of three of his films a MLV has been made: DER LIEBESEXPRESS (Germany 1931), GEHETZTE MENSCHEN (Germany 1932) and EIN LIED GEHT UM DIE WELT (Germany 1933). In the first two, where Schmidt had only a minor part, he is not performing in the MLV’s made of these films. In the last-named film that was the case, the MLV is called MY SONG GOES ROUND THE WORLD (UK 1934). In 1958 in Germany a remake was made of EIN LIED GEHT UM DIE WELT and it got the same title as its original predecessor. Also of EIN STERN FÄLLT VOM HIMMEL (Austria 1934) a remake was made: A STAR FELL FROM HEAVEN (UK 1936). Schmidt also played leading roles in three films of which no MLV’s or remakes had been made, even though there had been plans to do so for at least one of them: WENN DU JUNG BIST, GEHÖRT DIR DIE WELT (Austria 1934).
In this article I choose to focus on the comparism of two of his films: EIN LIED GEHT UM DIE WELT (Richard Oswald, Germany 1933) and MY SONG GOES ROUND THE WORLD (Richard Oswald, United Kingdom 1934). Actually the schedule leaves room to compare more MLA’s to a ‘original’ and I show that in my thesis: there a Dutch and English subtitled MLA, a French dubbed one (that appeared to be actually a adaptation of the British adaptation!) and a remake made in 1958 are included in the comparism. Here I will focus on the German original and the English MLA. The question to answer is whether the English MLA is a MLV or a remake. Most people would say MY SONG GOES ROUND THE WORLD concerns a remake rather than a MLV because of the simple fact that the film was made in another country more than a year later than the ‘original’. By putting the elemens that determine both the ‘original’ and the ‘adaptation’ on the imaginary pair of scales I want to show that in my opinion despite these earlier mentioned facts, in this particular case the balance deflects to the side of the MLV and we should therefore name MY SONG GOES ROUND THE WORLD a MLV and not a remake. It might not be a 100% classical MLV, but it definitely should not be called a remake.
The story of both films is about the tiny tenor Ricardo. He is famous and loved because of his beautiful records and radio performances, but more than anything else he would like to perform on stage. Because of his exceptionally small stature nobody dares to take that risk. When he finally succeeds in getting a stage contract, it appears that he has to perform, dressed as a clown, a comical act together with his handsome friend Rigo (played by Viktor de Kowa). Ricardo is very disappointment, but decides to do it anyway. A stage is a stage. And besides, he is in love with record saleswoman Nina (played by Charlotte Ander) and that seems to be the only matter that counts. Until he finds out that Nina is actually not in love with him, but his friend Rigo. Ricardo is not happy in love, but at stage, in the end without his clown costume, he gives a fantastic performance.
Going through the schedule I would like analyze both films and therewith hand the reader enough convincing elements leading to the conclusion that MY SONG GOES ROUND THE WORLD is a MLV of EIN LIED GEHT UM DIE WELT and not a remake.
First, the title of the MLA is a literal translation of the German ‘original’, which at least indicates that the makers of the English version didn’t want to change the meaning of the film. The director of both versions is Richard Oswald. The producer of the German spoken ‘original’ is Rio-Film, the company of Richard Oswald, who is also the co-producer in the English version. The recordings of the ‘original’ took place from the beginning of March 1933 in a German studio and in Venice. The English version was shot during two weeks at the end of June, beginning of July in 1934 in a British studio. The scriptwriters of the German film are Ernst Neubach and Heinz Goldberg. On the credits of the British MLA is written that the adaptation and script are the responsibility of Clifford Grey and Frank Miller. The ‘original’ on which the adaptation has been based, is not mentioned, but it is clear that that was the script Ernst Neubach and Heinz Goldberg had written.
In both versions there is unity of body and voice, an important element to distinguish for example MLV’s and remakes from dubbed versions. But, in the English version it appears to be that some scenes in the film are dubbed, for instance in the radio building where Ricardo does an audition and in the recordshop where Nina works. The reason for dubbing these scenes has to be a financial one. The production time in London was only two weeks, and dubbing these scenes probably was the most economic way to do it.
The actors from the German version are all replaced with English actors, exept for the leading roles played by Joseph Schmidt and Charlotte Ander. In both cases the outside location of the action is the exotic city of Venice in Italy. Most of the time the Venice scenes are taken over exactly, but sometimes they are a little shortened or extended. In some cases Venice shots are to be seen in the English version that apparently never reached the German version. Then, for instance, a shot of an alley in Venice is to be seen, which is not to be seen in the German version. But these alterations are rare and do not seem to be significant. Besides the exterior shots of Venice, some other location shots are copied from the ‘original’: some scenes in the radio studio where Ricardo does audition, some scenes in the record shop where Nina works, some scenes in the garden of the café where Ricardo regularly comes and some scenes in the concert hall where Rigo and Ricardo give their performance. In these cases the scenes that are taken over are alterated with newly shot close-ups.
Another element on the level of scenery are the costumes and appearance of Schmidt and Ander. They always wear the same costumes, make-up and haircut in both versions because they are the only characters that are to be seen in the exterior Venice shots. Since these shots are taken over from the ‘original’, it is necessary that their costumes always fit in in the MLA. In the last scenes in the concert hall Rigo wears exactly the same costume in the British version as in the German one. That is because also in this case exact shots from the ‘original’ are taken over to the MLA. Even though another actor plays Rigo, a scene where he is only seen at the back and some long shots, are used in the British version as well. The same counts for the costume of the waitress. In the British MLA her role is played by another actress, but only in shots where you cannot see her face. Most shots are taken over from the German film and then her voice is dubbed with an English voice. In those scenes her face is clearly to be seen, but in the newly recorded shots the audience only recognizes her because of her costume. The costumes and appearances of all the other characters are not literary copied, but are similar.
Looking at the positioning of actors in the space there are some differences in the MLA, but they are never significant. The dialogues are often literally translated from the ‘original’, but sometimes they are adapted. But again, the changes are never significant. The newly produced scenery is not exactly the same as in the German version, but they have the same atmosphere. There is only one significant change in the story: in the British MLA Rigo asks forgiveness to his friend Ricardo for stealing his girlfriend Nina. This scene is completely missing in the German film. In case the cliché of the politeness of the British is true, this change in the script can be understood as an adaptation to the taste and culture of the British audiences.
On the filmic level it looks like, even though the British version is shorter, the camera took more time to show the audience that the story is situated in Venice. At the beginning of the film some extra shots of Venice are to be seen. In general one can say that there are no significant differences between the two versions in the way editing, framing and camera movements are used, but this should me researched more closely in a parallel viewing session. The British version is more than ten minutes shorter and since the content doesn’t seem to have changed, it is probable that the editing in the British version is done faster than in the German one.
The repertoire Joseph Schmidt is singing has been adjusted to the taste of the English audiences. Italian songs are taken over from the German version, one German opera melody has been replaced with the Italian version of the same melody, one other is replaced with an English opera song. The title song and one other song have been especially written in English.
In the case of MLV’s ‘pur-sang’ the adaptation is recorded in the same studio in the same country as the ‘original’. Recording a MLV was part of the production strategy and that decision was made before the actual shooting started. We don’t know whether that was the case here. What we do know is that Hitler came to power at the beginning of 1933 and that soon after it became impossible for Jews to work in nazi-Germany. So even though Rio-Film might have had the plan to make a British adaption of the film, the nazi-regime might as well have troubled these plans. Soon after the premiere of EIN LIED GEHT UM DIE WELT on May 9 in Berlin Richard Oswald and Joseph Schmidt, and with them many others, left Germany. A little more than a year later Richard Oswald was able to make an adaption of EIN LIED GEHT UM DIE WELT in London. I think it is legitimate to assume that even if Richard Oswald would have wanted to make a British version of the film soon after the German ‘original’, the political circumstances in Germany made it impossible for him to do that. Oswald decided to make an adaptation abroad and that forced him to find a co-producer in that country. But Oswald cleary not just sold the rights, as a co-producer and a director he kept pulling the strings and run the risks. And as becomes clear from the analysis, to meet the cultural expectations of the British audiences some necessary adaptations with regard to the German version have been made. Because of that MY SONG GOES ROUND THE WORLD did become an adaptation that truly warmed up the expectations and feelings of the British audiences. The weigth of the elements that indicate that this British adaptation is a MLV is bigger than the weight of the indicators that point in the opposite direction of the remake. The balance definitely deflects to the side of the MLV.