Sissi - Schicksalsjahre einer Kaiserin (Sissi: The Fateful Years of an Empress) (1957)




Director:     Ernst Marischka. 

Starring:     Romy Schneider (Empress Elisabeth of Austria called Sissi),  Karlheinz Bhm (Emperor Franz Josef of Austria),  Magda Schneider (Duchess Ludovika of Bavaria),  Gustav Knuth (Duke Max of Bavaria),  Uta Franz (Princess Helene called Nene),  Walter Reyer (Graf Andrassy),  Vilma Degischer (Archduchess Sophie, Franz Josef's mother),  Josef Meinrad (Oberst Bckl),  Senta Wengraf (Grfin Bellegarde),  Erich Nikowitz (Erzherzog Franz-Karl),  Hans Ziegler (Hofrat Dr. Seeburger),  Sonia Sorel (Henriette Mendel),  Klaus Knuth (Prinz Ludwig),  Albert Rueprecht (Erzherzog Ferdinand-Max),  Peter Neusser (Graf Batthyani). 

third of a trilogy about the Empress Elizabeth


Spoiler Warning:

In Hungary a rider on a horse races ahead of a group of riders dropping leaflets to indicate his trail.  Sissi is out front followed closely by the Hungarian Count Andrassy.  They take a wrong fork in the road.  When they realize it they stop for a breather.  They talk about the Hungarian rebel leader Count Batthyani.  He did not come to the ride.  Count Andrassy says the Count's father was executed with thirteen other generals after the suppression of the rebellion.  The Count vowed to never speak to the Emperor or show him any kind of respect.  And he is the head of the strongest party of resistance in the country.  Sissi really wants to talks with the Count and so she and Count Andrassy agree to set up a meeting with the Count at the home of Count Andrassy. 

While walking, a gypsy fortune teller asks Count Andrassy to read his palm.  He doesn't want his palm read but Sissi does.  The gypsy tells her that she will have two more children, one a boy and the other a girl.  When Sissi and her escort leave, the fortune teller tells the kids:  "Poor woman.  I wouldn't want to be her."  Later Sissi runs into a gypsy encampment.  She tries to intervene when she sees a husband spanking his wife and gets water thrown on her by the gypsy wife.  Sissi decides not to intervene again. 

Sophie visits her son and tells him that she is very unhappy.  She has some rather unpleasant news for him.  It's not right, she says, for Sissi to be in Hungary and, on top of that, meeting with Hungarian rebels, such as Count Batthyani.  Moreover, there are reports that Count Andrassy is in love with the Empress.  He sends her flowers every day.  Then Sophie implies the possibility of an affair.  This makes Franz-Joseph a little angry with Sophie.  He knows that his wife is a person of the highest virtue and so he tells Sophie that he will not call her back from Hungary. 

Sissi's mother and sister Nene come to the palace in Vienna to see Sissi.  They are informed that Sissi is in Hungary.  They will stay for awhile anyway. 

Sissi plays with her little girl. 

Sissi's father pays a visit to his eldest child Ludwig, a student in Munich.  Dad wants to stop his son from marrying an actress named Henriette Mendel.  Ludwig tells his father that he can't marry the lady anyway.  He is already married to her  -- two years ago.  Only Nene knew of the marriage and she promised to tell no one.  And Ludwig and Henriette have a little girl.  Dad is a little miffed at Ludwig, but his heart quickly softens when he see his granddaughter. 

Franz-Joseph writes to Sissi asking if she would return to Vienna for a few weeks.  But then he tears up the letter.  Sissi's father arrives at the palace to see his wife and daughter.  He only tells his wife that their son told him he could not marry the actress. 

In Hungary Sissi's escort Major Bockle is in love with a young woman named Margit.  She gets mad at Bockle because she knows that the Major loves the Empress.  The meeting is all arranged between Count Batthyani, except that the Count does not know it.  At a ball at his palace Count Andrassy tells everyone that they have a very important person as their surprise guest:  her Majesty.  A shocked Count Batthyani says immediately that he is leaving.  He and his two colleagues, Counts Czaky and Paralfi, start leaving, but they cannot get out before Sissi arrives.  Now they are stuck.  And Sissi turns on her famous charm.  She deliberately goes to Count Batthyani first and starts talking with him.  She says in such a pleasing way:  "Maybe we can be friends."  And the Count is charmed by her. 

The two fathers/father-in-laws talk at a palace ball, while Franz-Joseph dances with Nene.  Sissi's father wants to ask a favor.  He wants the Emperor to ennoble an actress  -- namely his son's wife Henriette.  Franz-Karl, Franz-Joseph's father, says they can easily make her a baroness.  Franz-Joseph and Nene go out for some fresh air.  He asks her why she has not married.  She confesses that she fell apart following the day of the broken engagement between her and the Emperor in favor of her sister Sissi.  She says she will never love another man like she loved the Emperor. 

At the ball in Hungary Count Andrassy is planning to dance with the Empress, but suddenly Sissi is doubled-over with pain.  She says she has had the pain since the last hunt.  The Count takes her out for some fresh air.  She starts to feel better.  The Count tells her that she is the most beautiful and charming woman that he knows.  He adds that he is undyingly in love with his Empress and has been since the first moment he saw her.  This upsets Sissi and she tells him that she does not want to lose him as a friend and adviser.  The Count says that he cannot cooperate with that idea, that he's helpless in her presence. 

Sissi has the governess tell Major Bockle that they are leaving in the morning for Vienna.  Margit is upset because she tells the Major that he will forget her.  Bockle tries to reassure her. 

In the morning they start the journey back to Vienna.  On the way they stop at an inn.   Bockle checks it out and says there is only one guest, but he will get him to leave the dining area.  Sissi and her small retinue sit down in the dining room.  Bockle goes over to the male guest and asks him to leave.  The man turns around and Bockle sees the face of Franz-Jospeh.  The Major immediately comes to attention.  When he says "Your Majesty" Sissi immediately turns around.  The married couple are very surprised and pleased to see each other.  They both were headed toward each other.  Franz-Joseph asks his wife: "Please don't leave me alone any more.  Stay with me."  Sissi agrees, but she asks from her husband:  "Make a bit more time for me."  He agrees.  Then he tells her that they are going to spend a few weeks in Ischl all by themselves.  Sissi is ecstatic. 

At Sissi's childhood home her mother finds s strange little girl running on the lawn.  She wonders whose child is this.  Mother picks up the child and takes her to the outdoor breakfast table where she asks her husband about the child.  Father says nothing definite.  The child actually belongs to their son Ludwig and his wife Henriette.  The two slowly approach the table and the secret is revealed.   Mother is very surprised and soon accepts Henriette as her daughter-in-law.  To seal the deal father says that Henriette is now the Baroness Wallersee. 

All alone Sissi and Franz-Joseph pick flowers in a meadow.  She runs down the hill to her husband but is doubled-over again with pain. Franz-Joseph is very concerned and decides to take her back immediately to Vienna.  Back in Vienna there are problems with the neighboring countries.  Austria has been isolated since the last war and therefore it is very important that they be very careful in their relations with Italy.  The doctor examining Sissi says that she needs an immediate change of climate to someplace much warmer.  Sophie decides that she will be the one to inform her son.  But as with all her relations dealing with Sissi, she misleads her son on her condition.  What Sissi has is a lung disease but it is not contagious.  Sophie, however, tells her son that it is contagious and he will have to stay away from his wife.  (Sissi, on her way to visit her husband, listens in on the entire conversation while standing a little behind the door well.  She is devastated at what she overhears.)  Sophie says that Sissi cannot be saved.  And since she can't be saved, her son should start thinking about who he should marry next.  Franz-Joseph says:  "I bar you from talking so cruelly, Mama."  He adds that he will never remarry.  Mother leaves by a different door while her son lays his head on his desk and cries.  Sissi slowly approaches him and touches his head ever so slightly.  Her husband raises his head and slowly realizes it is Sissi standing over him.  She is very unhappy to see her husband so unhappy.  She says she will go to another climate and will get healthy again.  She will do everything the doctors tell her to do.

Sissi lays in her night clothes and robe on a lounge chair on the patio in a villa in Madeira.  She looks a little stressed out and depressed over her illness.  When the doctor reports on her condition to her husband, he tells the Emperor that her condition is unchanged.  And what's worse, a heavy depression has set in.  Of course, Sissi misses her family.  She is cheered that she receives flowers and a new gift every day from her husband, but is still depressed.  And then comes a breath of fresh air:  her mother shows up.  And Sissi lights up.  Her mother is just what she needs.  Mom tells her daughter that everyday they will take a walk and will build up her strength as they walk farther distances.  Meanwhile Bockle starts romancing a pretty Portuguese woman.  She volunteers to teach him Portuguese. 

A healthier Sissi wants one day to go Greece.  She has been studying about the country.  Her mother tells her that they will travel to Greece now.  Sissi spirits are buoyed.  Bockle is informed of the move.  He is again distressed about having to leave still another girlfriend.  He says his good-byes to the attractive brunette.  He helps with the journey to Greece. 

The Emperor receives a letter from the Empress.  She is in Corfu.  Franz-Joseph is very happy about the upbeat nature of the letter.  Sissi is in Corfu for three months.  Her Austrian doctor checks her health again and finds her to be healthy.  He tells her:  "It's a miracle!"  An ecstatic Sissi runs to her mother and tells her the good news.  The emperor hears the news from Sophie and is ecstatic.  He wants to go to Greece to meet with her.  His advisers tell him since he is traveling in the area, he should visit Milan and Venice in Italy to improve relations.  The Emperor doesn't really want to do this, but he does it for Austria.  His councilors tells him that Sissi will be able to soothe over any bad feelings in those cities. 

Sissi and her husband are in Milan.  They attend the opera and are shocked to see the strange appearances of the audience.  The aristocracy decided to snub the Emperor and Empress by giving all their tickets to their staff:  cooks, maids, gardeners, coachmen, etc.  They meet nearby the opera to laugh about the rude joke.  There is only one aristocrat in attendance and his job is to observe and report back to his fellow upper class members.  The conductor is in on the scheme.  He strikes up the orchestra and the audience starts singing an Italian song rather than the national anthem of Austria.  But Sissi floors the audience when she claps for their singing.   They are bewildered by this response.  Sissi now turns the tables on the aristocrats.  She goes through with the reception.  All the aristocratic names are called one by one and she greets each one of the staff who are pretending to be their master or mistress.  When the reception is over the spy reports to the aristocrats.  He raves about the beauty and presence of the Empress.  But the aristocrats want to know how upset the Empress and Emperor became.  But they didn't become upset is his very point.  The wealthy ones are disappointed.  The spy even gives a good report of the fake reception.  Now the aristocrats are upset.  They do not like their servants being introduced as them.   

And now it's on to Venice.  A parade of gondolas pass by city buildings.  The Emperor and Empress stand on a large gondola, but there is no one waving from the windows of the buildings.  Sissi told her husband not to go to Venice.  She wanted to save him the humiliation.  The Emperor observes:  "Radetsky was too strict and my brother was too permissive."  They land and get off to start a long  walk on a very red carpet to the city officials that will greet them.  They have to walk accompanied by absolute silence from the crowd assembled there.  The humiliation of it all is broken for Sissi when her daughter starts running toward her.  Grandmother brought the little girl to see her mother.  Sissi starts running to her daughter.  She is so happy to see her daughter that she lavishes embraces and kisses on her.  This breaks the mood of the crowd and a man in the crowd shouts:  "Vive la Mama!" (spelling?)  The crowd cheers the mother Empress.  When Sissi greets the Pope she apologizes for greeting her daughter before him.  But the Pope is completely understanding and cheers Sissi with some kind remarks.  Sissi saves the day again!  Doves are released to mark the occasion. 


Another entertaining part of the trilogy about Sissi.  This time Sissi has to battle life-threatening illness as well as deal with the lies of her mother-in-law Sophie.  But never underestimate the charms of the Empress of the Empire.  Deservedly, the Emperor thanks Heaven for having sent her to him.  Romy Schneider finishes the trilogy with a strong performance.  And I should mention that Josef Meinrad as Major Bckl provides good comic relief in all three parts of the trilogy. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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