Sissi (1955)

 

 

 

Director:  Ernst Marischka.

Starring:  Romy Schneider (Princess Elisabeth in Bavaria, later Kaiserin Elisabeth aka Sissi), Karlheinz Bhm (Kaiser Franz Joseph), Magda Schneider (Duchess Ludovika in Bayern aka Vickie), Uta Franz (Princess Helene in Bayern aka Nene), Gustav Knuth (Duke Max in Bavaria), Vilma Degischer (Archduchess Sophie, Franz Josef's mother), Josef Meinrad (Gendarmerie-Major Bckl), Erich Nikowitz (Archduke Franz Karl), Karl Fochler (Graf Grnne), Franz Bheim (Johann Petzmacher), Peter Weck (Archduke Carl-Ludwig), Hilde Wagener (Baronin Wulffen), Egon von Jordan (Graf Arco, Prime Minister), Richard Eybner (Postmeister von Ischl), Otto Treler (Feldmaerschall Radetzky).

first of a trilogy about the Austrian princess Elizabeth (a.k.a., Sissi) who married Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

 Duke Max in Bavaria is fishing.  When he hooks a fish all his many children run down the hill to see.  Little Gackl holds the pole, but the fish pulls him into the water. The fish gets away.  Back in the house the whole family sits for dinner.  But where's Sissi (Princess Elisabeth)?  A guest named Johann Petzmacher comes in.  He tells Maxl of the news of an assassination attempt on the Emperor.  Her Imperial Highness the Archduchess Sophie (the sister of Max's wife Duchess Ludovika in Bavaria) wants her son Franzl, the Emperor, to marry.  The very personable Sissi is out riding.  She finally arrives.  It is obvious that her father is very proud of her.   

An invitation to Emperor Franz Joseph's birthday is received by the family. Aunt Sophie wants her son to meet her niece Nene (Helene).  Sophie has her eye on Nene as the future Empress of Austria-Hungary.  Mother (Ludovika) wants her daughter to be the empress and she and Nene are very happy about the invitation.  To deceive her husband about the nature of the trip, Ludovika decides to take Sissi along with them.  Sissi is a bit wild and if she goes with her mother, father will think the trip is not that important. 

Sophie tells her son Franz Joseph about cousin Nene being his wife. Franz Joseph would prefer to marry a woman of his own selection, but he goes along with mother for now at least.  A minister wants the Emperor to sign the orders of execution for eight rebels involved in the Prague Uprising.  Franz Joseph insists that he will have to read over the orders before he signs them. 

Sissi likes Franz Joseph's brother Archduke Carl-Ludwig. 

Major Boeckl becomes the new body guard for the Emperor.  Mother and her daughters Helene and Elisabeth arrive at the meeting place, Ischl, ahead of Sophie.  Aunt Sophie arrives with Carl-Ludwig.  Sophie does not approve of Sissi and wants her far from the guests at the birthday party.  Mother actually locks Sissi in a room to keep her out of the way.  The resourceful Sissi just opens the window of her room and climbs down a lattice.  She wants to telegraph her father to come to Ischl.  Boeckl is very suspicious of this young woman who escaped via a second floor window.  He suspects that she may be mixed up with the dangerous nihilists.  He watches Sissi as she goes into the telegraph office.  She has no money with her so she leaves as collateral for future payment a gold ring.  When she leaves to go fishing, Boeckl goes into the telegraph office and wants to know everything about the telegraph.  The telegraph owner finds him to be very much a pest.  Boeckl even grabs the gold ring from the telegraph operator, saying:  "Probably stolen."

Franz Joseph travels in an open coach on his way to Ischl.  Sissi is fly-fishing near the road.  As the Emperor's coach stops to check-out a bag on the road (actually Sissi's bag to hold her fishing rod), she accidentally hooks Franz Joseph by his uniform.  She quickly rushes to the emperor to free him.  She uses a knife to cut the fishing line.  Boeckl sees this and thinks she is attacking the Emperor.  He rushes to the couple before they tell him that there is no danger.  Franz Joseph does not recognize her because the last time he saw her she was just a kid.  The Emperor is captivated by her beauty and her upbeat attitude about life.  He invites her to an evening hunt.  Franz Joseph tells his adjutant general to take the coach on to Ischl and tell everyone that he is delayed.  He walks with Sissi with Boeckl lurking nearby.  The Emperor tells Sissi to meet him at his hunting reserve at 5 p.m. at Deer Bridge.   Sisis whispers to Franz Joseph to engage Boeckl in conversation so she can get away from him.  The Emperor does so.  But then he realizes that he never asked the name and address of the young lady.  So he sends Boeckl after her to ask her.  (Boeckl never actually catches up with her.)

Sissi climbs back up the lattice and enters her room via the window.  Her mother thought she was sound asleep so never actually opened the door to check on her.  Mother brings Sissi out to see Aunt Sophie and Nene again.  Dad is back home bowling with his many drinking buddies.  He has no desire to go to Ischl. 

Franz Joseph arrives.  He is not all that enthused about seeing Nene again.  He remembers her as being somewhat reserved in her personality.  Franz Joseph begs off to go hunting.  His mother is shocked, but he insists.  He meets Sissi at the bridge.  Sissi is very much a nature girl and she does not want to see any deer killed.  Franz Joseph aims his rifle at a huge stag, but just as he is about to pull the trigger, Sissi deliberately sneezes scaring the stag away and spoiling the shot.  Franz Joseph is a little upset but will forgive this charming creature of just about any offense.  Sissi brought a small string-instrument like a dulcimer that she plays for the Emperor.  After she plays Franz Joseph asks her to tell him all about herself.  Not wanting him to know her true identity, she says her name is Liesl.  What else she tells him is vague enough so that he will not be able to tell that she is his cousin.  Franz Joseph tells her that he is to be engaged this day to his cousin Helene.  This shocks and crushes Sissi.  She quickly excuses herself and runs away much to the disappointment of the Emperor.

The birthday party is one lady short, so Sissi is now invited.  But now she does not want to go.  She won't tell her mother or sister why.  Franz Joseph busily greets his guests when they are formally announced.  The Queen of Prussia is announced followed by the Queen of Saxony (both aunts of Sissi and Helene).  Then mother and Helene are introduced.  And finally Sissi is introduced as Princess Elisabeth in Bavaria.  Franz Joseph recognizes her and lets her know it.  He then has to take Helene to the huge circular table for dinner. 

Sissi dances with Carl-Ludwig.  Franz Joseph watches her.  The news of the day is of the unrest in Hungary, but no one lets this interfere with the party.  Aunt Sophie is so supremely confident that she will get her way that she absolutely assures her sister and Helene of this.  But when she speaks with her son again he tells her about Sissi.  His mother scoffs at the very idea of that impudent girl being Empress.  After all she is barely 16.  But the Emperor insists that it is either Sissi or no one.  This forces mother to speak with her young niece in private.  When she talks with Sissi she explains that her son wants her or no one.  She asks if Sissi loves him; yes. Then she talks about Sissi performing the many formal duties of being Empress.  This scares the down-to-earth Sissi and she tells her aunt that she does not want to be empress.  She says she is incredibly happy being at home with her father.  This rejection shocks and insults Aunt Sophie and she tells Sissi about how lucky she would be to be Empress. 

Aunt Sophie speaks with her sister (Sissi's mother) about the "humiliation" she suffered because of Sissi.  Sissi's mother asks her sister not be be angry with Sissi.  After all, she is only 16.  Helene learns of the situation and is so upset that she leaves the party.  Mother feels bad for Nene, but Aunt Sophie says that she herself should be the one to be pitied for she has to make a princess out of a country girl. 

Back at home Sissi explains that she cannot be happy until Nene stops being unhappy.  She will not be happy until Nene forgives her and comes back home.  An official visitor from the court, Count Arco, arrives with a message for Sissi's father, who is famous for his not following court etiquette.  First, he is congratulated on the upcoming marriage of his daughter.  But second, and more importantly, he is informed that he will have to behave himself..  He is "advised" to lead a more moderate life.  His wife comes to his defense, which this makes dad very happy with her.  They both agree that things will remain the same. 

Sissi still mopes around in the garden.  But one day Nene arrives.  And she brings with her Prince Thurn und Taxis who she is thinking of marrying.  Sissi is finally admitting to her mother that she is scared of Aunt Sophie and of the very ceremonial court.  After greeting her mother, Nene runs to Sissi.  And Sissi runs to her.  They meet and embrace each other.  Nene tells her sister that she is very happy.  And now Sissi can be happy too. 

Sissi travels by boat on the Danube.  It is almost as if she were the Queen of Homecoming on a float in the parade.  She waves to the large crowds on the river banks that have come out to greet her on her way to the palace.  When Sissi arrives her future mother-in-law is a little tough on her.  She browbeats Sissi a bit while she explains her imperial duties to her.  Franz Joseph intervenes to save Sissi.  He compliments his mother, but also Sissi, in such a courteous and pleasant way that Sophie agrees to give Sissi the traditional kiss on the forehead.  Now mother seems a little more pleasant to Sissi. 

Sissi rides in a carriage on her way to be married.  The people are very happy and gaily greet her as her coach passes by.  She marries Franz Joseph in a huge cathedral. 

 

Entertaining movie.  It's like your were watching the story of Cinderella.  Here is this wonderfully perky young lady of 16 who is too wild to go to the ball (Franz Joseph's birthday party).  And she has to defer to her sister Helene in the matter of marriage to the handsome Emperor.  The Emperor meets her by accident and starts to fall in love with Sissi, but when she is told that he will become engaged to Helene, Sissi runs away without the Emperor knowing her name or address.  He wants to pursue her, but he doesn't know where she is to be found.  Sound familiar?  You learn a little history by the lines here and there about the political events of the day.  Maybe it's too pleasant a way to learn a little history.  My wife and I liked all the performances, but Romy Schneider as Princess Elisabeth in Bavaria was especially good.  Her face just seemed to shine with glee. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

1830  -- birth of the future Emperor of Austria Franz Joseph.  He had three younger brothers:  the future Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian (born 1832, the future Emperor Maximilian of Mexico); Archduke Karl Ludwig (born 1833), and Archduke Ludwig Viktor (born 1842).

1835-1848 Ferdinand I (1793 - 1875) of the Habsburg Dynasty; he abdicated.

1848  -- the resignation of the Chancellor Prince Metternich during the Revolutions of 1848.  Young Archduke Franz Joseph, who was expected to soon succeed his uncle on the throne, was appointed Governor of Bohemia. 

1848 (April 29)  --  Franz Joseph sent to the Italian front in Italy, joining Field Marshal Radetzky. 

1848  (May 5)  --  he fought at Santa Lucia.  The family flees revolutionary Vienna for Innsbruck (in the Tyrol). 

1848 (mid-June)  --  he joins the family in Innsbruck.  There he meets his future wife, his cousin Elizabeth, Duchess in Bavaria, who at the time was only 10 years old. 

1848 (late July)  -- victory over the Italians at Custoza and the family returns to Vienna.

1848 (September)  ---  feeling unsafe again, the family moves to Moravia. 

1848 (December 2)-1916 Franz Joseph I (1830 - 1916); crowned after his uncle abdicated. 

1848-1916  --  Franz Joseph, King of Bohemia.

1849  --  military campaigns against the rebellious Hungarians.  Other campaigns in Italy (in March). 

1849 (late summer)  --  with the help of the Russians, Hungary is put down. 

1849  --  Franz Joseph suspends the 1849 constitution for absolutist centralism.

1853 (February 18) the Emperor survives an assassination attempt by Hungarian nationalist Jnos Libnyi.

1854 (April 24)   --  marries his mother's sister's daughter Elisabeth (aka, Sissi).  His domineering mother Sophie wanted him to marry her sister Ludovika's eldest daughter, Helene ("Nen").  The Emperor, however fell in love with Nene's sister, 16 year-old Elisabeth.  He insisted on marrying her instead. Sophie finally acquiesced.

The couple were not happy.  Sisi never really adapted to the court, argued with the Royal Family and lost her first daughter Sophie died as an infant.

1850s --  the Crimean War and break-up with Russia.

1855  -- birth of Archduchess Sophie of Austria to Elisabeth.

1856  -- birth of Archduchess Gisella of Austria (d. 1932)

1857  --  at two years of age, death of Archduchess Sophie of Austria.   

1858  --  birth of crown prince Rudolf (d. 1889). 

1859  --  Austro-Sardinian War against armies of the House of Savoy and Napoleon III.

1860 --  Elisabeth contracted a lung-disease (which was thought to be psychosomatic). She spent the winter in Madeira.  She went back to Vienna, fell ill again and stayed in Korfu. 

1866  --  setbacks in the Austro-Prussian War.

1867  --  achievement of Elisabeth's only political goal  --  she and her husband were crowned King and Queen of Hungary.

1867  -- as a  result of the loss in the 1866 war, Austrian-Hungarian Dualism established. 

1868  -- birth of Archduchess Marie Valerie of Austria (d. 1924) to Elisabeth.  Elisabeth's mother-in-law Sophie raised the child.  Marriage damaged by erratic behavior of Sissi.  Nevertheless, she was an icon and a sensation wherever she went.

1889  --  her only son, Crown Prince Rudolf died by suicide in the infamous Mayerling episode with his young mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera.  Franz Ferdinand, the eldest son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria, is named to be the crown prince after his uncle Franz Joseph. 

1898  --  Empress Elisabeth assassinated by an Italian anarchist as she walked on the promenade at Lake Geneva.  It is said that the Emperor never fully recovered from this. 

1914 the heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, assassinated. The beginning of what became World War I.

1916-1918 Charles I (1887 - 1922); he was deposed for the Republic of Austria.

1918-1938 the Republic of Austria.

 

 

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