Madchen in Uniform (1958):
A German-French co-production helmed by Austro-Hungarian director Geza Von Radvanyi Madchen in Uniform is a remake of the classic black and white 1931 German film by Leontine Sagan. Less impressive and with a text construction slightly altered as to reflect issues the German state was troubled with during the early 1950s Geza Von Radvanyi's remake tells the story of a difficult love affair between a student and a teacher set within the confines of a society held hostage to its own outdated understandings about morality.
The boarding school where Lili Palmer (Fraulein von Bernberg) and Romy Schneider (Manuela) reveal their feelings for each other is indeed the perfect location for this dramatic story. Built upon contrasting themes (love versus odium; acceptance versus suppression) Madchen in Uniform manages to remain both subtle and revealing at the same time, quite an unusual symbiosis considering the Prussian roots of this notable production.
Largely ignored by American distributors (the film was finally released in 1965 in an extremely limited number of metro theaters) most likely due to its provocative ending Madchen in Uniform remains a film with a strikingly unconventional message. While the love story between Fraulein von Bernberg and Manuela remains the focus of attention the resolution which Geza Von Radvanyi's adaptation offers certainly is quite surprising.
Regarded as one of the pinnacles in Romy Schneider's career (strangely even though she went on to work with some of Europe's most renowned filmmakers knowledgeable fans of Romy's work would always look at her early films as her most successful ones) Madchen in Uniform is without a doubt a classic story about doomed love. Told in a manner suggesting plenty of discomfort within the German society, particularly given the relationship the film explores, Madchen in Uniform is undoubtedly one of the jewels in Romy Schneider's glamorous career.
Die Spaziergängerin von Sans-Souci a.k.a The Passerby (1982):
The last film which Romy Scneider did might very well be her most uncharacteristic one as well. Directed by Frenchman Jacques Rouffio The Passerby focuses on the relationship between an aging peace activist (Michell Piccoli as Max Baumstein) and his partner (Romy Schneider as Elsa Wiener) with whom he has a romantic affair. While attending an overseas conference Max Baumstein discovers that a well-known foreign attaché is no other than an abusive Nazi commander from his childish years who is now living a peaceful life under a new identity. Max is deeply disturbed and in an outburst of uncontrolled emotions walks to the embassy where the ex-Nazi works and shoots him in the heart. Then he turns himself to the local authorities. With the news of the tragic event on every TV station in town Elsa heads to the police department where Max is being detained and the two recall their past allowing the viewer to understand the motives leading to Max's decision to commit a crime.
A questionable tale about morality (morality seems to be a prevalent theme for many of the films Romy Schneider did) The Passerby suffers from some noticeable flaws related mainly to the manner in which the story is being told as well as its unconvincing "message". Relying on plenty of clichés particularly in its final act The Passerby is also a film many will find works better as a love story than as a political drama with a heavy social context. The casual-turned-tragic relationship between Romy Schneider and Michell Piccoli however is quickly pushed away and preference is given to a segment of this film I find hugely unsatisfying – the vindictive actions of Max Baumstein.
The Passerby undoubtedly is a production of questionable qualities. Completed at a time when Romy Schneider was undergoing a major crisis in her life (the consistent alcohol abuse also a major part of it) which led to her tragic suicide The Passerby reveals very little from the sweet and innocent looks the Austro-German beauty is remembered for. Here her appearance is that of a woman with plenty on her shoulders and the role she plays is somewhat subdued, hardly the focus of attention.
Twenty four years after Romy's tragic death The Passerby remains a film which her fans often seem to ignore "understanding" that it was simply the end of an era, a film that was a natural extension of the life-long friendship between Michell Piccoli and Romy in which the two actors gave their best. Unfortunately the script to the film does very little to expose how enormously gifted these two actors were (Michell Piccoli still contributing in many European projects) and the final result in my opinion will likely appeal only to those nostalgic about the glorious days of the late German beauty.
Ein Engel auf Erden a.k.a Angel on Wheels (1959):
The second collaboration between Austro-Hungarian director Geza Von Radvanyi (Madchen in Uniform) and Romy Schneider produced a charming romantic comedy about an angel (Romy Schneider) who chooses to protect a beautiful stewardess (also Romy) and consequently helps her win the heart of a man (Henri Vidal) who appears committed to another woman. As the angel and the handsome man find themselves amidst a sea of "trouble" it becomes evident that love is a universal feeling.
Charged with plenty of humor Angel on Wheels offers much of the glamour Hollywood produced films at the time were known for. Shot on location at Cote d'Azur the story reveals beautiful vistas and a generally impressive cinematography. What truly transforms Angel on Wheels from a predictable comedy to a fresh romantic story is the very good acting of the cast which includes some well-known European faces: Michele Mercier (Shoot the Piano Player), Jean Paul-Belmondo (Stavisky), Paulette Dubost (Love and the Free Woman).
While not as hotly-debated as Madchen in Uniform Geza Von Radvanyi's Angel on Wheels is nevertheless a film that highlights Romy's talent in quite a different manner (certainly this would be a good reason for including the film in this commemorative set) – in Angel on Wheels she is less sophisticated yet more energetic and frankly not as demanding with her presence as she is for example in Claude Sautet's Cesar et Rosalie (1972).
Die Unschuldigen mit den schmutzigen Händen a.k.a Innocents With Dirty Hands (1975):
Directed by the master of suspense Claude Chabrol Innocents With Dirty Hands takes us on a journey to beautiful 1975 Saint Tropez where Julie Wormser (Romy Schnedier) lives with her alcohol-addicted husband Louis (Rod Steiger) and handsome lover Jeff Marle (Paolo Giusti). Julie and Jeff decide to get rid of her husband and begin planning his assassination. When the right moment finally arrives Julie hits Louis on the head and lets Jeff take care of the rest. On the following morning Julie finds herself alone without a trace from Jeff or the dead body of her husband Louis.
Built upon a collage of misleading "clues" Innocents With Dirty Hands is very much a classic-Chabrol: plenty of possibilities, complex characters, sophisticated storytelling, great nuances, edgy bourgeois sarcasm. Like so many of the Maestro's previous films the story unfolds as if one is reading a book - gradually all of the missing pieces in this suspenseful puzzle will be aligned so that the audience sees the logic behind the story.
One of the most interesting aspects of this film is the manner in which it was shot. Similar to Angel on Wheels where there is an international cast of actors reciting their lines primarily in their own language Innocents With Dirty Hands was composed with a mix of different languages: French, English, and a bit of Italian. I always assumed that the only "official" version of this film was the French one but upon receiving this set I was surprised to find out that the English "version" was in fact officially approved by Claude Chabrol. Interestingly enough it appears that aside from the obvious lines which Rod Steiger does in English quite a bit of Romy's lines are also in English. Further research reveals that Innocents With Dirty Hands was indeed edited (in English) for some of the European markets and the film could be viewed in either French or English.
Das Wilde Schaf a.k.a Love at the Top (1974):
The most surprising film in this commemorative Romy Schneider set is Michel Deville's Love at the Top (based on the novel by Roger Blondel). A French-Italian production whose main protagonist is no other than the enigmatic Jean-Louis Trintignant (Kieslowski's Rouge) the inclusion of Love On The Top surprises mainly because it could hardly be described as a Romy Schneider film.
The story of Love at the Top evolves around Nicolas Mallet (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a bank clerk who embarks on an unusual journey of deceit, dirty love, and extortion while sharing a true romantic relationship with the beautiful Roberte Groult (Romy Schneider). With the assistance of an extravagant writer who spends most of his time at a low-key bistro on the outskirts of Paris Nicolas will rise to the top earning the "respect" of the wealthiest and most corrupted of Parisians.
Provocative and elegantly-scripted story about one man's social metamorphosis Love at the Top is a film with a powerful message. Unveiling a world of corrupted politicians, wealthy snobs, and men with unlimited power this French-Italian production hardly feels as something that was written 32 years ago. The nuanced storytelling, convincing characters, and flawless acting (even the supporting cast in Love On The Top is magnificent) mixed with a good dose of cynicism rank this film as one of Jean-Louis Trintignant's most successful efforts.
The impeccable pacing of the story which allows the audience to become emotionally involved with Nicolas practically from the moment he appears on screen is crucial for the success of this film. With the variety of characters Nicolas is asked to imitate (in order to move up the social ladder Nicolas must assume different personalities) the true talent of Jean-Louis Trintignant is quickly noticed and he carries the film with an impressive equanimity. More importantly his facial expressions, especially when he juggles between all of the women who become emotionally involved with him, are virtually as imperative as the lines he recites. Add to the mix the beautiful Romy Schneider who plays a bored housewife with an unstable personality and you have a highly entertaining production which is as fresh as it was back in 1974.
How Does the DVD Look?
Madchen in Uniform: Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 the print for this film offers some minor flecks here and there but by large is a major improvement over the previously released German R2 DVD. Contrast is good but not perfect, colors appear largely stable, and edge enhancement is hardly an issue that will bother you. If anything I am a bit unsatisfied with the brightness of this print which appears a bit too harsh for my taste. Aside from that I am fairly satisfied with the rest of the presentation. PAL encoded, Region 2.
Ein Engel auf Erden: Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 but not enhanced for widescreen TVs the print offers a few occasional dirt spots here and there, a few tiny flecks in the opening scenes, but it is nevertheless quite good. Contrast is at a satisfying level, colors are mostly stable (a few times however I noticed a minor shimmering that appeared during the daylight scenes towards the second half of the film) but certainly anamorphic enhancement would have been the preferred option here. Nevertheless I would not hesitate to add this film to my collection given how difficult it is to find it in an English-friendly form. PAL-encoded, Region 2.
Das Wilde Schaf: Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 but not enhanced for widescreen TV's the print provided here is in a rather similar condition to the one described above. Contrast and colors are largely stable and convincing but occasionally I was able to spot some weak areas. It is obvious that the print has been cleaned up substantially but not to the degree of excellence we have come to expect from Criterion and the likes. Once again, I believe that there has been some minor boosting in terms of sharpness which does not bode well with me but it is not an issue that I would be excessively concerned with either. PAL-encoded, Region 2.
Die Unschuldigen mit den schmutzigen Händen: Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 but not enhanced for widescreen TV's this is probably the most problematic transfer in this collection. Before you quickly dismiss it however allow me to point out to you that due to some unknown to me reason the master that has been circulating around European and US distribs is indeed of questionable quality. Clearly some restoration has been performed but not to the extent I would have hoped a Chabrol film would look like. With this said, contrast is decent but not great, colors are rather subdued (which is a trademark for Chabrol's early films) and the print does seem plagued with a few sporadic flecks here and there. All things considered however it does look lightly better than the R1 release by Pathfinder. PAL-encoded, Region 2.
Die Spaziergängerin von Sans-Souci: Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's this print is the best looking of all. With the advantages anamorphic enhancement allows the film looks stable, with good colors, very good contrast, and only a minimal degree of edge enhancement which mostly tolerable. I did not notice a few tiny dirt specks here and there but most definitely these should be of any concern to you. Overall, I am very happy with the manner this film has been treated here. PAL-encoded, Region 2.
How Does the DVD Sound and Extras:
Madchen in Uniform: Presented with its original German mono track and optional German, Dutch, and English subtitles the audio mix is of excellent quality. The music is well separated from the dialog, the speech is cleared from any issues that might have plagued the print prior to restoration. The translation is excellent and I did not notice any grammar mistakes. There are two extras provided on this set: An Interview with producer Artur Brauner (in German with English subtitles) where ha talks about film and Romy's involvement with the project recalling the days of the film shoot. Next, there is a gallery of excellent stills (presented as a slide show) of Romy Schneider.
Ein Engel auf Erden: The film is presented with its original German mono track and optional English, German, and Dutch subtitles. Once again there are no issues with the audio quality and most certainly I did not notice any audio drop outs that needed to be reported. Very good presentation! The English translation is of excellent quality (I only noticed one mistake where instead of "women" the text indicated " woman"). The only extra material here is another short interview with film producer Artur Brauner and yet another slide show of Romy Schneider's stills.
Das Wilde Schaf: The film is presented with three different language tracks: the original French mono track, and English dub, and a German dub as well. The quality is very good and dialog is very easy to follow. In addition, there are optional German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, and Danish subtitles. In terms of extras what we have here are filmographies, biographies, and Marc Salmon's short film " La Culotte d'une Zouave" which is in French only without any subtitle options.
Die Unschuldigen mit den schmutzigen Händen: There are three different audio options here: German, French (original), and English (original) tracks. The only optional subtitles provided are German. If you choose the English version you would get what I think is an equally impressive presentation compared to the French audio as during the English mix you get to hear Rod Steiger's voice as well as Romy's lines she speaks in English (see review above for further clarification). The only extras on this DVD are the original trailer for the film plus a small section of biographies and filmographies for the main cast.
Die Spaziergängerin von Sans-Souci: The film is presented with a DD 2.0 French (original) audio track as well as a German dub. Optional English, German, and Dutch subtitles are provided as the translation for the English sub-text is excellent. The audio is of excellent quality and I did not hear anything that could be of any concern to you. The only extras provided on this DVD are yet another interview (different segment) with film producer Artur Brauner in which he deconstructs the film and Romy's contribution to it as well as a slide show with Romy Schneider stills.
Last but not least this deluxe DVD set comes with a massive 20-page booklet with numerous extracts from the films herein reviewed (stills, text supporting the presentation, etc) and a high-quality deluxe photo of Romy Schneider (a collector's item) which is meant for framing.
I am aware that this set will be of interest mainly to serious film buffs who would wonder whether or not it is worth owning the Romy Schnedier collection. My quick answer to you is YES this is a marvelous set and despite some minor issues that become obvious with the video presentation I can hardly think of a reason why you would not want to add it to your libraries. I doubt it Romy Schneider will be treated with any such respect in North America any time soon and I am most excited to now have this elegant set with me (indeed, the quality of the set in terms of design and cover work(s) is magnificent). For what is worth the few other films that are available in Europe (most notably Sautet's MADO) are not English-friendly and this is just an added bonus that we, English-speakers, can actually benefit from the German distrib's efforts to celebrate one of Europe's most beautiful actresses. RECOMMENDED.