The Song of Night

Original Title: Das Lied einer Nacht. Musical 1932; 85 min.; Director: Anatole Litvak; Cast: Jan Kiepura, Magda Schneider, Fritz Schulz, Otto Wallburg, Ida Wüst, Margo Lion, Julius Falkenstein; Cine-Allianz-Klangfilm.

A celebrated singer evades his overzealous manager, allowing a young man to assume his role while posing as his supposed secretary for a few days of respite. When the deception is eventually revealed, a young girl, who has come to love the “secretary,” bears no ill will towards the singer, while the imposter is arrested as a wanted marriage swindler.

Today marks the grand performance of the renowned “Great Ferraro”! With the utterance of this enchanting name, theaters and concert halls around the world fill to the brim. Like a triumphant conqueror, he traverses from one place to another, illuminating the sky like a comet on its path, basking in applause and adoration from the audience, revered by women, and envied by countless souls who perceive him as fortunate.

But who is he truly? In reality, he is a destitute and harassed individual, enslaved by his dazzling contracts, ceaselessly racing from hotel to car, from car to express train, and back again to hotel, theater, express train, and so forth. His female manager, resembling a formidable dragon, lies in wait, granting him no respite. The precious treasure in his vocal cords must be swiftly transformed into wealth. “Tempo, tempo, tempo!”—this is the principle by which this lady abides, tirelessly pressing Ferraro like a relentless fury, harnessing her alarming energy. Even the great man himself, the renowned singer, trembles before his female jailer, and not even his loyal servant Balthasar can withstand the relentless tempo. Cunning is the only recourse, ponders Ferraro, who yearns for a day of respite, to be a mere human amidst humans, where the sun shines outside and flowers bloom…

Ferraro manages to outsmart the dragon, while the fugitive escapes in one direction as the dragon pursues in the other, eluding his own fame without carrying any baggage. Finally alone and liberated, Ferraro spreads his arms joyfully, exuberantly singing with all his heart. His melodies captivate a cheerful gentleman, one of those who swiftly becomes renowned. This man introduces himself as Koretzky. Engaging in innocent conversation over wine, the singer unwittingly reveals everything to Koretzky.

As they arrive at an elegant hotel, news has already spread that the great Ferraro is residing in the resort town, prompting the spa director to approach with a festive program. Mistaking Koretzky for the singer and considering Koretzky’s valid reasons for concealing his true identity, Ferraro implores him with pleading eyes, to which Koretzky, unable to refuse, complies. Ferraro promptly slips away while Koretzky relishes the adulation bestowed upon him by the resort. Liberated for the second time and unburdened by constraints, Ferraro glides through the picturesque countryside in his car, basking in the radiant sun and embracing the beauty of the world. The only missing piece is a romantic adventure, which promptly presents itself—a charming young woman drives alone along his path in her self-driven vehicle. The singer thinks, “Give chase!”, relishing the opportunity to indulge in a delightful folly. A fortuitous breakdown creates the perfect connection, and with triumph, the gallant knight pulls the lady along behind him on a tow rope. What an enchanting adventure! But who could this lovely stranger be? He turns around, only to find the rope—the beautiful bird has flown away!

The hotel is abuzz with activity, for the great singer, Ferraro, has arrived. Koretzky revels in the adulation while Ferraro assumes the role of his secretary. However, Koretzky spots someone he shouldn’t have, and the ground becomes too hot for him to handle. Seeking refuge, he implores the spa director to allow him to reside in his villa. Here, Ferraro, still masquerading as the singer’s secretary, encounters his romantic adventure once more—the charming driver is Mathilde, the spa director’s daughter. Festivities ensue, and Ferraro is called upon to sing. Koretzky finds himself in a predicament, claiming to have lost his voice. However, he cannot disappoint the dear girl by refusing her request for a song. From his hiding place, Ferraro audibly but invisibly lends his assistance. Mathilde, however, sees through the deception, and their idyllic moment is temporarily disrupted by a slap. While Ferraro redirects the slap towards Koretzky, it proves futile, as the police intervene. Koretzky, sought after for his fraudulent marriages, is arrested in Ferraro’s stead, while the real Koretzky promptly disappears once again. The scandal reaches its peak!

Ferraro stands before the court, accused of being a marriage swindler. In order to prove his true identity as a singer, he must sing. The opera personnel from the resort serve as the jury, and Ferraro’s resounding tones fill the air magnificently. Enchantment befalls the court, the spectators, and his colleagues. Triumphant, he is released. Later, at the opera house, where the distinguished guest is performing, his art triumphs over Mathilde’s dark plans for revenge. As the police finally apprehend the reemerged real Koretzky, Ferraro can finally embrace the beautiful fugitive from the countryside, holding her firmly in his arms.

Walter Jerven’s review in Film Kurier No. 124 (May 28, 1932)
One is always intrigued to see how this film will unfold! It’s not something you can often say about a film, but each continuation of the captivating scenes in this particular movie develops in unexpected ways. These surprises are accompanied by a surprising logical consistency of the plot, which doesn’t revolve solely around the singing star. The film doesn’t sacrifice events and supporting actors to solely highlight the star. In this film, featuring the singer Kiepura for whom it was made, every other character is equally authentic and genuine. They are not overshadowed while the star flaunts tunes and love songs.

The audience enthusiastically welcomes this human and artistic completeness of each individual, responding with spontaneous ever-growing applause accompanying entire scenes of the film. The theater is filled with an extraordinary atmosphere right from the beginning, loosening up even the most reserved viewers. Smiling faces can be seen everywhere as the power of music is symbolized by compelling episodes in domestic and business life, even leading to someone emptying a safe while listening to those tunes.

Margo Lion receives the first applause as the tenor’s manager when she resolutely arranges an immediate tour and directs the tenor to the train station with the impetuous rhythm of her song “Tempo.” A philosophical realization tempts the tenor Ferraro, played gracefully by Kiepura, to be less accommodating to the manager’s arrangements. The portrayal of the female manager, playfully depicted by the witty authors I. v. Cube and A. Joseph, is a good idea. In her overzealous rush, she doesn’t let anyone else get a word in edgewise when they try to approach the tenor. Everyone shouts as she interrupts the tax official, who only manages to say, “I’m from the…!” To which she interrupts, “I already know, from the Stockholm Opera!” She unsuspectingly lists the fees from a completed tour, which the officer seizes upon.

Ferraro-Kiepura switches trains, leaving behind luggage and manager, and heads south. He becomes independent and experiences an encounter with Koretzky, a lively young man played by Fritz Schulz, who continues to impersonate the tenor in the excited town on the shores of an upper Italian lake. These mistaken identity scenes are full of wit, with Ida Wüst and Otto Wallburg’s duo—a pair of spa directors competing for the art and favor of the false Ferraro—while the real one strolls and sings, unrecognized in the crowd, while the imposter pretends to have a cold. Wallburg is wildly agitated when he discovers his mistake and realizes that he has subjected himself to the expenses of emotional and physical strain because of the fake star. But Ferraro rehabilitates him and, in the end, sings the great and magnificent aria of Rudolf in La Bohème, bringing E.T.A. Hoffmann’s words “Where language ends, music begins” to a radiant triumph.

Delightful is the visual representation of the cessation of language, particularly the silence of Magda Schneider, the spa director’s daughter, who believes Ferraro has fooled her with his cunning and wants to take revenge by riling up a group of young girls. They are supposed to make noise when Ferraro finishes singing, but they forget their cues and applaud instead!

Kiepura is generous with the gold of his voice in this film, which more than compensates for watching it. He also lavishes the gold of his heart, as it is endearing, lovely, and lovable to see how he interacts with children, allowing himself to be carried away by their innocence. For the first time, one feels a harmonious composition of plot, sound, and landscape, of events and moods. It’s gracefully intertwined with musical sensitivity by the director Anatole Litvak. It’s not just the atmospheric mood that has been captured; the distinctive landscape has been studied and not simply brought in for its picturesque appeal. It’s wonderful how individual situational moods fade into the landscape, how the plot’s crescendos and decrescendos are accentuated by shores, mountains, and clouds, and how the motifs of the natural backdrop keep pace with Kiepura’s varied songs—from folk tunes to popular melodies, to Verdi and Puccini, to expansive opera arias. Yet, it doesn’t become a mere musical nature painting; it remains a film that serves and benefits the advancement of the sound film.

The marvelous unity of image and setting, accomplished by cinematographers Fritz Arno Wagner and Robert Baberske, applies to the indoor scenes as well, skillfully constructed by Werner Schlichting. The sound, handled by H. Fritzsching, adds to the overall experience. Spoliansky provides the musical arrangement, conducted by Schmidt-Gentner, and the original melodies, including the graceful line of the main song, “Heute Nacht oder nie”!

At the end of the film, the stars were lauded by numerous curtain calls. Magda Schneider and Kiepura appeared, and Kiepura sang again and again. The Gloria Palast and all the theaters playing this film have a long-run sensation on their hands!