The Tsar’s Diamond

Original Title: Der Orlow. (Der Diamant des Zaren.) Musical 1932; 88 min.; Director: Max Neufeld; Cast: Liane Haid, Iván Petrovich, Max Gülstorff, Viktor de Kowa, Kurt Lilien, Kurt Fuß, Eugen Neufeld, Gregori Chmara, Lydia Potechina, Alexa von Porembsky; Sokal-Klangfilm.

Nadja Nadjakowska, a renowned cabaret star, finds herself enamored with a mechanic working at an automobile factory. However, the factory’s director also vies for her affection. Despite facing the threat of fake policemen who aim to arrest him due to his possession of Orlow, Nadja remains devoted to her love interest. In a surprising twist, he unveils his true identity as a Russian grand duke.

In the Rosch & Roller automobile factory, there works a mechanic named Doroschinsky. His exceptional talent for singing Russian folk songs catches the eye of the stunning Nadja, a fellow Russian who, like him, has left her homeland after the revolution. Nadja, a highly popular cabaret singer, becomes the object of affection for the factory’s directors, Rosch & Roller, who not only sell her a luxurious car but also compete for her attention. However, Nadja’s heart belongs solely to Doroschinsky, who exudes a captivating aura of mystery. Although Doroschinsky harbors feelings for her as well, he remains uncertain about Nadja’s emotions. Their paths often intersect at a charming wine bar, a gathering place for emigrants, where they revel in singing, drinking, and dancing to the melodious tunes of the balalaika, reminiscent of their homeland. Nadja frequents this place, eagerly seeking Doroschinsky’s company, as he senses the love she holds for him, filling him with immense happiness.

But who is Doroschinsky, truly? He is none other than Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich, a fact known only to Roller, who had spent time with him in Paris before the war and now finds himself entrusted with his friend’s secret once more. Despite his noble lineage, Doroschinsky is impoverished, a burden that weighs heavily on him since meeting Nadja. He would have gladly showered her with the wealth of the entire world. In a bid to prove his devotion, Doroschinsky decides to sell his only possession, the Orlow, a colossal diamond rightfully inherited by him, once the crown jewel adorning the Tsar’s scepter. Until now, he hesitated to part with the stone out of respect for his family and tradition. However, his love for Nadja compels him to cast aside all reservations. Roller assumes the task of selling the Orlow and seizes the opportunity to create a sensational story surrounding the gem’s reappearance, which had been lost without a trace. The newspapers splash headlines featuring Roller’s picture, adding to the intrigue.

Amidst the Orlow affair, wild speculations arise regarding its rightful owner, yet even Rosch fails to pry the truth from his business partner. Nonetheless, Rosch concocts a new plan, intending to cure Nadja of her romantic infatuation with the humble worker. He invites Doroschinsky to a gathering attended by Nadja, envisioning that the mechanic’s behavior in high society would be so improper that it would disillusion her. Unfortunately for Rosch, his plan backfires. Doroschinsky appears in an elegant tailcoat, displaying impeccable manners. To Nadja’s fascination, he proudly dons the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Andrew on his chest, further deepening her intrigue and captivation.

Meanwhile, a sensational incident unfolds. Roller finds himself interrogated by the criminal police concerning the Orlow, introduced to a man who claims to be the true Grand Duke and rightful owner of the diamond. Roller, now genuinely convinced that he has fallen victim to a swindler, begins to doubt. The police commissioners, along with the supposed Grand Duke, head to Rosch’s villa to apprehend Doroschinsky, who is in the midst of passionately declaring his love to Nadja. Sensing the impending threat, Doroschinsky takes a daring leap, escaping through the window. Nadja, now aware of her beloved’s true identity as an imposter, is devastated as her world crumbles before her eyes.

Meanwhile, in a foolish move, Roller hands over the precious diamond to the supposed Grand Duke. Unbeknownst to him, this “Grand Duke” is, in fact, a fraudster planning to flee with his accomplices, the fake police commissioners, as soon as he acquires the diamond. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the truth is unveiled, revealing Doroschinsky as the legitimate heir to the throne. Nadja realizes that her love was not bestowed upon an unworthy person, and Rosch’s chances with her dissipate. In consolation, Roller remarks, “A battle with Russia always ends badly—just ask a certain Napoleon who once made a fool of himself.”

Georg Herzberg’s review in Film Kurier No. 282 (November 30, 1932)
The often criticized operetta genre consistently proves that it has a valid reason for its existence and that various missteps should not be generalized. In the case of the film adaptation of this operetta by Ernst Marischka and Bruno Granichstädten, which had already served as a grateful subject for a silent film, it can be confidently stated that both the producer and the audience can find satisfaction in it.

Under Sokal’s production leadership, the somewhat sentimental pathos that clung to the stage version was skillfully removed from the material. The entire production was expertly “de-operettaed,” with the authors—responsible for both the stage and the sound film—commendably modernizing their own creation with self-awareness.

Credit for the refreshing and pleasant atmosphere of the film also goes to the visually adept director Max Neufeld, who successfully incorporates visual and auditory surprises. From someone starting to gargle, only to transition to a whistling factory siren in the next shot, to an underworld shootout that initially sounds terrifying as a sound backdrop but is revealed on screen as harmless carnival slapstick, there are numerous clever touches throughout.

Naturally, there is singing, dancing, balalaika playing, and a touch of homesickness, as not all operetta elements could be completely eliminated. However, Bruno Granichstädten’s musical contributions are enjoyable in measured doses, and Paul Dessau deserves credit for the musical-technical aspects.

The performances greatly contribute to the film’s success. Iwan Petrovich, as the retired Grand Duke, infuses his character with humor, finding solace in the things that cannot be changed. He even delivers a few surprisingly democratic lines, providing ample opportunities to display his likable charm.

Once again, Liane Haid deserves compliments for her enchanting appearance and her tasteful singing, speaking, and attire. She is a star of considerable stature.

Viktor de Kowa demonstrates a talent for parody, while Max Gülstorff skillfully portrays the tragic humor of an unsuccessful lover.

Other notable performances include Grigori Chmara, Oskar Sabo (who is very funny), Kurt Lilien, Kurt Fuß, Eugen Neufeld, Alexa von Poremsky, and a reunion with Lydia Potechina.

Otto Kanturek and Bruno Timm deliver brilliant cinematography, while Otto Hunte and Karl Weber create atmospheric sets. Walter Ruhland’s sound is excellent, as is Ostermayr’s editing.

(Quick side note: Where are new cars with a speed of 150 km/h tested?)

The audience displayed great enthusiasm, applauding persistently in both theaters, giving rise to the justified hope that theater owners will experience strong box office sales and satisfied customers with this Aafa film.