William Powell chats at the end of this production to talk about poor old Emperor Franz Josef – his beautiful wife died years before he did, his brother Max was killed in Mexico by a firing squad, one son was assassinated in Sarajevo, another killed himself in Mayerling in a suicide pact with his mistress. All incidents have been dramatised many times – this is a version of the Mayerling incident. Although this was the Austrian-Hungary equivalent of the JFK assassination (i.e. people loved to talk about “what really happened”, coming up with many conspiracy theories), this treats the story straight forward: married man falls in love with young girl. He shoots her then kills himself.
Powell plays the dim, sulky Prince Rudolph very well; Janet Gaynor is less effective as his doomed young lover – she plays the part kind of like Debbie Reynolds/Sandra Dee. The character of Rudolph’s wife is barely featured, presumably to downplay the fact it’s about an adulterous couple. Still, it’s a great story and can’t help be moving. (NB This was a rare Lux film adapted from a French movie rather than a Hollywood one – to wit, the 1937 French hit with Charles Boyer.)
(NNB Just thinking about it – did the fate of Prince Rudolph prompt Edward VIII – another famous Royal sook totally unsuited to his calling – to abdicate?)