Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Sissi (1955)

Sissi, released in 1955 and directed by Ernst Marischka, was the most famous and most successful entry in the heimatfilm genre.

Sissi made sixteen-year-old Romy Schneider a major star. The male lead is Karlheinz Böhm, best-known to English-speaking audiences as the star of Michael Powell’s notorious Peeping Tom.

The heimatfilm (or homeland film) was an incredibly popular film genre in West Germany and Austria in the 1950s. It’s a genre that has for decades been despised by German film scholars and critics and it’s a genre that was passionately loathed by the intellectuals who supported the so-called New German Cinema that emerged in the 60s. To them it represented everything they hated about the German film industry of the 1950s.

Much of this loathing was simply intellectual snobbery. Intellectuals tend to be enraged by the kinds of movies that audiences actually enjoy. In the case of the heimatfilm there was also the fact that this was a genre aimed very much at a female audience. The condescension with which critics and film scholars regarded Hollywood “women’s pictures” was mirrored by a similar condescension in Germany towards movies such as the heimatfilm.

Heimatfilms were a mixture of romantic melodrama and comedy and were determinedly optimistic in tone. They were lavish productions with lots of location shooting in picturesque countryside and they looked gorgeous.

tells the story of the budding romance between Bavarian Duchess Elisabeth (known as Sissi) and the young Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph. The movie turns the story into a kind of fairytale romance. In reality Sissi’s life (she was actually nicknamed Sisi rather than Sissi) was somewhat tragic and the marriage was a long way from a fairytale romance. But this is the world of the movies, in which real life plays no part.

As the movie opens Duchess Ludovika is hoping to marry her daughter Helene (known as Nene) to the handsome young Emperor Franz Joseph. But it is Nene’s high-spirited kid sister Sissi (Romy Schneider) who catches the emperor’s eye. It seems hopeless since the Emperor’s mother, the Archduchess Sophie, has decided he’s going to marry Nene. The young emperor usually does what his mother tells him to do, but this time things might be different. He has fallen head-over-heels in love with Sissi. He really is determined to marry her.

That’s about all there is to the plot. I’s just a matter of whether Franz Joseph can overcome the obstacles that his mother will put in his way.

His mother does not approve of Sissi, considering her to be uncouth, headstrong and rebellious. She is of course all of those things.

The story plays out like a fairy tale. A handsome emperor and a beautiful spirited princess in love, having to battle the emperor’s imperious and rather scary mother who is determined to thwart their romance and with the beautiful princess’s sister as her rival for the handsome emperor’s love. The settings look like they’re straight out of a fairy tale. The whole movie takes place in what is in effect a fairytale world. This is a gloriously frothy insanely romantic movie which makes no concessions whatsoever to historical accuracy or to the real world. And that’s its charm.

Karlheinz Böhm plays Francis Joseph as a perfect Prince Charming. Romy Schneider is charming and likeable.

Incidentally Sissi’s mother in the movie is played by Magda Schneider, who was Romy Schneider’s real-life mother.

There’s some comic relief from Josef Meinrad as Major Böckl, the bumbling chief of palace security, and from Gustav Knuth and Sissi’s father Duke Max, a bit of a bumpkin but rather wise in his own way. And the comic relief is genuinely amusing.

Had it been made in Hollywood this movie would have been shot in Technicolor but being Austrian it was shot in Agfacolor which has a softer slightly more pastel look which matches the tone of the movie perfectly. I have no idea what the budget was but this movie certainly looks lavish and expensive.

Umbrella in Australia have released this movie (and its two sequels plus a fourth movie which is a sort of prequel) in a four-disc DVD set. The films are in German with removable English subtitles. Sissi gets a pretty impressive transfer. It’s in the correct 1.37:1 aspect ratio. And the set is very inexpensive. The Sissi trilogy has also had a Blu-Ray release.

If you’re in the mood to indulge yourself in a lightweight feelgood fluffy romance with a fairytale vibe then this movie is just what you’re looking for. And it has Romy Schneider. Sissi is recommended.


  1. Dee, I really enjoyed your interesting write-up of SISSI(1955), which is a movie and series that I'm not familiar with. Although, I'm familiar with the Historical background. This movie series is intriguing to me.

    1. Walter, SISSI is so lightweight that it almost floats away but if you're in the mood for visually stunning fluffy romance it has real charm. And it's hard not to fall in love with Romy Schneider. SISSI is fairly easy to find in English-friendly versions on DVD.