Die Abenteuer des Grafen Bobby (1961)

+++ Mr Eisenbauer (Rolf Olsen), owner of an Austrian travel agency, is in a predicament. At short notice he needs to produce an aristocratic governess who can accompany a young American heiress on her grand tour of Europe. If he fails, he will lose a lot of money as the tour might get cancelled. Unfortunately, the impoverished countess he had banked on has fallen ill, and so her equally impoverished nephew Bobby has no choice but to put on women’s clothing and pretend to be his aunt. Fifty dollars per day plus expenses is not an offer the family can afford to turn down. +++

This is another cross-dressing comedy like Some Like It Hot (or its French and German cousins based on the same material), or the many iterations of Charley’s Aunt. And consequently the resulting confusion and situation comedy in this film remind one of Some Like It Hot – for example costuming mishaps, frantic races against the clock, and men starting to fawn over the faux lady. And this being 1961, of course the film has the inevitable happy end.

Cross-dressing films had always been around as long as film exists. In Germany alone, for example, there were at least 36 such films released just between 1910 and 1914.
But in the 1960s there was a new wave, possibly partly inspired by a German 1956 version of Charley’s Aunt as well as by Fanfaren der Liebe and Some Like it Hot; but also driven by a business decision to offer more risqué humour to the paying public. Die Abenteuer des Grafen Bobby sort of fits into this new wave; and it would be followed by a number mid- to low-quality films of a similar type which increasingly tried to lure audiences with a couple of raunchy scenes.

The film’s central character, the nephew at the centre of the cross-dressing charade, is Count Bobby Pinelski, and this fictional character is based on the equally fictional “Graf Bobby” character, who for the longest time had been a famous antihero of Austrian jokes (some of them bawdy) and tall tales. While the age of Graf Bobby may vary depending on the needs of the joke/story, he is generally portrayed as eccentric and tremendously stupid, yet mostly good-hearted. Think of the character as a raw, public-domain version of Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. Yet while Bertie is financially secure, Graf Bobby is usually described as impoverished, so one might also throw in a good measure of Noel Coward’s “The Stately Homes of England”.

In some of the many Graf Bobby jokes he is joined by other scions of Austria’s aristocracy; who are less stupid than him, or more, depending on the needs of the joke. One of these friends is called Mucki, and this character has also been appropriated for this film’s screenplay.

Bobby is played by Austrian crooner Peter Alexander; while Mucki is played by Gunther Philipp, who was frequently paired with Alexander in films.
Peter Alexander’s original intention as a 20-year-old shortly after the war had been to embark on an acting career, but he very soon decided that a singing career was more rewarding. While in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s many German-language actors did also sing and release records, by the 1960s the tide went the other way. Now it were singers who had the most popularity, and so producers started to place them in films. This also happened with Peter Alexander, who had a successful music career in the 1950s, and whose acting career really took off from the late 1950s onwards. But, as I mentioned, Alexander was a special case as he actually had studied acting just before his music career. Still, he remained a singer first and foremost, and would continue his music career for many decades, long after he had retired from acting.

A number of other well-known names and faces can be found in this film. Most notably Fritz Muliar, Oskar Sima, Hubert von Meyerinck (One, Two, Three) and Bill Ramsey. Cincinatti-born Ramsey is another example of a singer who was put into films because of his popularity. Originally a business and sociology student at Yale, conscription during the Korean War brought Ramsey to Germany, and his love for music morphed into a lifelong singing career in Germany after the end of his military service. While their musical styles were rather different, both Peter Alexander and Bill Ramsey were fixtures of German-language musical entertainment on radio and TV throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s; and both were cast in a number of silver screen comedies, and usually had musical solo numbers in those films.

The central female character of the young American heiress Mary is played by Danish actress Vivi Bach, who elevates it by bringing a lot of warmth and charm to the role.

In this story, Peter Alexander’s Graf Bobby is intended to be the loveable, comical antihero, but also the love interest in the romantic plot (opposite Bach’s Mary). In order to reconcile this with the utter uselessness of the original, traditional Graf Bobby character, the script writers used a simple but effective ploy: as Bobby and his aunt are broke, they offer guided tours of their castle to tourists (brought to the estate by Eisenbauer’s busses). The special attraction is the fact that the count himself is leading these guided tours. In private, Bobby is an affable young man – not too bright, but not stupid either. But “in public”, i. e. for these guided tours, he takes on the persona of the foolish, inbred aristocrat, because this is exactly what tourists expect to see when meeting an Austrian count. The “traditional” Graf Bobby is therefore merely an act, and playing the clown to meet the tourists’ expectations is Bobby’s interpretation of “noblesse oblige”.

Plans to do a Graf Bobby film had been around for a number of years. It finally turned into a Peter Alexander musical comedy, and so the director’s chair went to veteran Hungarian director Géza von Cziffra who had worked with him many times before. Von Cziffra also wrote the script (under one of his go-to pseudonyms, “Albert Anthony”) which was then reworked and refined by Helmuth M. Backhaus. 

The plot is convoluted, as is common for these cross-dressing comedies of error. But nothing is too confusing. Ignoring a few plot conveniences, the main thing that sticks out as an ill fit is a scene featuring a multitude of very young women in nightgowns which seems to have been an afterthought. There is no other explanation for this scene which does not fit the previous narrative and which makes no sense in terms of “logistics” either. One has to assume that the producers wanted an additional “risqué” scene and simply shoehorned it in at this point.

Die Abenteuer des Grafen Bobby also has a fair amount of musical numbers – basically mandatory in this era when you put singers into your comedy. Some of the songs reached a very high level of popularity, such as Peter Alexander’s “Paris ist eine Reise wert”, but especially Bill Ramsey’s “Pigalle” which became a no.1 hit in Germany and would be performed by Ramsey on a regular basis for decades to come.
As a child I did not mind musical numbers in these type of films. I simply regarded them as a given. But nowadays most of these songs tend to get on my nerves.

While everything in this film looks solid (especially all the sets and costumes) there was apparently no intention to spend any money on location shoots: so the few outdoor scenes in Paris are all achieved with back-projection that is of such poor quality that it sticks out even when watching the film on the smallest of screens.

This comedy is not a cinematic masterpiece, but it is entertaining enough (if you ignore most of the musical numbers). I would rate it at 5.5 to 6.0 out of 10. The film was successful enough to warrant two sequels, at least one of which kept the cross-dressing theme.


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