Charleys Tante (1963)

Based on Brandon Thomas’s famous 1892 play Charley’s Aunt, this Austrian comedy sees crooner Peter Alexander once again team up with Géza von Cziffra, who was in some ways his personal director. This film version follows only 7 years after another German-language film adaptation of the play; and only 2 years after Peter Alexander had played a man-in-dress in von Cziffra’s Die Abenteuer des Grafen Bobby.

+++ Charley and his flat-mate Ralf are looking for a way to convince two young female tourists from Sweden to come to their Vienna flat. The fact that other people, including Charley’s aunt from Brazil, will also be there gives the whole occasion the necessary propriety, or so it seems. But when these distinguished guests fail to materialise and the girls are on the brink of leaving, Ralf’s brother steps in and takes on the role of Charley’s Aunt. +++

….and hilarity ensues. Well, not really. More like what may have passed as humour in 1963. Because unfortunately, this is not a good film. Compared to Die Abenteuer des Grafen Bobby, Charleys Tante uses jokes that are more crude, and double entendre that seems more pronounced. Yet mysteriously it all seems to be less risqué at the same time, which may be owed to the location and the circumstances of the plot.

It seems odd to describe Die Abenteuer des Grafen Bobby as „more sophisticated“, but I feel that, compared to Charleys Tante, it is. And Peter Alexander’s performance in the latter film fits in with the cruder tone: it seems like von Cziffra was for some reason determined to top the ridiculousness of the faux female persona in Die Abenteuer des Grafen Bobby – which was already very ridiculous.

The film also suffers from the fact that they tried to milk the comedy-of-errors – which takes place on only one evening and in only one location – to the max. They devoted every minute they had left to the hijinx of that evening. There is no proper ending or conclusion – everything that happens after is wrapped up in under two minutes and the film simply ends.

And it is not as if this was generally a cheap production, or as if they did not make an effort. The cast is top-notch (including supporting performances by Rudolf Carl, Fritz Eckhardt (DM-Killer), and Rudolf Vogel), and there are elaborate animated opening credits as well as special effects revolving around magic tricks (a sub-plot that quickly leads to nothing).
But in terms of plot, you feel like nobody cared – they had the play to base the screenplay on, and that was that. The complex network of characters, who are connected to each other in more the one way, is poorly set up. Contributing to that feeling of shoddiness is the fact that the few lines the characters devote to talking about Brazil actually feel more like they are talking about a “generic” version of South-America™.

Interesting tidbits for me are the fact that there is a brief one-line parody of German crooner Freddie Quinn, and the fact that the opening credits include advertisement for a related vinyl record (not unlike in Some Like it Hot). The issue of how film productions and the almighty music industry worked hand in hand is one that I am generally curious about.

But, as I said, Charleys Tante is a forgettable comedy with almost no redeeming features. 2.5-out-of-10 almost seems like a gracious rating. Die Abenteuer des Grafen Bobby, while certainly no cultural highlight itself, is better than this in every way.


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