AND THE SWINEHERD
(c1968), B/W, 82 minutes
Produced by K. Gordon Murray
Directed by Reuben Guberman (as “Rubin Guberman”)
(“an adaptation of the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm”)
English Adaptation: Reuben Guberman (as “Rubin Guberman”)
Associate Producer: Sheldon Schermer
Assistant Director: Thomas Finucane
Editor: J. R. Remy
Script Clerk: Diana McAtee
UND DER SCHWEINEHIRT
(1953), West Germany, B/W, 82 minutes
Directed by Herbert B. Fredersdorf
Executive Producer: Friedrich Kurth
Screenplay: Emil Surmann
Story: Hans Christian Andersen
Cast: Dieter Ansbach (Prince Honestheart), Liane Croon (Princess Rosemouth), Isle Furstenburg, Victor Janson, Harry Wustenhagen
Even in dreary black and white, tedious and corny to a fault, there’s something about this fairy tale that really sticks in your craw. It is simple and pure, the very picture of filmic innocence from another time.
The first thing we notice is that the obsessive, somewhat cynical narrator remarks on every little thing, and after awhile, becomes quite redundant: “Look! He’s getting off his horse! Waah!”
TP&S is yet another variation on the popular Germanic fairy tale theme of a man of position disguising himself as a loser to win the charms of a difficult woman, and teach her a lesson in humility to boot. Sexist considerations aside, the dramatic tension of the fairy tale may refer to the inroads materialism was making against traditional family values in the scribe’s world, more specifically, the specter of the soulless, city-phobic industrial revolution threatening the rural/agricultural tradition of yore, and one man’s attempt to check the encroaching tide.
Yet all fairy tales seem to be about sex in one form or another, and the preeminence here of attractive, young, man-hungry virgins running about in white gossamer confers this otherwise predictable fairy tale a tangible sexual context.
Our hero, Prince Honestheart (Dieter Ansbach), looks like Pee Wee Herman in a pimp costume, a most odd yet charismatic fairy tale hero. When the Prince, while riding his horse through the countryside, sings a short song in his native German that sounds vaguely like “Boolah! Boolah!”, we realize we have already fallen in love with him! He’s kind of a pompous son-of-a-bitch, though: his dogged determination to win over this disturbed, dizzy dame borders on stalking, but that’s lust in fairyland!
The Prince’s price for his gifts for the Princess is kisses, i.e. sex. Kind of macho, eh? Of course, Rosemouth quickly acquiesces, which says little of royal breeding. Of course, the Prince’s agreement to trade his “talents” to the Princess in exchange for sexual favors (numbered kisses) is as clear an allusion to the world’s oldest profession as one is likely to see in kiddie cinema.
And in order to win the Princess, Honestheart has to lie down with the pigs, literally.
In a decidedly occult plot point, the Prince produces a bizarre kettle with bells attached, which can play a tune when it heats up and, via a screwy TV screen, tells its owner what all the other villagers are eating. There follows a marvelous montage, which seems to convey the message that everybody’s a hypocrite! Nobody eats what they manufacture! Candymakers eat fish! Cobblers eat spinach!
Liane Croon as Princess Rosemouth is as tempting here as she was as the miller’s daughter in RUMPELSTILTSKIN, even in washed-out black and white, where we can’t covet her ruby-red lips.
When we first see the lovely Princess Rosemouth, she is with her ladies in waiting, running through the gardens like a flock of angels, in an awesome shot that could have fallen out of an art film. Once inside, the gaggle of girls looks more like a sultry harem, kinda weird. And the Princess acts like any spoiled rich brat.
But when Rosemouth rejects the lovely rose given as a gift from Honestheart, we realize she is also either retarded or incredibly stupid: as one of the villagers says, “She only likes imitations!”
This is an obcsure philosophy for a princess to have, perhaps a backlash against the industrial revolution, and its preoccupation with mass production and the cheap imitation of nature.
Rosemouth is, in short, a materialistic idiot who can’t see the beauty in reality and so desires the fake in life, for no particular reason, it seems, other than it’s more interesting (and perhaps because it lasts longer). But she really seems retarded as well.
Later, Rosemouth and her waiting ladies (oddly named Ricky, Jicky, Wicky and Dicky) prance across a field, chasing giant character balloons and giggling like idiots! Grown women? A good example of “Power dements!”
The King is a dead ringer for Karl Malden. And why is there a dog named “Bim Bim,” a common 1960’s tot nickname for crap?
A nice anachronistic touch is various mismatched shots of stock footage wildlife, some running in front of clearly visible cyclone fences. (This visual discrepency also occurs in Murray’s HANSEL AND GRETEL.)
The score is pretty magnificent, dramatic and highly lyrical. One recurring tune is the traditional “Ach du lieber, Augustin” (“Oh Dear Augustin”, a popular Ausrtian folk song, familiar in the English-speaking world as “Have You Ever Seen a Lassie?”).
Unlike RUMPELSTILTSKIN from the same director, this quirky film is played largely as tongue-in-cheek comedy, although due to the country of origin and vintage, the laughs are obscure almost to transparency. Indeed, this essentially straightforward telling of a creaky old fairy tale would probably be hard for most to watch nowadays. Nevertheless, it is an attractive, if meandering film, one which is highly evocative of a more innocent time.
* Murray likely used generic title cards for many of the later fairy tale releases, which probably explains why he credits THE PRINCESS AND THE SWINEHERD to the Brothers Grimm, when it is actually a Hans Christian Andersen work.
* This fairy tale, along with FRAU HOLLY, KING THRUSHBEARD, MISCHIEF IN WONDERLAND and THE TABLE, THE DONKEY AND THE STICK, are films for which no theatrical release information has been located, so it is feasible they all went directly to television. On the other hand, associate producer Sheldon Schermer recalls all of the fairy tales as having received some theatrical booking. At any rate, their exact release dates remain obscure, although they were available to television by 1969.
* The only known video release of this rare German fairy tale was from the now-defunct Video Yesteryear, who offered a version from a nice 16mm TV print. As this film remains in the public domain, it is hoped that some other video label will grant it a release in the future. Many of Video Yesteryear’s 16mm prints were sold on auction at ebay in 2000-2001, so hopefully some lucky collector has snapped up this rarity.
* (06-28-04) Harald Guenberger of Germany informs us that player Harry Wuestenhagen, often seen in Märchenfilmen or Edgar Wallace movies, was more noted for lending his voice to American actors.