It had been six years since she had last made a film (Hostages), and almost three years since the birth of her daughter, Francesca, before Luise appeared on screen again. This time, however, she would limit herself to the less taxing schedules of live television drama. Her television debut came in January 1949 in an episode of the Chevrolet Tele-Theatre, the American series of one-off dramas that coaxed many theatre and film stars onto the small screen. My research also suggests that she made at least one other American television appearance in that same year, in the drama Lost Child, part of the WPIX Theater Time strand. This was now Luise’s preferred style of work, with a small child and new husband the rehearsal and live performances of these productions meant less time away from home. After her relentless work schedule at MGM over a decade earlier, particularly during her marriage to Clifford Odets, she now chose to spend the time on work that wouldn’t have such a detrimental impact on her home life.
By Candlelight was Luise’s first appearance on British television; produced by the BBC it was performed twice, live, on Sunday 27th November and on Thursday 1st December. The programme no longer exists and wasn’t recorded.
The play itself, originally written in German, was a success in London’s West End in 1928. A light farce, with the usual nonsense, misunderstandings and mistaken identity, it seems to offer little challenge to Luise and follows the path of type-casting which beset her after her Hollywood successes in Escapade and The Great Waltz. The following article, which appeared in the Radio Times magazine for the week of the broadcast, is the most complete overview of the programme I’ve found and contains some interesting information which doesn’t appear anywhere else on the internet. It is re-published here for the first time:
Fairy Tale from the Vienna Woods
Lionel Hale on the week’s television drama:
Vienna… champagne…Strauss waltzes… bright lights… pretty and witty ladies – that is what every right-minded playgoer was brought up to understand. Myself a right-minded playgoer, I first saw Vienna in 1946, and got the shock of my life. The rubble still lay in the streets: grey-faced women in broken shoes queued for rations the size of walnuts. If you thoughtlessly threw a cigarette end out of the jeep, old men with distinguished faces in once-good overcoats scrambled for it in the gutter. They say it is unpleasant to be conquered; but, when I saw Vienna in 1946, I must say that I felt it extremely uncomfortable to be a conqueror.
Luckily, By Candlelight is in the old theatrical tradition, and the right-minded playgoer can settle down to watch it with no disquieting feelings of reality. Scene: the apartment of Baron Egon von Felsen in Vienna. Time: a winter’s evening. A valet in livery. Cocktail-shakers. A table set for two. Champagne in buckets. Chandeliers. And a great deal of light-hearted amour.
This comedy, an excellent little bit of froth, was translated from the German (of Siegfried Geyer) by Harry Graham, and appeared in London at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre in 1928. But you might say it had been appearing before, in various shapes and forms, and under different titles, for hundreds of years in the European theatre. The valet who impersonates his master goes back to Plautus, and even beyond him to the Greek dramatists. But it seems rather prosy to mention it, when you are dealing with such a piece of frou-frou! Let us say, then, only that Bastien the valet discards his livery to impersonate the Baron: that he makes assignations over the telephone: that a pretty lady arrives to supper: that the Baron comes homes unexpectedly to join in the game: and that the embarrassments and misunderstandings crowd on each other mellifluously.
By Candlelight, in Harry Graham’s adaptation, is continually neat, flirtatious, and funny. It is not exactly a bedroom farce, but the bedroom is never very distant. I doubt if the most censorious moralist could find any offence in affairs of the heart so far removed from reality. Its lights-of-love belong to a bygone age (which I will bet any money never existed at all); and it is so far from belonging to the quasi-realistic school of A Streetcar Named Desire that it might well be re-titled A Hansom Cab Named Amour. It was played, back in the ‘twenties, by a blessed trio of sirens – Ronald Squire, Yvonne Arnaud, and Leslie Faber. The Times next morning summed it up:
There is little to tell, but there is much by which to be entertained. Mr. Faber’s dry humour gives a delightful shrewdness to the admirable nonsense of is part, while Mr. Squire and Mademoiselle Arnaud, with Mr. Faber’s flickering gravity for background, send up from a thousand moods all the fantastic lights of farce… Once, near the beginning, the telephone monologue drags a little, but from the moment that Mademoiselle Arnaud is on the stage the fun is as swift and smoothly dexterous as you please. The audience was delighted and with good reason, for frivolity with a polish and nonsense with style are dishes sauced for a connoisseur.
That seems to be about the length and breadth of it. An addition to the Viennese charm should be the presence (in Yvonne Arnaud’s old part) of Miss Luise Rainer, who herself comes from Austria and who should happily decorate this sophisticated Fairy Tale from the Vienna Woods. There is, at any rate, a theatrical quality about By Candlelight which should carry it on.
In the same issue John Swift writes a short piece on Luise’s return which you can read here.
Robert Flemyng as Bastien
Clive Morton as Baron Egon von Felsen
Peter Butterworth as Linder
Luise Rainer as Elizabeth
Georgina Cookson as Lulu Keck
Anthony Shaw as Count von Baltin
Donald Tandy as Joseph
Christine Lindsay as Countess von Baltin
Adapted by Harry Graham from the play by Siegfried Geyer
Produced by Harold Clayton
Settings by Barry Learoyd