A couth tale of selling your soul to indulge impulses and immortality, “The Mephisto Waltz” is a mystery/thriller with a giallo sensibility.
A dying musician makes a pact with the devil so he can transfer his consciousness into a younger man with talented hands. Let’s dig into 1971’s The Mephisto Waltz, directed by Paul Wendkos.
As I See It
It starts out with an erratic title sequence. I always like a good, unsettling title sequence.
Alan Alda, who plays Myles, always has a certain refinement to his performances. But shockingly, he is the least grandiose aspect of the Waltz. The dialogue is impressive, and there are a handful of lines worth jotting down to think on some more.
Duncan Ely, played by Curd Jürgens, is a virtuoso who lives an opulent lifestyle. His masquerade balls and high society soirées are coming to an end though, as Leukemia closes in on him. His Satanic proclivities are revealed as he becomes smitten with Myles, the failed musician turned Journalist, and infatuated with Myles’ wife, Paula. There’s also a confounding element of incest between Ely and his daughter Roxanne (played by Barbara Parkins).
While I love the inclusion of the second movement of Liszt’s Faust Symphony, I can’t help but feel disappointment that more was not done with it. The parallels to the plot were ample and, just like Alan Alda’s screen time, slighted. Without a deeper mythos, the rituals seem like any dilettante could perform dark magic and achieve their every desire if they had a book and some blue goo.
An overall adequate execution, but this film left a lot of potential on the table.
Alan Alda, better known for his dramatic and comedic roles, always has a calming voice, even when he’s possessed by a Devil-worshiping mad man. Waltz was released just five months before Alda would explode with fame in M*A*S*H.
Jacqueline Bisset starred in some of the most iconic films of all time, including alongside Steve McQueen in 1968’s Bullitt and Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express (1974).
Of Gratuitous Nature
The inclusion and subsequent ritual murder of Myles and Paula’s Daughter has an arbitrary effect on the story. The only rationalization for offing the kid is to keep Paula’s conscious clear when she decides her end game didn’t involve staying in her own body. In that case, why include the kid in the first place?
Jacqueline Bisset is a Goddess. Not even poor lighting could reduce her allure. Besides her enticements, Bisset is an abundantly successful Actor with many nominations and awards.
Ripe for a Remake
I can’t believe I’m saying this again, but I think this film’s premise has ostensibly been covered by Get Out (2017). Though two very different films, the idea would feel too close to Jordan Peele’s masterpiece to convince anyone you’re copying a different film altogether.
No progeny to report.
Where to Watch
The Mephisto Waltz is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber and available to rent on most streaming services including Amazon, Google Play, and YouTube.