The movie is absolutely filled with one marvellous, intoxicating event after the next. Over the course of the film, the Baron travels to Russia, where he has an affair with Catherine the Great, fights with her armies against those of the Turks, is held captive by the sultan, and even manages to visit the moon, all the while having a variety of impossible experiences. He meets the magician Cagliostro, who has the power to render himself invisible, and who gives the Baron his immortality. He rides through the air on a cannonball fired at a Turkish city. He escapes his enemies in Venice in a balloon. He meets and talks with a lady of the moon, who is nothing but a head growing on a plant, and so on. The film never ceases to delight.
The sets and costumes are equally outlandish and fabulous throughout and infuse Münchausen with a enchanting sense of fantasy. This feeling is further enhanced by the gentle, soft pastels produced by the Agfacolor film with which the movie was made, and which give the Baron's adventures a pleasant, dreamlike quality. The process does tend to render the actor's faces ashen, but the colors are, on the whole, lovely and do add to the film's appeal.
Happily, the quality of the acting, although never inspired, is sufficiently good that it never distracts the viewer. Hans Albers plays Münchausen as a suave, refined aristocrat, and, while his Baron is never as engaging as is Milos Kopecký's in Zeman's Baron Prasil or John Neville's in Gilliam's Adventures of Baron Munchausen, he does create a decent, likeable character.
Finally, I should mention that any person familiar with Gilliam's Munchausen cannot but note how extensively that director has borrowed from von Báky. Raspe's book of the Baron's adventures consists of little more than a series of brief tales and incidents, but von Báky strings these together to form a more cohesive narrative, and Gilliam introduces much of that narrative into his own film. He also takes from von Báky a number of set and costume designs. The sultan's palace in Gilliam's movie is, for example, derived from that in von Báky's, as are the garments worn by the sultan and his courtiers.
Visually creative, narratively clever, charming, fun, and delightful, Von Báky's Münchausen is a magical film.
Review by Keith Allen
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