Scriptwriters: Hans Wilhelm, Curt Alexander, Max Ophüls
Director: Max Ophüls
Director of photography: Franz Planer
Production designer: Gabriel Pellon
Composer: Theo Mackeben
Cast: Magda Schneider, Wolfgang Liebeneiner, Carl Esmond, Luise Ullrich, Olga Tschechowa, Gustaf Gründgens Paigers, Paul Hörbirger, Paul Otto, Werner Finck, Werner Pledath
Max Ophüls completed work on "Playing at Love" in the turning year of 1933: the year Hitler came to power. The film could be released on one condition: the names of all Jews, including the director Max Ophüls and the author of the play, Arthur Schnitzler, had to be cut from the credits. Two weeks after the Berlin premiere, Max Ophüls, born Maximilian Oppenheimer, left Germany with his family. Like his colleague Fritz Lang, he was one of the last ones to leave the country.
"Playing at Love" was overshadowed by a less successful French version of the film called "Love Story" (Une histoire d'amour, 1933), which was released in France in 1934. The German-language "Playing at Love", a true masterpiece of early sound cinema, found a second life after the first retrospective of the director at the French Cinematheque in 1958 and due to the efforts of the critics of the French magazine “Cahiers du Cinéma”, who had placed Ophüls’ late baroque films “Le Plaisir” (1952) and “Lola Montès” (1955) as high as the work of Jean Renoir, Howard Hawks, and Alfred Hitchcock. (Retrospective Max Ophüls // Cahiers du cinéma. 1958. 81. P. 20.)
Later Stanley Kubrick admired the virtuoso panoramas in Ophüls' films, naming “La Ronde” (1950) as a significant film for himself.
Of all Ophüls’ filmography, “Playing at Love” is the most restrained film. The play by Arthur Schnitzler, a representative of the literary circle “Young Vienna”, is a passionate Viennese vaudeville built around social conflict and cynical attitudes. Ophüls, on his part, explores the world of deep feelings, the territory of the emotions of a great love. Schnitzler glorified Vienna and created an artistic image of the city comparable in its power to the Paris of Honoré de Balzac and Emile Zola, and to the London of Charles Dickens. Following Schnitzler, Ophüls creates a screen Vienna.
Much later, during the filming of “Carousel” in 1950, Max Ophüls remarked in an interview with a French journalist that the Austrians should have erected a monument to him on the Ringstrasse, since he had immortalized their city in the most beautiful films. Indeed, many contemporaries considered him the best Viennese director and a specialist in “Viennese charm”. In fact, Ophüls was not a Viennese. (Seibel A. Visions of Vienna: Narrating the City in 1920s and 1930s Cinema. Amsterdam University Press. 2017. P. 76.). He was born on the border between Germany and France in the city of Saarbrücken. At least two important events connected him to the Austrian capital. In 1925, he became the director of the Vienna Burgtheater (the youngest one: he was 23 years old at the time) and worked there for a couple of years, and in 1925 in Vienna, the actress Hilde Wall became his wife.
Ophüls indeed often chose Vienna as the setting for his films. In 1948, in the US, he made "A Letter from an Unknown Woman" based on a work by Stefan Zweig. Two years later, on his return to Paris, he again made an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler, this time the play “La Ronde". But even when the stories of Ophüls are set in other cities, they still resemble the imaginary Vienna of the turn of the century.
It had been planned that "Playing at Love" would be filmed in Vienna, but the budget of the film was not enough for location shooting and the city was built in the studio in Johannisthal near Berlin. Still, “Playing at Love” is the most Viennese of all his films, and here is why. Ophüls cast Austrian actors Paul Hörbirger and Luise Ullrich in the film, and together with them brought the recognizable Viennese accent cultivated at the Burgtheater into the film. It is more sensuous and pleasant to the ear. When choosing actors, Ophüls, who paid great attention to sound in films, was always guided by his impressions of their voices (Seibel A. Visions of Vienna: Narrating the City in 1920s and 1930s Cinema. Amsterdam University Press. 2017. P. 76.)
Ophüls earned a reputation as an international filmmaker with his successful work in France, the Netherlands, Italy, and the US. After 1933 he did not direct a single film in Germany. In the last German film by Ophüls, one of the characters utters words that were important for the director: "Every shot not dictated by self-defense is a murder!" This phrase was not in Schnitzler’s play.