Review: Safe, Forgettable 'Laughing Heirs' Gets a Kino Release

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday January 19, 2022

Review: Safe, Forgettable 'Laughing Heirs' Gets a Kino Release

Max Ophüls' "Laughing Heirs" ("Lachende Erben") is probably one of the last romantic comedies to come out of the Weimar film industry. Right before its release in Germany on March 6, 1933, the Weimar Republic ended with the Reichstag fire and Hitler invoking Article 48. A few weeks after its release, the movie was banned because the film's director was Jewish.

Ophüls would flee to Paris and then leave that city right before the occupation in 1941, eventually ending up in Hollywood, where he had trouble finding work. He'd return to Paris, where he would make his most celebrated films ("La Ronde," "Lola Montès").

Without all the history behind it, "Laughing Heirs" would just be a sweet, if largely forgettable, early cinematic romance. But because it's filled with elated displays of German pride and a great sense of nationalism and love of country, it's sometimes chilling to watch — and it's all the more paradoxical that it was banned (and yet, not).

The basic and silly plot involves Peter Frank (Heinz Rühmann), a young man (looking older than young men do today) who might inherit his uncle's vast wine estate under the condition that he does not consume any alcohol for an entire month. The elder relations are aghast at this bequeathing, and try and do all they can to trip him up. In addition, there is a romantic plot involving Peter and Gina (Lien Deyers), the daughter of the rival wine company owner. From there things get screwball, but not screwball enough, really.

"Laughing Heirs" is a safe, cozy afternoon comedy. Remove the historical context, and it's quite forgettable. (Alas, it's impossible to do that.) The comedy is slight. The romance, barely there. The misunderstandings, obvious. The loathsome relatives aren't ghastly enough. Although, I found one line quite funny: "I could have my appendix removed for no particular reason," a pseudo-heir excitedly exclaims about what he would do with the inheritance.

There's an odd riverboat scene where everyone aboard bursts into Green River Rhine song, and a twist ending that isn't much of a twist.

Considering the film's age, the Blu-ray looks okay. There are scratches for sure, but it's certainly watchable. Sound-wise, though, there is a hissing noise throughout the entirely of the running time.

The enthused audio commentary by Anthony Slide offers many a tidbit, like the fact that Anne Frank had a photo of Rühmann on the wall of her hiding place in the attic — and it is still there.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • Audio commentary by Anthony Slide

    "Laughing Heirs" is currently available on Blu-ray.

    Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute