WHEN CELLULOID AMERICANS travel to Austria, personal traits and actions assume symbolic meanings that stand out most sharply in cross-cultural romantic encounters. In four Paramount comedies—Stuart Walker's Evenings for Sale (1932), A. Edward Sutherland's Champagne Waltz (1937), Billy Wilder's The Emperor Waltz (1948), and Michael Curtiz's A Breath of Scandal (1960)—the Americans’ foreign adventures and cross-cultural romances result in humorous situations that offer more direct commentaries on topical issues circulating in the United States than Hollywood's other Austria films. The filmmakers mobilize clichés and stereotypes that highlight supposedly different national traits to weigh in on the ever-changing historical contexts, including the Great Depression, the rise of fascism in Europe, the ensuing refugee crisis, World War II, genocide, and the Cold War. Sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly, the Austrian-American encounters reflect on contemporary attitudes toward Europe, specifically Austria.
Although Paramount had already produced a number of films set in Vienna before Evenings for Sale and Champagne Waltz, the two are quite a departure from the studio's earlier Vienna films, dramas set in Franz Josef's empire. By contrast, in Evenings for Sale and Champagne Waltz American protagonists travel to postwar Austria, which may seem an unlikely setting for a Hollywood romantic comedy. Having never fully recovered from World War I, the fledgling republic was faced with an extreme economic crisis and torn by political strife. Both films conjure up a mythic postwar Vienna with slight nods to the city's reality while suggesting deeper messages. Evenings for Sale's portrayal of postwar Vienna offers commentary on the Depression with its impoverished, deposed aristocracy. Using the “invasion” of an American jazz band into a staid Vienna in the twenties, Champagne Waltz responds in a unique way to US immigration policies and Nazi Germany's inhumane emigration policies, which made it difficult for refugees to come to the United States.
The events of World War II and the ensuing Cold War resulted in multiple reversals in Paramount's subsequent Austrian-American romances. Whereas the Americans gain from their interaction with Austrians in Evenings for Sale and Champagne Waltz, the Americans have lessons to teach the Austrians in The Emperor Waltz (1948) and A Breath of Scandal (1960). Although these two Austrian-American romances are both set in Emperor Franz Josef's Austria-Hungary, they contrast with Hollywood's positive depictions of the empire of the late thirties and early forties, which used the Old World to attack Nazi Germany's policies.