Four Seasons: Variations in American Vitalist Film Comedy
by Paul H. Grawe and Robin Jaeckle Grawe
© Institute for Travesty, Comedy, and Humor Studies 2018
Spring Vitalism: The Student Prince
The Student Prince is neither the most famous nor the most financially successful of the vitalist comedies we will be using to examine the seasonal range of dynamics for Vitalist Comedy. It is, however, a fine exemplar of Spring vitalism. Its powerful theme of growing into responsible adulthood is clearly patterned. And it resonates with the concomitant celebration not of an only love but emphatically of a first love, to be a treasure and a resource throughout a strenuous life. It is a film with a very powerful and yet delicate dynamis or ultimate dynamic for which spring is the appropriate emblem.
The stage history of Student Prince exemplifies Hollywood film-making maneuvering, especially as it features the ins and outs of Mario Lanza’s changed role in the film from star to incomparable tenor dub-in. Hollywood is quintessentially very expensive entertainment for a very wide audience. As such, it must make economic decisions at the very start of a very expensive artistic bet. Such economic decision-making typically leads to derision about Hollywood art, as if the fact of so much money at stake automatically militates in favor of one inartistic compromise after another. Certainly such degradation of artistic effect is possible. But in order for mediocrity to be a routine expectation, we have to assume that artistry is essentially counter to popular appreciation.
Shakespeare’s career seems to have elicited a similar critical bias, as does Mozart’s. In both cases, critics blind to their own prejudices in favor of small-audience elite tastes could not find in Midsummer Night’s Dream or in The Magic Flute enchanting artistic possibilities quite superior to typical court theatricals. In both cases, today we remember commercially-produced Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Magic Flute while being at a loss to name any of the court theatricals which were supposed to set the artistic current of their times.
This is not an argument that mass-audience Hollywood productions are essentially better art than “legitimate” theatre with its smaller audience. It is rather an argument that smaller audience does not necessarily signify superior art, nor does expense of production have any necessary relationship to artistic effect. We blind ourselves if we assume a Hollywood production must be artistically cheap.
Furthermore, it is easily argued that at least from the `940’s, most of the great advances in dramatic production have taken place in film. It is film which is on a massive scale exploring modern themes, such as fear of commitment, cultures in collision, the unfinished business of the quite old, the individual confronted with media-reinforced claims of meaninglessness, and the like. And it is film which is on a massive scale exploring new dramatic forms, such as the mockumentary and senior comedy. Not all of these experiments are equally artistic, and not all will have an equally long-lasting impact on the development of dramatic literature. But many are highly artistic achievements. Prejudicial dismissal of Hollywood productions as inartistic is cheap criticism.
The Student Prince, unfortunately, sets itself up for cheap criticism in its casting of the starring role. It also massively restructures the original stage play from which it is drawn. For the film, 14 songs of the original operetta were entirely eliminated. Moreover, the lyrics of songs that remained were substantially changed or entirely replaced. Entirely new songs were inserted at three points.
These changes, moreover, are hardly cosmetic. “Just We Two,” in the movie a duet between the Prince and Kathie, was originally a duet between Princess Johanna and a certain Count Tarnitz, with whom she is in love but whom she will have to relinquish for reasons of state. The operetta, in other words, moves toward the simultaneous stories of two royals, both of whom must give up true love for a state-benefitting marriage. The movie, on the other hand, uses the Princess’ repugnance for Prince Karl’s militarily precise training as the first cause of Karl’s education at Heidelberg, but thereafter, the film script moves resolutely forward as the story of one man’s education.
And thus the movie Student Prince essentially borrows the prestige of the operetta in order to make its own artistic statement with its own attendant dynamic power. In short, the film version of Student Prince, like any other work of art, must stand or fall on its own merits.
The story easily lends itself to Spring vitalism: a demonstration of Re-creation, studded with Langerian Potential vitalist momentary humor, steeped in the Spirit of Song.
Johanna and Karl are destined by their births and by the will of their reigning progenitors to marry one another. It is a strongly persuasive proposal. On the one hand, Prince Karl’s Karlsburg is on the verge of bankruptcy. On the other, Princess Johanna’s dynasty is of recent ascendancy and owes its existence to merchant forebears while Prince Karl’s lineage is noble, royal, well-scrubbed (in contrast to some other royals proposed for Johanna’s hand), and without blemish (and without buck teeth).
When Johanna finds Karl stiff, formal, and remote, she rebels. Her Grandmother rebels, Karl’s grandfather is made to rebel. It is concluded that Karl needs an education which will endow him with “warmth and charm.” Karl’s tutor, Professor Juttner, is accused of having failed, but Juttner aptly responds that he has only carried out his orders, which were to create Karl’s grandfather’s ideal of the military marionette—his ideal, that is, before Johanna’s objection. In any case, Juttner already knows the remedy for Karl’s deficiencies: Karl must study at Heidelberg. To the rejoinder that there are many universities, Juttner humbly demurs that for him there is only one university, he himself having graduated from Heidelberg.
So off Karl and Juttner go to Heidelberg along with Lutz, the stuffiest man-in-waiting in Germanic Europe. Karl makes a predictably bad first impression in Heidelberg, getting called a “Prussian Pickle” (recalling Johanna’s assessment) and being rebuffed for his aristocratic take-whatever-is-in-front-of-you bedroom overture with Kathie, the innkeeper’s niece and barmaid. But after that, Karl and the script settle down to his real education, largely under the tutelage of Kathie, who leads full student corps of nobles (the Saxo-Barusians) and of the upper-middle classes (the Westphalians) in nights of knackwurst, song, and beer, all of which Karl learns to love
Karl also learns that for educated men, military conquest is less interesting than conquests of the mind, and that in a university setting, the title of prince has “no academic distinction.” Most of all, he learns that he, like most young men in Heidelberg, has fallen for Kathie. Yet, unlike the others, he can command Kathie’s attention enough for the two of them to fall in love, fall into quarrels, and fall into senseless fantasies of being able to escape his royal calling.
Karl’s grandfather’s final illness recalls them to sanity; Karl returns to Karlsburg in time to meet one final time with his grandfather and to be reminded that “Freedom is a luxury no king can afford.” Upon his grandfather’s death, Karl, of course, becomes King, and before his grandfather’s bier, he accepts his destiny in the soaring grandeur of “I’ll Walk with God,” seemingly the climax of the plot.
However, the denouement is slow and extended, but critical for understanding Spring dynamis, that denouement requires careful attention. The arrangements for a royal wedding have already been completed under Karl’s grandfather; Karl has only to journey to Nordhausen to claim his bride. But in Karlsburg, the new man Karl has already started to face the challenges of relating to his subjects as human beings. Lutz refuses to drink a toast to the Prince’s future (it would call into question his social superiority to Hubert, his lackey); Juttner has to be bribed with a drink to be a complaisant state counselor and thus an eligible best man at the wedding. Finally, left alone, Karl comes to an impulsive decision and orders Lutz to stop the train at Heidelberg. He approaches the inn as students in the beer garden are singing “Drink, Drink, Drink” and finds Kathie pouring pitchers of beer.
Karl has promised that he would return. Now he has. Kathie has read in the papers that he is to be married, which he is frank to confess. They reminisce briefly, but Kathie has a far-away look. Karl kisses her hand, straightens up to his kingly destiny, and calls Kathie his “only love.” Kathie replies, no, “your first love.” Karl retires to his carriage as students begin “Gaudemus Igitur Juvenis dum Summus” (So Let us rejoice while we are young). Karl is militarily erect, eyes front, jaw firm as the carriage starts off, Juttner beside him.
With the song echoing in the background, Juttner breaks the awkward silence, reminding Karl “gaudeamus,” let us rejoice.
It is an odd ending, an ending worth examining in detail. For it is also the real climax and a spectacular trigger for one of the very strong ultimate dynamics in comedic theatre. Yet like more than one vitalist comedy we will consider, The Student Prince has turned out to be a stridently anti-romantic comedy, at least if romantic comedies lead to romantic marriages. The virtual future of the play, the implied future, is open-ended—can Karl find any happiness with Johanna? What is certain is that the virtual future will be without Kathie and with the exigencies that make a king anything but free. Given most people’s sense of comedy as light, frothy, and happy, The Student Prince seems to have gone to every effort to destroy comedic form.
Thus the first order of critical business would seem to be to demonstrate why Student Prince is a comedy and therefore can be appropriate for this book.
If Aristotle is right that comedy is the work of trivial minds for a trivial audience, we can forget making the comedic case at all. In fact, the serious action of Student Prince arguably falls under Aristotle’s dicta for tragedy since the action directly impinges on the public good of a sovereign state—or two states in this case—and the main character is royal.
Moreover, if by more modern consideration, comedy is about foam and froth, there isn’t any real argument for Student Prince as comedy despite the heads of beer so frequently seen in the inn courtyard. If comedy is the “golden mean” as opposed to the “dark voyage” of tragedy, as suggested by Albert Cook, then the centrality of death to the entire action of Student Prince and the death of romance at its conclusion seem insupportable within any comedic definition.
It is precisely because not all comedy is froth, because not all comedy is about the average man pursuing the golden mean, because not all comedy avoids the centrality of death—for all these half-truths about comedy—that a pattered success/survival theory of comedy as put forth in Chapter 5 is so necessary.
According to that definition, formal comedy, the comedy of both the stage and the screen, is a patterned action demonstrating success or survival. Its dynamis is a celebration of faith in success or survival for humanity. This definition allows us to consider fruitfully a very broad range of dramatic works generally accepted as comedy as well as a good number considered “dark” comedy, ironic comedy, or tragicomedy.
Specifically, it allows us to consider The Student Prince, with its serious action dealing with a central death and cutting short a romantic relationship. For Student Prince is very strongly patterned for comedic success and survival. But it is a success and survival more clearly understood within the context of a European marriage-of-state rather than an American marriage-for-love. In Student Prince the question is whether in an emerging modern world at the turn of the twentieth century a man destined to be king can survive as a man. While we the audience know that with the First World War, kings in Germany became obsolete, that fact has virtually nothing to do with the patterning of Student Prince. The expansion of democracy can easily make Student Prince seem antiquated or even fairy tale. Yet if we as audience approach Student Prince as a fairy tale, we will miss its depth and richness.
Student Prince, accepting the monarchy as a given, considers the very real challenges to personhood that a sovereign must face. Can such a sovereign also be a fully functioning human being? Put more in the vernacular, is Karl capable of exuding warmth and charm or is he an inveterate Prussian pickle? These challenges are not unlike those presented in the final act of Shakespeare’s Henry V, where a conquering King Harry must woo a sophisticated French Princess Kate.
At first, Karl appears incapable of being anything other than a marionette. He is extremely indebted to Princess Johanna and her good sense to give him a chance to prove himself otherwise. And even then, the first days in Heidelberg seem proof of Karl’s incorrigibility.
Much more damning, he disgraces himself, making sexual advances toward Kathie in the inn bedroom. He is more than fortunate for the wake-up call she provides in fending him off and in teaching him a thing or two. She has some other lessons for him: knackwurst is good, and aristocrats who stick up their noses at it are hypocrites and poseurs. Beer is good too, and it makes knackwurst even better.
Karl is beyond fortunate to encounter a woman who will teach him such things and yet remain kind and good-natured not to say extremely diplomatic throughout. He also has the extreme good fortune of being shoved to the ground by the same not-over-dainty fraulein when he shows that he didn’t fully learn the lesson of the bedroom.
We as audience enjoy all the lessons in hard knocks. But more significantly, Karl is learning. A pattern of success begins to emerge, the pattern that he can, in fact, learn to be sociable, to come down to others’ level, to be at least somewhat humble, and to entertain feelings more noble than the gloating of aristocratic victories over the morals of defenseless women.
Novels and plays of education are fairly common. When they are comedies, we can almost invariably luxuriate in the faith that people can indeed learn and survive. What makes Student Prince deeper and more somber than the common is that Karl is eventually called back from his education to his duty. And that recall requires him to accept kingship and to do so without Kathie. Karl must now apply his education not as a student but as a king.
The scenes with his closest attendants following “I’ll Walk with God” sung at his grandfather’s bier symbolically demonstrate that Karl has indeed learned how to exhibit warmth and charm. And more he has learned to be an extremely fit and eligible king almost anywhere—whether on the battlefield, in the palace, or in the beer garden. He has become a king who desires to understand his people, who desires to help them where they are, who desires to build something in them that he can only build with them. He now has the warmth and charm to ingratiate—put grace into—his people, not just to ingratiate himself with his people.
Self-sacrifice is a fairly routine aspect of kingship—freedom is a luxury no king, not just Karl, can afford. But Karl must now face this duty, not just as a king, but as a man, a man who can enjoy the exuberance of the middle class symbolized by the Westphalians, a man who has risked his life for his personal honor, not just for the honor of the state, a man who has learned to stand on his own integrity not to stand on his political superiority.
The man of such high idealism and such human achievement unsurprisingly finds it easy, impulsively easy to order the train to Nordhausen to stop at Heidelberg. And king that he is, with Prussian duty still one of his finest qualities, he smoothly admits immediately to Kathie that he is on his way to be married.
But then he falters and gives in to his own self-immolating imaginings, claiming Kathie as his one love.
Since the pattern is already established, we are not surprised and perhaps not even rightly impressed when Kathie teaches her two final lessons. First, she counters that she is his “first love,” thus creating the open-ended virtual future in which Karl can be as fair to Princess Johanna as she already deserves of him.
And second, Kathie says farewell to him in the form of a title, “Your majesty.” As we look back over the whole movie, it was Kathie, not Karl, who knew from the beginning that he could only be a man if he were a king and who has acted as midwife throughout to that king-man becoming in Karl.
Even this late in the film, however, Karl has not reached full maturity as that king-man. He ascends the carriage corrected. Prussian that he still is, he is ready to do his duty better for Kathie’s correction.
At this point, it becomes clear that Kathie finally cannot be Karl’s sole teacher—and, in fact, she has not been his sole teacher throughout. He has learned from singing with the corps, socializing with the Westphalians, accepting the full German implications of insulting the pride of German nobility and dueling with Count Von Asterburg. Now the corps sends him off with the great theme, Gaudeamus Igitur. And it is Professor Juttner, Heidelberg class of ’77, as gentle and diplomatic as Kathie herself, who preaches the last lesson of full humanity, full manhood even in the utter servility of kingship: “Gaudeamus” (Let us rejoice).
With this last lesson, paraphrasing another man who also said, “Rejoice, and again I say, rejoice,” Karl is not just prepared to succeed or survive; he is prepared to overwhelmingly conquer.
We have demonstrated that The Student Prince can easily be considered a comedy, patterned to demonstrate success and survival. Furthermore, the film has a comedic import, an assertion of what is required for success or survival of a king. It is worth noting that the comedic import is largely social. A great king can only be trained to the mechanics of kingship. For the rest that makes him a blessing to those around him, he needs education, defined as mingling with, knowing, and jostling with other people more or less as equals. Evidently, he has a strong need within this for education best administered by women in romantic settings. And ultimately, he needs to draw on the whole society—the academic wisdom of Professor Klauber, the middle-class goodwill of Lucas and the Westphalians, the demands of honor maintained by the Saxo-Barusians, the narrow egocentricity of Lutz, and the human good sense of a medieval drinking song championed by the student corps and admonished by Professor Juttner.
In short, an operetta of two young people who are also royals having to let go of love for state duty would probably be the basis of a fairly sappy tragedy. Student Prince moves decisively beyond all Aristotelian and other classical concepts to the comedy of a king properly prepared for kingship and for personal survival as a man.
Having established that Student Prince is indeed a comedy, patterned to demonstrate success or survival, what is the dynamis, that emotional counterpart to comedic form, which creates for us as audience the feeling we take home from the theater?
Rephrased for The Student Prince, how do we as normal audience feel as Karl leaves Kathie and leaves Heidelberg? And much more importantly, what feeling is triggered in us on Juttner’s gentle line, “Gaudeamus”? We may have, each of us, something of an idiosyncratic, personal reaction. But if we are at all a sensitively trained literary audience, there can be and we argue should be a shared surge of feeling that begins on Juttner’s line and may intensify for a great while afterward.
For now, let’s call this surge an alive sense of resolve—an alive sense as opposed to a dead sense of dutiful, stoic, Prussian resolve. We, too, leaving the theatre have some unpleasant duties. We too have things we either must bear or we really aren’t prepared to be anything else. And since life responds to life, and because we have just seen such an alive presentation of that reality, the film calls up in us a resolve as we must assume that Karl is resolved to go forward, to make the necessary adjustments, to stay the course of a voyage that has no definite port of call or end of journey.
We will return to the question of Spring vitalist dynamis again when we reconsider more in depth The Sound of Music. But for now we will call this Spring vitalist dynamis an alive sense of resolve.
But why do we think that what we have witnessed in this play is extraordinarily alive? From a technical viewpoint, our feeling has been engineered throughout. And the engineering has been in at least three technical areas of vitality: Langerian momentary humor, Regain form, and the Spirit of Gladness. Let us briefly cover the major aspects of all three.
In its use of moment-by-moment vitalist humor, Student Prince makes a classic transition from early Bergsonian humor to contrastive Langerian forms as Karl begins to reap the fruit of education. On the dance floor with Princess Johanna, Karl moves with meticulous precision. His dance performance is criticized by Johanna precisely because it is mechanical in the classic Bergsonian sense.
Similarly, Karl makes a fool of himself by his rudely forceful romantic embrace on the terrace with Johanna. Here we see the idée fixe version of Bergsonian failure: Karl thinks of a woman as a citadel to be attacked. He is still on the attack with Kathie in the inn bedroom, and having learned a little of warmth and charm, he tries a modified form in the beer courtyard. In short, we see failure upon failure of true vitality in favor of a trained mechanical performance.
The turn comes slowly but begins with a wonderfully typical Langerian joke overlooking the inn courtyard where Karl is about to partake of his first student meal. It is typically Langerian because it barely manages to elicit audible laughter. Langerian humor is much more at home in a warm feeling and an inward smile.
To ingratiate himself with Kathie, Karl lets her decide the menu—knackwurst. In some ways this is the great joke of many centuries of aristocratic dining. The aristocrats always get the choice cuts; the peasants are most fortunate to infrequently get the least valued cuts of meat. Knackwurst is “prole food,” like the Chicago hotdog. The joke is that peasant cooks save their highest savory culinary talents for making something special out of the lesser cuts they serve their own families, steering their aristocratic masters to prefer artistic presentation over gastronomical satisfaction. Gastronomically, knackwurst and kraut is darn good eating, which Kathie knows and enforces on the Prince.
So knackwurst and kraut in itself is a vitalist Creativity joke. But in this setting, the joke is much more a Langerian Performance joke, Karl for the first time putting aside all the fixed ideas of his training and enjoying what is really good simply because it is really good—especially with beer. And the Performance joke is intimately connected with the comedy at large: it turns out that Karl really can learn to act (perform) like a human being—especially under Kathie’s instruction!
The knackwurst scene is not the most laughably funny of the film. Bergsonian jabs against Lutz as well as the mechanically aristocratic Von Asterburg and some Langerian Creativity jokes involving Kathie’s innkeeper uncle elicit more laughs. But the knackwurst joke is the turning point for Karl’s education. The humor focused on Karl is more subtle. But humor there is, Langerian vitalist humor, in every new human performance Karl tries on and likes. Performance vitalism is very strong in Student Prince. It climaxes in a very energetic masquerade ball where Karl’s exuberant yet gracefully fluid performance contrasts sharply with his earlier mechanical dancing with Johanna. Karl’s new style, his performance, tells us that his education has been successful, that he now has warmth and charm, that he is a new man—yet a new man who is about to be called by duty to return to Karlsburg.
The Langerian Performance jokes executed by the student prince, however, are almost always also Potential jokes. Each time Karl performs as vitally alive, contextually he is also showing the Potential for much greater things in the future, much as the child who uses a big word incorrectly is showing the potential to be a highly articulate adult.
Thus, instances of Karl’s Langerian Performance vitalism abound: Karl partying with the Westphalians, stamping his feet with the rest of the students as the professor enters, learning to be put down by Professor Klauber (however reluctantly), admitting that he approves the legitimate comforts of the inn proposed by Kathie, enthusiastically shaking Von Asterburg’s hand after the duel, offering to share a drink with Lutz, and being easily bribed to share a drink with Juttner.
But all these instances simultaneously embody Langerian Potential vitalism. In fact, after the Bergsonian false starts, Langerian Performance/Potential jokes are a virtual constant throughout the script giving the last two thirds of the film a consistently warm and silently smiling character despite an ever-deepening sense of what Aristotle called “serious action.” Even the climactic dance at Heidelberg serves to demonstrate that Karl does indeed have the potential to become an exceptional king, one who can relish life and friendships, who can put his physical agility into dance as well as into war, one who is not too proud to appear delighted.
In other publications, we have called the combined Langerian Performance/Potential preference “Visionary.” We submit that Student Prince is centrally concerned with Karl’s newly created vision of what he can be other than (i.e. as well as) a king and with a newly created vision for his kingship. He has accepted a whole new vision of the good, ranging from Aristotle to knackwurst. And at the last moment, in accepting the command to rejoice, he can accept the vision of personal potential implicit in Kathie’s rejoinder that she is his first, not his only love.
And it is the strong presence of Potential vitalism which is necessary for the establishment of a Spring-triad variant of vitalist comedy and its dynamic.
Potential is a possibility, but it isn’t a certainty. It demands revolve; it demands making the effort and taking the inherent risks. The dynamis of Spring-variant vitalist comedy—the alive sense of resolve to get on with it, to make the effort and to take the risks—springs moment by moment from smiling approval of Langerian Potential.
Having examined the momentary Vitalist humors of the film, we turn to Regain form. Student Prince revolves around many major plot structures that throughout suggest the vitalist sense of Regain. Prominent among these is the pattern of recommitment to a kingly calling. Throughout the film, there is a restructuring of relationships, which in some sense is simply a characteristic of drama. Yet it is the direction of these restructurings, the restructurings that repeatedly move toward a regained sense of calling, that gives Student Prince a consistency of restructuring principle.
There is also a redirection of values, something that carries across the vast majority of dramatic action, but again it is the consistent tendency of this redirection over many variations of value that is particularly notable, a consistent tendency for the redirected values to point back to return. There is a double structure of return—a return to Karlsburg and a return to Heidelberg—which together allow a return to the Princess of Nordhausen. And quite centrally, as already noted, there is re-joicing, a return to joy, the ultimate fulfillment of which is left to the virtual future.
And ultimately, there is a return to manhood. Karl was created in the image of God before he was destined to become a king. In the servility of kingship and the training for that servility, it is easy for humanity to get lost, seemingly to perish before the mechanisms of duty. It is Karl’s extreme good fortune, centrally dictated to him by Johanna of Nordhausen, to be reborn to his original humanity.
All of these instances of Regain in Student Prince tend to integrate with the Langerian Performance/Potential vitalism because they all show a repeated pattern of Karl being set back only to forge ahead again with a newly vital impulse attached to his old fundamental virtues of hard work and duty. And thus they are in the same warm-smile vein as the Langerian humor itself.
Yet while all these re-forms are strikingly present, all but Karl’s return to humanity pale before Re-creation. For the overwhelmingly dominant theme of Student Prince is the rebirth of a man, a man reborn amidst servile duty which is the highest ideal of kingship and which inevitably separates him in destiny from other men. Can the manness survive in that separated condition? Over and over again, we see that the man is being re-created in Karl, who has had the great blessing of being required to find and recreate the man in himself.
The Student Prince consistently exemplifies Re-creation above the other three Regain variants. Karl is re-created, not re-constructed. Karl does not recombine or reconstruct the pieces of himself. Rather, a man is born in Heidelberg, a man who hadn’t existed in Karlsburg with Princess Johanna in his arms.
Karl is reborn to the joys of prole food and beer, reborn to the joys of drinking it all down in one breath, reborn to the joys of choosing friends among the Westphalians because they are better friends, reborn to recognizing that being a prince has no academic distinction, reborn to conquests of the mind as superior to physical conquests, reborn to loving Kathie because she is Kathie and really loving her, not assaulting her. And ultimately, he is reborn to his destined walk with God as king. Each rebirth is part of the comedic pattern, the pattern that gives us faith that a man may be predestined to kingship and still be born into full humanity.
Likewise, Student Prince consistently exemplifies not so much Re-presentation as Re-creation.There are very subtle Re-presentations in the grace with which the later Karl holds and handles himself. But these Re-presentations are finally submerged. Karl is, after all, “Your majesty,” which is how Kathie sees him first in Heidelberg and how she sees him last. Karl Franz the new student was a Re-presentation, but the Re-presentation vanishes as Von Asterburg clicks his heels in salute to a sovereign German Prince.
And Student Prince consistently and centrally exemplifies Re-creation, not simply Re-visioning. Ultimately, Karl has an unchanged vision of himself, a king separated from other men and their destinies by his calling, a king whose life and love are not his own, a king for whom the well-being of the state is the direction of life. Karl thought for a moment that he could avoid this calling. Kathie was considerably more clear-sighted.
But Johanna did have a vision of what she wanted in a husband. She enforced it on her grandmother who enforced it upon his grandfather, who enforced it on Juttner, who, with the help of Kathie and Heidelberg, enforces it upon the Prince. (Note the similarity to the script joke of who will tell on whom to whom resulting in what string of retellings within the German bureaucracy.) Karl is true to the vision enforced upon him, but it is finally still the vision to make him the faithful servant-king he has chosen long ago to become.
Given the pervasive theme of Re-creation in the film, it is hardly surprising that we find consistent Langerian Potential momentary humor in the film. Karl is, after all, a student, studying to become a prince. It turns out that to be an extraordinary king means diligently studying to become a man. Not only Karl is here in debt to his future bride: Professor Juttner is as well, for there is no teaching satisfaction like one’s students’ educated success, especially the success of an arduous education.
And last we consider Impulse vitalism. The Student Prince flows on an undercurrent of Awe. The river Neker, the linden trees, the promenade are all made awesome both by nature and by tradition. Heidelberg University like every self-respecting university evokes awe, the awe of the mind, the awe of a studied Creation, the awe of institutional age, tradition, and academic rank. Similarly, monarchy evokes awe, especially the venerable monarchy of Karlsburg. And there is the special awe for the king, the man who chooses servility and life-long self-abnegation in favor of the state.
While Awe is the deep Impulse structure, the obvious Impulse is Song. Any movie featuring the virtuoso performance of Mario Lanza could hardly be otherwise. But the vital role of Song in Student Prince far surpasses the virtuosity of Mario Lanza. It is Song that articulates the ultimate comedic import for Karl. The future remains entirely open-ended. But Karl Franz—King Karl—faces that future with the songs of Heidelberg, the songs of shared humanity. He faces all the uncertainties of Nordhausen and Karlsburg fortified with “Drink, Drink, Drink” and “Golden Days in the Sunshine of a Happy Youth.” But much more foundationally, as Professor Juttner as a Heidelberg man himself professes, he is fortified with “Gaudeamus Igitur Juvenis Dum Summus,” a song that stays to the end:
Aus jecundam juventutem, aus molestam senectutem
(After the joys of youth and the molestations of old age)
Nos habebit humus.
(The earth will have us.)
But for now,
Karl will live in the aura of the springtime of a happy youth through all the vicissitudes of a constrained adult life at full power, with Johanna at his side. But what we have seen in Student Prince is the springtime itself: Karl’s first-born love, not his only love, his nascent temptations to deny his calling, and his new-born manliness in accepting that calling. We have indicated in theory that Langerian Potential, Re-creation Form, and Song Impulse are the technical vitalist manifestations most appropriate to spring and its analogies. In combination, they create Spring Vitalist comedy dynamic—an alive resolve based in Potential still needing to be appropriated, in being reborn to resolve with the world all before it, in Song to set it joyfully in motion and to carry it through all the thrills and spills that stand between potential and accomplishment.
And we have seen them manifested in The Student Prince. The world rejoices in its springtime when it is created anew for yet another year of grace. And Karl will rejoice as he has rejoiced in Heidelberg. He springs to a new resolve to face life as both a man and a king.
And he will be glad in it.