Jenny Lewis, Ed Asner, 1930s Vienna, Austria. Please note that this film contains antisemitic images and dialogue.
This Disney Channel Premiere Film was directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman and based on the book Devil in Vienna by Doris Orgel. I had seen this film not too long ago but decided to watch it again as I wrap up my large DCOM/Disney Channel Premiere Film project. Jenny Lewis gives a discerning performance as Inge Dournenvald, a Jewish girl who is best friends with a Catholic girl, Lise Mueller. A Friendship in Vienna focuses on Lise and Inge’s changing relationship, as Lise’s father is a Nazi official. Set during the time of the Anschluss — when Nazi troops took over Austria and incorporated the nation into Germany — Nazis in the film target Inge and her family. An older Inge (Jean Simmons) narrates the opening of the film, recalling this part of her life as “a winter Hitler invaded our country and took from us all my family and I held dear. When I look back, I see pieces. Some significant, some trivial, but all combining through mysterious alchemy to comprise a life.”
The troops are vile, as we know from history, and the Dournenvalds endure horrible treatment up until their escape from Austria. Inge’s best friend’s brother, Heinz, purposefully trips Inge’s mother on the stairs so that she breaks her leg. The Dournenvalds’ former errand boy blackmails them by inventing an offense Inge’s father did not commit. Nazi soldiers force Inge’s father and Opah Oskar (Ed Asner) to get up one morning and use their toothbrushes to scrub horrific antisemitic graffiti off a building. After this scene, Inge’s mother tells her about her friend: “Tommy had a brain hemorrhage; they think it was from the shock of what the Nazis did to his father yesterday. Inge, he died this morning.” If they want to survive, the Dournenvalds must leave their home.
After Opah Oskar is able to leave first, Inge and her parents narrowly escape. They’ve obtained permission to go on vacation to Yugoslavia. But in order to do so, the Dournenvalds must pretend they are Catholic and produce baptism papers. When her parents are unsure of doing so, Inge reminds them that the ritual is meaningless but would save their lives: “I would bathe in gallons of holy water if it would bring Tommy back,” she says.
For reasons I’m not yet sure of, there are several Disney Channel Premiere Films set close to World War II. Yet, they’re all different, revealing how this time period affected people throughout the world. But the hatred in this specific film, sadly, didn’t end. I wish we could watch films like this and only know evil as a thing of the past. Instead, we watch them and are reminded that people in our world still feel this kind of hatred and show it towards others every day. If you have a chance to see it, I do recommend A Friendship in Vienna — but please note that the images capture heinous acts of cruelty.