WTFW: The Singing Ringing Tree (1957)

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

WTFW: The Singing Ringing Tree (1957)

The Singing Ringing Tree (German: Das singende, klingende Bäumchen) was a children's film made by East German studio DEFA in 1957 and shown in the form of a television series by the BBC.  It was a story in the style of the Brothers Grimm, originally appearing in a collection of their work in 1812 and not being published since, directed by Francesco Stefani.

The Singing Ringing Tree (1957)

  • Original Title: Das singende, klingende Bäumchen
  • Genre: Adventure – Family – Fantasy
  • Directed: Francesco Stefani
  • Produced: Alexander Delete
  • Written:
    • Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (Story)  
    • Anne Geelhaar (Treatment)  
    • Francesco Stefani (Screenplay)  
    • Anne Geelhaar (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Christel Bodenstein, Charles Hans Vogt, Eckart Dux, Richard Krüger, Dorothea Thiesing, Günther Polensen, Fredy Barten, Egon Vogel, Paul Knopf, Paul Pfingst, Friedrich Teitge, Maria Besendahl
  • Music: Heinz-Friedel Heddenhausen
  • Cinematography:
    • Karl Plintzner 
    • Walter Roßkopf
  • Editing: Christa Wernicke
  • Studio:
    • DEFA-Studio für Spielfilme 
    • Deutsche Film (DEFA)
  • Distributed:
    • VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb  
    • Westbourne Film Distribution  
    • EuroVideo  
    • First Run Features  
    • Icestorm Entertainment
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 15 December 1957 (East Germany)
  • Running Time: 74 minutes
  • Country: East Germany
  • Language: German

The original version of the Singing Ringing Tree ran for 73 minutes but we remember it cut into 3 parts, shown shortly before tea time on school nights in the early 1970's.  We then think it made an appearance in the 1970s on Saturday morning television.  According to the British Film Institute, it was made in 1957 in East Germany and was shown many times in the 60-70s on British TV.  Although it was originally filmed in German, it had a monotone English voice over when transmitted on British television.  The re-mastered version available comes with English subtitles as well as the audio track of the English 60s-70s version which was considered for a time to be lost somewhere in the archives.

The story concerns a beautiful but selfish and haughty princess who rejects the proposal of a wealthy prince.  She scorns the gifts he offers her, and says that she will marry him only if he brings her the mythical "singing ringing tree".  The prince locates the tree in the territory of an evil dwarf, who offers to give him the enchanted tree, on the understanding that, if the princess still rejects him, he will be in the dwarf's power and will be turned into a bear. Because the tree will only sing and ring when the princess falls in love with the prince, she is disappointed in it and continues to reject the prince.  The prince is forced to return to the dwarf's lair and is turned into a bear.

The princess sends her father to find the singing ringing tree for her, but he is met by the prince, in the guise of a bear, who gives him the tree on condition that the king returns with the first thing the king sees on his return.  This turns out to be the princess, who is now delivered into the hands of the dwarf.  The dwarf, seeing the princess's self-centered behavior, casts a spell to make her ugly.  The bear tells her that she will regain her beauty only if she changes her ways.  Gradually she is won over by the bear and becomes beautiful again.  Despite the dwarf's attempts to keep her and the prince apart, she eventually falls in love with him and the singing ringing tree finally lives up to its name.

The film was shot in color entirely in the studio in Potsdam, Brandenburg, East Germany.  There was later confusion as to whether the actor who played the dwarf was named Richard Krüger and died in Strasbourg, or was Hermann Emmrich who died in 1995 and is buried in Prenzlau in north eastern Germany.  It is now thought that they were one and the same person.

After its release in East Germany, it sold 5,901,141 tickets in the country.  The film was then purchased by the BBC and cut into three parts to create a mini-series which was first broadcast on black and white television from 19 November 1964 to 3 December 1964 as part of Tales from Europe, with an English-language voice-over track (not dubbed, however, the original soundtrack was simply faded up and down).  It was repeated many times through to 1980.  In 1988 it was released on VHS video in Germany and it is now available on a DVD.

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