Austria 1910 and in Vienna, Maria Zeitler (Gisèle Préville) is one of the most popular singers in operetta, though she is a strict taskmistress when it comes to the leisure time of her supporting cast and crew, that is, they don't get very much at all. They still have nothing but respect for the star, but do wish she would lighten up on occasion, though at the moment she is being courted by Prince Charles Reinaldt (Anthony Nicholls) and while she enjoys his company, she doesn't really see him as romantic material, never mind marriageable material. This doesn't stop him adoring her, but if it's not he who is the man for her, who could it be? How about budding Alpine songwriter Rudi Kleber (Dennis Price)?
It's a symbol of the changing times that it's more difficult to take a man wearing lederhosen seriously in the twenty-first century than at any other time in history, which leaves Mr Price at something of a disadvantage given his introduction to The Dancing Years, cavorting on a very Sound of Music-looking hill of green with the mountains in the background with his little friend Greta (Patricia Dainton). Already here's something else that modern audiences would balk at, a relationship between a grown man and a fifteen-year-old girl, particularly one who pledges her love to him in the opening five minutes and demands he never marry anyone but her. At least she requests he waits till she grows up.
But those were more innocent days, and it's to serve a plot which will build to a romantic complication later on in this adaptation of Ivor Novello's stage musical megahit from around ten years before. Now, British musicals on the screen are perhaps not as well respected as the nation's theatrical musicals, even if one is the version of the other, so for every Evergreen or Rocky Horror Picture Show there are plenty of London Towns or Absolute Beginners to throw a spanner in the works of popular successes at the cinema. So it was that The Dancing Years was sternly judged to be not as accomplished as its origins, and illustrated just how much was lost in such a transition.
On the other hand, not everyone was so down on The Dancing Years, as it did have a few hardy fans who were happy to be caught up in its sentimental melodrama and pretty tunes, though the way they built up to a somewhat dejected ending was more to do with the general mood of censorship that a child was born out of wedlock, so of course the parents had to be miserable - the last act of the musical source which might have redeemed the leads somewhat was omitted, possibly because they thought they said all they needed to say. Before that we had a journey down the decades as Rudi is taken under the wing of Maria to pen waltzes for her, and an affair blooms as a result that sadly does not stand the test of time.
Quite what director Harold French, himself a veteran of the stage, thought when he cast Dennis Price in this is a mystery, but let's say it's no surprise the actor found his metier in character roles rather than romantic leads, and so comes across as out of place, even stiff and awkward when requested to be the dashing man about town. French star Gisèle Préville never really made it as a movie star in the United Kingdom, leaving her as one of the long line of Continental actresses in English language productions to add decoration (and in this case, a trilling/piercing vocal) without gaining the necessary foothold on the way to major celebrity. Another issue you may have with this is that for a film with this title, there's precious little dancing going on, and what there is winds up left to Dainton and her twinkle-toed prancing rather than the potentially embarrassing sight of Price busting moves. Then again, you may find it embarrassing anyway, as operetta like this may as well hail from a different planet these days, utterly unfashionable but with a certain quaint appeal to the sympathetic.
[Network's DVD has a very polished print and a gallery and trailer as extras.]