It’s the year 2000 and the planet is run by the World Global Union, who allow countries to manage their own affairs, but keep a particular eye on troublesome little Austria. When the country’s new president declares independence and the population tear up their ID cards, Union rockets invade and the entire nation is put on trial in planetary court.
In the wake of two World Wars, Austrian nationals felt a little hard done by. Blame for starting the conflicts seemed to settle on them and their country was still being run by Allied powers. This film was commissioned by the Austrian government, who were trying to ‘get out from under’ and, basically, it’s simple propaganda; an attempt to show Austria’s peaceful contribution to world history and importance to global culture. Many of the court scenes consist of elaborate re-enactments of historical events and the whole package wears its heart on its sleeve without apology.
Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t much of an international audience for this and the only available version is in the original German. I don’t speak the language so no doubt the more subtle aspects of the comedy simply passed me by. A lot of the humour does appear quite broad, however, and the development of the story is rather predictable.
You see, all the flag-waving does impress the Union President (Hilde Krahl) and, what with the boyish good looks of the Austrian Prime Minister (Josef Meinrad), it’s pretty obvious that this particular iceberg is going to thaw. Her troops are ‘going native’ too; enjoying the local beer, women, brass bands and interminable marches and parades.
Unfortunately, all these positive images do get a little wearing after a while and the story is not very engrossing. In fact, the message overwhelms the drama early on and simply never lets up. Apparently, Bond villain Curt Jurgens (‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977) is in all this Austria love somewhere, but I failed to spot him. The most entertaining aspect is the gloriously goofy 1950s science fiction trappings; all rocket ships and silly tinfoil costumes, with the troops kitted out in ‘Michelin Man’ spacesuits with wobbly aerials. But the fantastical aspects are simply window dressing and not really integral to the film, which obviously has a completely different agenda.
As it turned out, Austria was not really centre stage in world affairs over the next half century, so the people’s fears (or vanity perhaps?) proved somewhat unfounded. But the film helped serve its purpose: Austria got its autonomy back a couple of years after it was released. And my mum tells me that Salzburg is very beautiful and well worth a visit…