Admittedly I’ve only currently seen four films by him but based on those alone I’m going to come out and make the outrageous statement that Oldrich Lipský is one of the greatest comedy writer/directors ever to have existed and it’s a crime that his work is not better known. Sure, film obsessives might be aware of him but I considered myself to be such a thing and yet only recently discovered the man, and it’s frustrating that Film4 or Mubi.com haven’t run a retrospective on his work. I mean, I’d go as far as saying there should be a Sky Movies Lipský channel running day and night in the same way there is one devoted to Disney, but, er, I’m aware I might be going a bit mad there.
A comedic take on the novel The Carpathian Castle by Jules Verne, The Mysterious Castle In The Carpathians is set in 1897 in a castle near the town of Werewolfville, with the title of the location you might expect mockery of the supernatural but this is a far more unusual story. Visiting the town is the slightly pompous and pretentious famous opera singer Count Teleke of Tölökö (Michal Docolomanský, also the lead in Dinner For Adele) who’s looking for a new location to inspire him to write his next opera, The Vampire’s Curse, and when the local villagers tell him it’s haunted he’s even more excited.
It’s also revealed that The Count is trying to recover from the kidnapping of the woman he loves, Salsa (Evelyna Steimarová), and in the only contrived part of the film he discovers that the man responsible for this act, Baron Gorz (Lipský regular Milos Kopecký), recently disappeared in the area, and when he and a local games keeper break in to the castle it’s not long before he discovers that it’s owner is the Baron and we learn of his nefarious plan. For Baron Gorz is a man of science who finances the work of the deranged Professor Orphanic (Rudolf Hrusínský) and the two of them are keeping Salsa to sing for them, and them alone. Or is everything not as it seems? Well, my just saying that kind of confirms it isn’t, and the twist is one you’ll probably see coming, but that’s not an issue in the slightest.
It’s an enormously entertaining movie and as with most Lipský films it’s impressively inventive. The script is filled with engaging oddities and very funny sequences, the best of which include the Count owning the world’s smallest gun and his mistreatment of his loyal valet, the Baron’s obsession with beards and those who can’t grow a proper one, and his childish vandalism and visit to the opera in bandages. There’s lots of quotable lines too, though without a doubt the funniest is the Count’s comment that “The Ministry of the Forestry and I had the same wet-nurse, milk is thicker than water and we remained suckling-siblings” which in context is bizarrely hilarious.
As with Dinner For Adele it features special props by Jan Svankmajer, the majority of which are supposedly created by Professor Orphanic and include a television, a rocket ship, a foldable motorbike, automatic doors, and a device that can levitate apples, which is pretty extraordinary considering the early ninteenth century setting. My only minor issue with the film is that there is one moment which I couldn’t understand as when the local games keeper is found in the woods he changes sex, but perhaps there was a reason for this which just went over my head.
Unlike most of Lipský’s films it does take a little while to get going, but once it does it’s a constant delight, and while it may not have the high gag rate of such movies it’s enchanting and charming and still made me grin throughout when I wasn’t laughing. It’s more conventional that the other films I’ve seen of his but it still contains lots of unique moments, once again Milos Kopecký makes for a perfect comedy villain, and it has a gloriously daft ending which I absolutely adored and I can’t imagine anyone not feeling the same way about it.