Prince Danilo falls in love with dancer Sally O'Hara. His uncle, King Nikita I of Monteblanco forbids the marriage because she is a commoner. Thinking she has been jilted by her prince, Sally marries old, lecherous Baron Sadoja, whose wealth has kept the kingdom afloat. When he dies suddenly, Sally must be wooed all over again by Danilo. Written by
Superb film by Erich von Stroheim who "personally directed" this lush and romantic blockbuster starring Mae Murray and John Gilbert.
Gilbert plays a European prince who falls for American "danseuse" Murray. Of course his leering cousin the Crown prince (Roy D'Arcy) also has a yen for blonde Murray. The boys clash but Murray prefers Gilbert until he is tricked into jilting her at the altar. She then marries the nation's leading banker (Tully Marshall) who has a foot fetish. He croaks of their wedding night and she becomes "The Merry Widow," a notorious party goer and high liver.
The lovers meet again at Maxim's in Paris where Murray pretends to prefer the oozing D'Arcy. Gilbert gets drunk. On a morning horse ride Murray and D'Arcy come across Gilbert sprawled drunk by the roadside. In a fit, Gilbert strikes the loathsome prince and is challenged to a duel. Murray races to the fog-ridden gunfest but Gilbert has already been shot.
Von Stroheim, notorious for his excesses in GREED is more constrained with THE MERRY WIDOW but still manages some startlingly decadent touches. Murray is fabulous as a the dancer and gets one whole routine to herself a la Martha Grahame as well as the striking and sensual waltz with Gilbert. Gilbert seethes with masculinity and lust for Murray. They are quite a couple. Von Stroheim gives each star maximum close-ups to great effect. Murray has two grand entrances: one in black gown and diamonds for a royal ball; a second all in white fur cape and feathers for her entrance at Maxim's.
The film is highly dramatic, romantic, and sensual but manages touches of humor. A real feast. George Fawcett is the old king; Josephine Crowell is the queen.
In 1925 John Gilbert would have been a shoe in for a best actor Oscar between his performances in THE MERRY WIDOW and THE BIG PARADE. Murray would likely have been a best actress contender. Great film.
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