|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Index||15 reviews in total|
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.
A romantic Prince from tiny Monteblanco attempts to woo THE MERRY WIDOW
who once loved him when she was a poor dancer.
Erich von Stroheim, the Teutonic genius who marched through Hollywood's Silent Days like a conquering general, had his final directorial stint at MGM Studios producing this lavish & brilliant film based on the operetta by Franz Lehár. The visuals are striking, with sets that look like actual locations--a mountaintop village; the Castellano Cathedral; Maxim's in Paris--and the occasional bizarre touch--the blindfolded musicians sharing the Prince's seduction bed, for example--which von Stroheim relished. The acting is flawless, with no need for dialogue. The actors' faces speak all that need be said.
Mae Murray & John Gilbert portray the passionate lovers whom Fate (and the plot) contrives to keep apart so successfully. Miss Murray (she and the director loathed each other) powerfully portrays a street-wise performer who, through a series of heartbreaks, becomes a vastly wealthy woman. Gilbert expertly plays a prince whose charm has always gotten him his way. Their scenes together, most particularly the waltz sequences, fairly blaze with unrequited sensual longing and desire.
While it is entertaining to wonder what von Stroheim would have done with the role, it is difficult to imagine anyone better than Roy D'Arcy as the simpering, lusting, sneering Crown Prince; he is pure villainy personified and his eventual fate is absolutely justified. Josephine Crowell gives a fine performance as the Queen. Tully Marshall, one of von Stroheim's favorite character actors, adds another portrait to his gallery of grotesques, this time playing a crippled baron with a foot fetish.
The wonderful organ score which accompanies the film was arranged & performed by Dennis James.
MGM would tackle THE MERRY WIDOW again nine years later and produce a vastly different film, this time directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Maurice Chevalier & Jeanette MacDonald.
This is Cheshire, reporting from the 2004 Sydney Film Festival, where
Erich von Stroheim's Merry Widow was just given a resounding hurrah! It
was the darling of the festival! Never have i heard such hooping and
cheering. Our enjoyment of the film was no doubt enhanced by the
wonderful print and live piano, violin and brass accompaniment we were
I know Stroheim only went to Hollywood because he wanted to inject a bit of reality into the movies - and i think he did that superbly with Greed and those pictures before it. But the thing i loved most about Foolish Wives, for instance, my favourite Stroheim film so far (keeping in mind i'm yet to see Blind Husbands), was not how natural and real its performances were, though this was incredible, but Stroheim's wickedly subversive sense of humour. Foolish Wives is divine black comedy - and Merry Widow continues that tradition, not Stroheim's dream of realism. I can't believe Stroheim was depressed at how successful this film was, because he abandoned any attempts at "realism" to make it.
I think he achieves something better. I'm not one of these fellows who insists a picture hold a mirror up to reality to be good - if i was interested in reality, i'd watch a documentary, or perhaps sit on a park bench and watch the thing itself! I go to the pictures to see a different world, with a reality all its own. Its why i love the work of Fellini, the Coen Brothers, David Lynch, Wes Anderson, Kubrick and Co. They give us something better than reality! I think that's what Stroheim does here, and despite the fact that he didn't respect what he did, I think its among his greatest achievements. For modern audiences, The Merry Widow is one of the most delightful pieces of black salacious comedy available before the last twenty years (along with Bunuel's priceless L'Age D'Or). Such intelligent, aware humour - we all had a great laugh at the State Theatre in Sydney.
John Gilbert looks marvelous on screen, and MY what a fantastic actor he was. But the show is all but stolen by Roy D'Arcy, as Stroheim's beloved evil cousin figure. His salacious grin is a thing to behold. He cracked the audience up throughout. Seems D'Arcy is a great unsung hero of the cinema, from looking at his credits list. Perhaps a rediscovery of La Boheme and Bardleys the Magnificent might rejuvenate his memory, not to mention a beautiful DVD edition of The Merry Widow... or even a VHS edition! Who are we kidding here, guys! This is not only one of the most enjoyable silent films i've ever seen, its just a darn tootin' good comedy!
For all the talk of the "boundless shots of shoes" i'd heard were in this movie, i was expecting it to be a two-hour long shoe-store commercial. Whoever went on like that about this movie, including Irving Thalberg, must SO not have even heard of foot fettishism. Its so obvious when you see the picture. There are probably six shots of shoes in the picture total (!), and four of them are to illustrate one of the B-characters as a foot fetishist, which is fairly obvious, since he licks his lips and virtually salivates when he looks at feet! This is also ironic for this character, because his feet are the location of his disability: he walks with comic difficulty on two replacement feet, crutches. The remaining shoe shots are part of a delightful scene involving a game of footsies, which i won't spoil for you, but they are most certainly justified by the narrative.
Look, this is the sort of film i'd love to have on a pretty DVD edition (attention Kino!) as part of the wonderful Erich von Stroheim Collection sitting next to my bed so i can watch it to send me off onto a nice sleep. Its the most fun of Stroheim's films, but he in no way sells out, in my opinion. The humour is satirical, subversive "let's see what i can get away with" comedy - a treat!
For the record, i recommend to you in this order:
1. Foolish Wives 2. The Merry Widow (when its released some time soon, or at a film festival near you) 3. Greed 4. The Wedding March 5. Queen Kelly
(the only other surviving Stroheim picture i'm yet to see is Blind Husbands, and he only directed some scenes from Merry-Go-Round, which you can see on the doco The Man You Love to Hate - they're pretty great!)
It may be a matter of taste but as much as I like and admire Erich Von
Stroheim work before and behind the camera, his reputation as a `genius'
doesn't seem justified by the films themselves.
Certainly Merry Widow is filmed with great style and the opulent design is certainly diverting. Also the decision to turn the story from light opera to fairly heavy drama is completely in keeping with Von Stroheim 's own rather cynical outlook. But I find his obsessive dwelling on details can make for a slow and even tedious viewing experience, especially in the first half which seems to spend an inordinate amount of time setting the relationship between the dashing, irreverent but humanist Prince Danilo Petrovich (Gilbert - in wonderful form) and the pompous, tight lipped and distinctly perverse Crown Prince Mirko (Roy D'Arcy).with scenes prolonged far longer than their dramatic weight justifies. Also where the film attempts a lighter tone, the effect is of a concrete soufflé, with every glance and double entendre painfully spelt out.
However this is still a satisfying film as a whole, especially in the second half where we finally have some DRAMA. Here in sequence after sequence we finally start to understand Von Stroheim's reputation as he examines the decaying Royal family under a particularly unflattering microscope. The tryst with the blindfolded musicians is a particularly memorable scene.
Having heard of Mae Murray's terrible treatment of the Von and others in her career, I had a tough time warming to her in this, but I have to admit she gives a great performance as Sally O ' Hara, an innocent who's mistreatment at the hands of the family almost ruins her life. Roy D'Arcy makes an indelible impression as the creepy Mirko, his every gesture filling one with disgust.
But for my money it's Gilbert's work that makes this film worthwhile. One of the very finest of silent actors, the expressiveness of his eyes, the tenderness of his playing and bearing throughout make his character completely convincing and his torment over loosing Sally a felt and poignant loss.
So much has been written about this picture that it is impossible not to see
Von Stroheim's strange genius in it. I, for one, was brought up too
conventionally to appreciate the recurring shots of feet - dancing, jumping,
caressing, kicking - but it didn't get in the way of the story. It all
takes place in their eyes - Mae Murray and the wonderful John Gilbert, so
beautifully paired. The sparks fly, the seduction scene with the two
blindfolded musicians sets the scene, and when he would seduce her...she
cries, and he falls in love.
The responsibility of royalty and the greed of nations come between the lovers, but they come together again, and in the dance all is resurrected. A war of wills, of mistaken feelings and misunderstanding is what they talk about while their bodies move as one. I can hear the music still, see them, his incredible dark eyes riveted on her in all moods:successively amused, then tittilated, finally adoring, hungry; bereft, angry, and finally - consumed and satisfied.
It's a lovely film, even with the feet, and John Gilbert gives a wonderful performance. Mae Murray, who could cry for her own purposes and succumb when every woman in the audience was hoping for their union, was his match.
It's more than big, glorious MGM - it's a good story with strong characters. See it - on the big screen if you can, but see it in any case.!
The Merry Widow was first seen by American audiences on Broadway during
the 1907-08 season where it ran for 416 performances. For those of us
who know it primarily from the sound films with first Maurice Chevalier
and Jeanette MacDonald and later Fernando Lamas and Lana Turner, this
version will be quite interesting. Let's just say that what was put in
the talkies was a lot closer to the stage production. Erich Von
Stroheim who directed this film added quite a bit to the story. In fact
in the end it isn't quite so merry.
Most of the film is taken up with just how Mae Murray became The Merry Widow. She's an American dancer who is stranded in the remote Balkan kingdom of Monteblanco which is ruled by King George Fawcett. In line for the throne is the rakish Roy D'Arcy, a Snidely Whiplash villain if there ever was one. Behind him is his cousin John Gilbert playing Prince Danilo.
Murray comes to the attention of both men, Gilbert actually falls for her, D'Arcy would like an occasional roll in the hay, but marry her? There's a third guy out there in Tully Marshall who is the wealthiest man in the kingdom and it's principal banker. He leaves and the whole place goes into receivership. Marshall's an old dude with some alternative sexual interests that Von Stroheim exploits to the fullest on screen and he'd like a young trophy wife and Murray fills the bill.
She does become a wife ever so briefly and then of course the Merry Widow having had her fill of royalty. But now that she holds the Monteblanco purse strings, D'Arcy has taken a renewed interest in her and maybe she just might be a suitable queen.
I think you can see where this is going though Von Stroheim does tease us a bit with some possible alternatives before the film concludes. The audience of 1925 saw one lavish production that nearly broke the new Metro-Goldwyn studio. We only see about half the footage he shot if that.
One thing that Metro did not have to worry about was a soundtrack. The music of The Merry Widow was very familiar to the American public and it's played on the organ throughout the film. Young contract players Joan Crawford and Clark Gable are extras in the ballroom scene and good luck in spotting them. Although in the Citadel film series book on The Films Of Clark Gable there is a still from The Merry Widow where Gable is pointed out.
I'm sure John Gilbert little dreamed that in six years Gable would be supplanting him as the number one leading man at MGM. But in The Merry Widow he's a stalwart and resolute Danilo and Mae Murray actually does suggest a bit of what Jeanette MacDonald's performance would be in the first sound remake.
In the fate of what happens to D'Arcy's character, Von Stroheim opts for some realism in terms of the European scene of the past 25 years or so before the film debuted. In fact very little of the happy tone of The Merry Widow is preserved here. The film given how Murray got her millions ought to be retitled, The Trophy Widow.
Still it's an interesting alternative to the normal operetta productions we're used to seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
lier/Despite this film having the same title as the 1934 Maurice
Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald movie, it bears no real similarity
other than the characters names and title. Otherwise, they really are
completely unalike. I have no idea if the '34 version has anything to
do with the operetta, though apparently the 1925 one only has a passing
John Gilbert plays a Prince in a fictional European nation. His rival is the nasty Roy D'Arcy--his cousin the Crown Prince. Both are army officers and womanizers who both fall for a pretty American (Mae Murray). However, she just finds them both annoying at first. However, Gilbert's charms win her over--and hers win him as well and he decides to marry her--even if Princes are NOT supposed to marry commoners. But on the day of their wedding, Gilbert is a no-show--having been convinced to give up the folly of marrying her. Naturally she is heart-broken and the ULTRA-super creepy Baron (Tully Marshall) offers to marry her. After all, he is a major foot fetishist and she has the most exquisite feet!! Ick! You'd even more icky when you see the aging Marshall who looks a bit like death warmed over! Fortunately for Murray, the new husband dies on their wedding night. I say fortunate because he looked like the type who might eat or strangle her! I mean he is REAAALLY creepy!! Now this lady is now a rich Baroness and quite a welcomed member of royal society.
So now that Murray is somebody, what will happen? Will she once again fall for Gilbert's promises and virile ways or will she tell him to get lost? Well, it sure looks like the latter as she now is cozying up to the snake-like Crown Prince--as nasty piece of work he is! Plus, the more Gilbert pursues her, the more she puts him in his place. But, when she announces her plans to marry the Crown Prince, Gilbert goes nuts and attacks him--which leads to them arranging to fight a duel. Will Gilbert survive to win the widow or will he soon be assuming room temperature? Tune in to this film and find out for yourself.
The film is exceptionally well made--with gorgeous sets, lovely matte paintings and lots of cool costumes. It's obvious that MGM spared no expense for this production, though I was surprised that Louis B. Meyer allowed Erich von Stroheim to helm this project considering his reputation for waaay over-excess (with his bazillion-reeled epic "Greed" being pared down by an angry studio just a few years earlier). Regardless, the film looked great and was quite enjoyable--one of the better silents I have seen.
By the way, at the 127 minute mark, get a load of Murray's headdress--it's a riot.
The biggest problem I have with user reviews on websites like IMDb is
that the reviews are usually much too positive. People seem to love
everything, and they seem to expect everyone else to love everything
too. Positive reviews are invariably rated "helpful" and negative
reviews are spat upon. The childish rule of "If you can't say anything
nice, don't say anything at all" has a remarkable appeal for otherwise
sensible adults... it is so strange.
I rarely give strongly positive reviews, but "The Merry Widow" is such a fantastic movie that giving it a "10" is quite easy. Why is it fantastic? Well, for starters John Gilbert is a revelation in this film. I've seen him in a few other silents, but he is incomparable here. His eyes, his expressions, his movements.... it is marvelous just to watch him. Von Stroheim gives Gilbert lots of screen time to express his mental turmoil, and Gilbert does so with remarkable depth and nuance for a silent film. Next, the other actors are excellent in their roles. Roy D'Arcy is terrific as the mean, fastidious and sly Crown Prince. Unlike most Von Stroheim villains, his rather ham fisted nastiness does not become an annoying caricature -- he is actually rather charming and funny with a strange mixture of grace and hunched awkwardness. Mae Murray is incandescent as the love interest -- the superb cinematography makes her look gorgeous, almost ethereal at times -- though her acting, while good, isn't the best in this particular movie. Everyone else in the cast more than pulls his weight.
The story, too, is quite wonderful. There are many twists and turns... it almost feels like an epic... and the pacing creates plenty of tension and suspense. I also noticed the editing -- the shooting was quite complex and the cutting very skillful. Then there's Von Stroheim's usual opulence with respect to decor, costume, and all the little details that evoke old-style European aristocracy. But even in the midst of the opulence there's a scene shot out in an open, barren field that is remarkably atmospheric and utterly simple. I could go on and on....
There's really nothing to quibble with here. If possible, wait to see it in a cinema with live piano accompaniment -- I felt very fortunate to have had that opportunity.
"Manhattan Follies" dancer Mae Murray (as Sally O'Hara) attracts much
male attention while touring the "Kingdom of Monteblanco," especially
from sexually aggressive John Gilbert (as Danilo Petrovich) and Roy
D'Arcy (as Prince Mirko). Soon, Mr. Gilbert's lunging leers turn to
love, and Ms. Murray succumbs to his charms. However, Royal rulers
Josephine Crowell (as Queen Milena) and George Fawcett (as King Nikita
I) are against Gilbert's proposed marriage. Feeling jilted, Murray
marries grotesque banker Tully Marshall (as Sixtus Sadoja), who
promptly kicks the bucket. Newly rich, Murray becomes "The Merry Widow"
of Paris. There, Mr. D'Arcy seems to win her affections, but Gilbert
hasn't given up the courtship.
With this film, big-spending director Erich von Stroheim showed he could make an entertaining and innovative crowd-pleaser; his previous "Greed" (1924) had run over-budget (and over eight hours). But, although they had their hoped-for hit, MGM had also had enough of Mr. Stroheim; still, he departed on a high. "The Merry Widow" also helped rejuvenate Murray's fading career, albeit briefly. The cast is superlative, with D'Arcy essaying one of his most memorable roles. Perfectly representing Stroheim's famous foot fetish, Mr. Marshall is one of silent filmdom's forgotten treasures. Most of all, the flicker put Gilbert on the road to superstardom, which he cemented with a winning performance in "The Big Parade" (later in 1925).
Spotting Clark Gable and Joan Crawford as extras isn't as easy as counting Stroheim's foot references.
******** The Merry Widow (8/26/25) Erich von Stroheim ~ Mae Murray, John Gilbert, Roy D'Arcy, Tully Marshall
This is the kind of silent film that is so enjoyable to watch. Huge budget with a great cast. In the climatic dance sequence, where the "Merry Widow" dances, both Clark Gable and Myrna Loy, both unknowns at the time, were extras.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Plot summary||Ratings||External reviews|
|Plot keywords||Main details||Your user reviews|
|Your vote history|