|Page 1 of 3:||  |
|Index||28 reviews in total|
This film is nothing short of glorious. Before films decided they had to be
realistic they had style, and Lubitsch was the style king. Everything about
this film is sumptuous and beautiful, and the Oscar winning art direction of
Cedric Gibbons and Fredric Hope is truly magnificent. Not bad either are
the gowns of Adrian.
MacDonald and Chevalier are excellent together, there is great support from Edward Everett Horton - and who will ever forget the magic scenes between Chevalier and the king and the queen - irresitably played by Una Merkel and George Barbier. The script is witty and a little naughty ("I know what to do with her but I'm too old"), the cinematography breath-taking and the music gorgeous.
But the star of the show is Lubitsch - the mass waltz scene is magnificent, the depiction of MacDonald's mourning clothes (all black - even the dog!) and their transformation into white is astonishing and, just when you think the plot is running out of steam, he gives us an hilarious ending that is unforgettable.
If you ever get a chance to see this on the big screen, run don't walk to the cinema. A perfect 10.
The great Ernst Lubitsch clearly understood the material in which "The
Merry Widow" was based. Being European himself, he clearly identified
with this delightful Franz Lehar operetta that had been charming
audiences throughout the years. Mr. Lubitsch places the action in the
small country of Marshovia, in central Europe. The director had an eye
for the great spectacle he presents for us. Mr. Lubitsch greatest
achievement is that he seems to have his camera waltzing all the time.
The result is an amazing triumph for MGM.
In fact, the glorious sets one admires in the film are breathtaking. For a film made in 1934, the art directors, Cedric Gibbons and Gabriel Scognamillo recreate the royal palace of Marshovia in amazing detail, as well as the Paris scenes with an elegance and good taste that shows the resources of the studio that didn't spare anything. The black and white cinematography of Oliver Marsh enhances the Lubitsch style. Adrian's gowns look luxurious and the editing of the film by Francis Marsh give the film continuity without ever making the action appear forced or staged.
The pairing of Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald was an match that seems to have been made in haven. Both actors are a delight to see. Mr. Chevalier with his French accent and mannerisms make his Count Danilo the charmer he is. The beautiful Ms. MacDonald is mysterious at first, when we meet her, then as she has fallen in love, changes her attitude and realizes Danilo is the man for her.
The secondary roles are played with great panache by the genial Edward Everett Horton, who as the ambassador to Paris, is under orders to have Sonia, the wealthy woman, accept Danilo and return to Marshovia with all her money. George Barber plays the King Achmed and the incomparable Una Merkel is seen as Queen Dolores.
The Merry Widow waltz received a great production number in which about a hundred couples are seen dancing around Sonia and Danilo, first in white tuxedos and gowns and later in black ones. Later all the couples are mixed together creating such a rich moment. By today's standards that sequence couldn't have been done, or it must have cost a fortune, or perhaps would have digitally mastered in order not to pay dancers to appear dancing in the movie.
Let's just be thankful there was a man with a vision, Ernst Lubitsch, and let's be grateful for his vision and his legacy.
MGM's second version of 'The Merry Widow', this time using the music of
Lehar's operetta and starring Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier
in the roles previously filled by Mae Murray and John Gilbert in the
Jeanette MacDonald is a revelation here if you've only seen her in the films which teamed her with Nelson Eddy from 1935 and 1942. Her Sonia is sparky, flirty, and naughty, and naturally in beautiful voice as ever. Maurice Chevalier brings his considerable Gallic charm to the role of Count Danillo, while familiar character faces of the period flesh out the supporting cast (Edward Everett Horton, Donald Meek, Una Merkel, Sterling Holloway).
The film looks sumptuous, with beautiful sets and striking black and white photography. Definitely one of the key musicals of the 1930s.
The Monarch of Marshovia sends a romantic count to Paris to woo back
THE MERRY WIDOW whose vast wealth is vital to running the tiny kingdom.
Nine years after producing a non-talking film based on the Franz Lehár operetta, MGM mined the same material again, this time as a musical comedy. The Studio would give the film its trademark opulent treatment, with production values of the highest order. Celebrated lyricist Lorenz Hart was engaged to write words for the music. And, to make absolutely certain of success, director Ernst Lubitsch and stars Maurice Chevalier & Jeanette MacDonald were reunited to duplicate their previous triumphs at Paramount Studios.
If, ultimately, the film does not have quite the effervescence of Lubitsch's previous pictures, this is probably understandable. MGM, while wonderful with epics and dramas, often took an unnecessarily heavy-handed approach to subjects which should have been given a lighter, airier treatment. Also, the film was released a few months after the imposition of the Production Code, which obviously had a significant effect upon the movie's final persona.
Chevalier & MacDonald continue the on screen relationship already well established in their earlier films: she, the rather aloof and powerful female who needs a good man; he, the social inferior who wins her with his enormous Gallic charm. Their singing is vivacious & charming and sometimes you can almost understand her words.
Unlike the 1925 version of THE MERRY WIDOW, there is no villain here to provide dramatic tension. The costars, however, provide much comic amusement. Foremost among them is waspish Edward Everett Horton, very funny as Marshovia's nervous Ambassador in Paris. Rotund George Barbier & sprightly Una Merkel make the most of their small roles as the diminutive nation's conniving King and flirtatious Queen.
Some of the smaller roles are also humorously cast: Sterling Holloway as Chevalier's loyal orderly; Donald Meek as the King's gossipy valet; and Herman Bing as Horton's dramatic factotum.
Movie mavens will recognize Akim Tamiroff as the head waiter at Maxim's & Arthur Housman as a drunk (what else?) trying to gain entry into that establishment, both uncredited.
Forget that this classic film was made forty years ago! You will also forget that it is in black and white from the moment that 'the curtain goes up' because of the wonderfully convincing performances and the romance of the music - just surrender to it - even the make-believe fantasy of the story; be a fly on the wall and let yourself be swept along as the scenes unfold at good pace.This is beautifully directed by Lubitsch whilst Vajda and Raphaelson have produced a great script.MGM built some wonderful sets - the opulence of the King of Marshovia's palace is fun with the lovely cast crowns on the huge doors ( a bit 'Wizard of Oz'ish'!) and the great dance sequences at the Embassy Ball may have influenced others 20 or so years later for 'My Fair Lady'. There are some lovely humourous touches and every performance is polished right down to the gypsy violinist. The music is wonderful but at the top of the credits are performances by Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier which are totally believable. We need to remind ourselves that when this was made in 1934 the film industry was not long into its infancy and despite the absence of all of today's surround sound - the distraction of colour -and all the technical 'advances' - this is a little masterpiece. You can hear clearly every word (what a refreshing change from todays films!!)and this delightful Lehar masterpiece rolls along on the great and convincing performances with the romance atmosphere of the music tugging at your heartstrings. Those without hearts or strings give this a miss - but sadly if you do I believe that you will be incomplete because you will have denied yourself the thrills,fun and fantasy of a delightful, beautifully performed 'once upon a time' romance.
This is why Hollywood use the expression "The Lubitsch Touch". Almost every film made by that most delightful of directors was sprightly and hilarious and sexy, and this is one of his most delightful. It's the best version filmed.
Maurice Chevalier is of course just as attractive as a man can be, and Jeanette MacDonald is wonderfully funny and sexy (why oh why did she ever team up with Nelson "The Singing Capon" Eddy? With Chevalier she was enchanting, with Eddy you wanted to slap her), and the supporting cast is delightful. Wonderful script, wonderful score, fabulous thirties-period costumes, all in all a delight.
the music's the thing in this treatment of the light opera favorite. mcdonald was never better, voice and looks. ditto chevalier, acting in a role tailor-made for him. talk about a film having everything...the comedy, handled by old pros, such as sterling holloway, geo. barbier, una merkel, billy gilbert, henry armetta, donald meek, minna gombel. stupendous sets with dance scenes that were a lasting tribute to those who put them together. but as i said, the music, withal, is the thing. chevalier's "girls, girls, girls", "maxim's"; mcdonald's "delia" (was there ever a sweeter, more poignant song?), "merry widow waltz" and three or four other numbers. a truly great film. regrettably enough, mcdonald today is better remembered for the nelson eddy team-ups; personally, i prefer her with chevalier. they made at least four great musicals , the "widow" topping them all.
Ernst Lubitsch directed some of the sweetest and funniest sex comedies
of the 1930s and 1940s. He was fortunate enough to do three films with
Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald. They are all charming, but
the last one may be the best. Here he took the best known operetta of
Franz Lehar and turned it into a superb musical comedy, with new lyrics
to tunes like "Maximes", "the Merry Widow Waltz", and "Girls, girls,
girls, girls, girls" by Lorenz Hart. At the same time he maintained his
marvelous sense of fun - something that may be very much missing from
Eric Von Stroheim's earlier, silent film version (that became a study
in Balkan politics).
THE MERRY WIDOW was composed in 1905, shortly after a major scandal involving the nation of Montenegro. This land still exists, and (with Serbia) retains the now useless joint name of Yugoslavia - the Balkan state that once faced Italy and combined eight countries. Montenegro was a kingdom in 1905, and it's ruler had a Crown Prince named Danilo, who created major scandal by his doings in Paris. Lehar, a Viennese composer (and so, one who usually made fun of the Slavic states) took the story and the name of the Crown Prince, retaining the setting in the embassy in Paris. In Lehar's operetta, the homeland of Pontrevekkio (note how it sounds like Montenegro) is on the verge of bankruptcy, unless the richest widow in the country (Sonia) marries a citizen of the state. She is being pursued by eligible Frenchmen in Paris, so the Pontrevekkian embassy decides to have Count Danillo, a member of the staff there, romance and marry her. The complications that ensue are amusing. Lehar's music is not as waltz oriented on the whole as Johann Strauss II, except for the famous "Merry Widow" number. Most of the tunes have more of a Parisian flair, and one ("Vilia") has a lovely haunting effect. It remains his most popular operetta, although he was to do "THE COUNT OF LUXEMBURG" and "THE LAND OF SMILES" as well.
Montenegro did complain (like the Japanese complained about Gilbert and Sullivan's THE MIKADO). The major change in the book nowadays is the name is usually not Pontrevekkio, but Marshovia. When Von Stroheim did his silent version, he concentrated on the Balkan politics involving the Crown Prince, his "cousin" Prince Danillo, Sonia, her rich, insane husband, and the throne. The cast in that had been quite stunning for a 1925 movie, with John Gilbert as Danillo, Roy D'Arcy as the grinning, sadistic Crown Prince, Mae Marsh as Sonia, and Tully Marshall as the sexually mad Baron who weds Sonia (and suffers a stroke on their wedding night). Full of sexual ideas (Marshall has such a foot fetish that he dies having his nose in Marsh's pumps), the highpoint was the waltz, wherein Gilbert and Marsh realize their love to Lehar's strains (the music at that point of the silent version was always the Lehar "Merry Widow" Waltz). It remains a masterpiece of silent cinema (and another proof of Von Stroheim's peculiar genius), but it is not a light hearted as the operetta it was based on.
Lubitsch is different. He has fun showing what little Marshovia is like, with sheep and goats appearing all over the streets and in the public buildings. The King (George Barbier) is aware that his wife (Una Merkle) is less than satisfied with him, and has a famous "freudian" moment when he returns without warning to get his ceremonial sword, grabs one, and finds he can't get the belt around his girth. He returns to his antechamber, and confronts Lt. Danillo with his wife. King Achmet is upset, but his solution - he'll cover up the scandal but sends Danillo to Paris.
There are many good moments: Danillo's trial for treason is one. So is Ambassador Popoff (Edward Everett Horton) having his aide (Herman Bing) translate a coded message from King Achmet, which basically calls him a blockhead. And, yes, the film chemistry between Maurice and Jeannette is retained, as in their three other movies. But they could not have made more films together. Nolan disliked Chevalier - he had a habit of pinching her. Chevalier thought she was a hypocrite, because (at the time) she was having an affair with Gene Raymond (whom she eventually married). When she was teamed with Nelson Eddy, she and Eddy happened to be quite close friends, which is why their total film output together is eight films.
I notice that Clark Gable had some kind of cameo appearance here (it is not in the billing). Two years later he and Jeanette would appear together in SAN FRANCISCO.
This is the very best filmed version of Franz Lehar's delightful operetta. The cast is perfectly matched, the music and songs wonderfully rendered. Though black and white, one rapidly begins to see all the true colors. This is a charmer from Hollywood's Golden Age that holds up well. If you love this great Lehar musical invention, forget the 1952 version, it does not have the vitality of Ernst Lubitch direction, nor does it have a peak Maurice Chevalier nor the enchanting singing voice Jeanette MacDonald. This is the one. You will want to watch this film many times over, as a picker-upper.
Andrew Sarris once wrote that "Lubitsch suggests the art of lilting waltz
bubbling champagne" and nowhere is this truer in "The Merry Widow",
Lubitsch's last musical, his first transition to MGM, and my own pick for
Lubitsch's greatest musical (rivalled only by either "One Hour With
You"(1932) or "The Smiling Lieutenant"(1931)). It just doesn't get any
better than this. Lubitsch's approach here is to exploit Cedric Gibbons'
enchanting Art Deco with wit. He also displays an eye for real, human
emotion within the marvellous, dreamy world. There are many highlights,
including the rousing rendition of "Delia" at the beginning, Chevalier's
Danilo at the Maxim's, but the most extraordinary of all is The Merry
Waltz, a joyous blend of gaiety and sadness. In several successive shots,
Danilo and Jeanette MacDonald's Sonia are shown alone on a dance floor
then exquisitely enveloped by hordes of dancers sweeping in from all
then all this enchanting splendour is climaxed by Lubitsch revealing that
the whole ballroom scene is the subjective dream of the lovers. What
to be the dance of life is in fact the dance of death.
Lubitsch will later reprise the waltz in his imperishable 1943 masterpiece "Heaven Can Wait" when Don Ameche recalls it on his death bed. Not to Mention, Alfred Hitchcock in "Shadow of a Doubt" as a reminder of death and mortality.
|Page 1 of 3:||  |
|External reviews||Plot keywords||Main details|
|Your user reviews||Your vote history|