Dolly Payne is adored by two leaders of the fledgling American government, James Madison and Aaron Burr. She plays each against the other, not only for romantic reasons, but also to influence the shaping of the young country. By manipulating Burr's affections, she helps Thomas Jefferson win the presidency, and eventually she becomes First Lady of the land herself. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Of all the post-Fred Astaire movies of Ginger Rogers to this point, this historical drama was her least successful both financially and critically. According to the June 23, 1947 edition of TIME magazine the picture had "trouble getting into some first-run theaters." Moreover, film reviewers largely felt that Ginger had been miscast. To quote film historian Hal Erickson, writing for All Movie Guide, "The usually ebullient Rogers seems encased in wax as Dolly Madison, the first lady of the United States in the early 19th century." See more »
Popular historical novelist and biographer Irving Stone wrote the story and screenplay for The Magnificent Doll the story of Dolly Madison and the three men in her life, first husband John Todd, second husband and 4th president James Madison, and 3rd Vice President Aaron Burr. The roles are played by Ginger Rogers, Burgess Meredith and David Niven without his familiar mustache. The charm however is there.
I would rate Magnificent Doll a lot lower but for Niven's portrayal of Burr. It is one of the few villain roles that Niven ever did in his career. But Aaron Burr had a considerable reservoir of charm which enabled him to rise as he did.
In real life Burr did stay at the boardinghouse of Dolly Payne and did pay some court to the widow Todd. But there was no romance there and Burr was hardly her lost love. He had a well cultivated reputation as a rake and after the death of his wife many years earlier he was proving on all occasions his sword was mightiest of all.
There was a wife for Burr and a daughter Theodosia whom he doted on and who was his official hostess and political partner. She's eliminated and Dolly Madison's son by her marriage to John Todd did not die in the yellow fever epidemic. Her son Payne Todd was spoiled rotten and was the bane of the existence of his stepfather James Madison who exhausted a great deal of his own money with his stepson's gambling debts and buying off all the women he consorted with. Children of two of the three leading characters just eliminated from the story.
But that's only part of the problem with what Irving Stone wrote. According to Stone, Burr was early on fascist, not a believer in democracy especially when it went against him. That was a good movie selling point in 1946, but in real life Burr never thought in concrete methods to put his vast plans into action.
But Stone could always spin a good yarn in work like The Agony And The Ecstasy and The President's Lady which were historical novels that became pretty good films. Many years ago he wrote a book with short biographies of the men who ran and lost for president called They Also Ran. His conclusions about some of these defeated candidates are laughed at today by serious historians.
Ginger Rogers and Burgess Meredith are good in their parts. But acting honors go to David Niven in Magnificent Doll for what he does with the man described as the American Catiline, Aaron Burr.
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