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Edward Everett Horton
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Marshovia, a small European kingdom, is on the brink of bankruptcy but the country may be saved if the wealthy American Crystal Radek, widow of a Marshovian, can be convinced to part with her money and marry the king's nephew count Danilo. Arriving to Marshovia on a visit, Crystal Radek change places with her secretary Kitty. Following them to Paris, Danilo has a hard time wooing the woman he believes is the widow after falling in love with an attractive young woman at a nightclub, the same Crystal Radek who presents herself as Fifi the chorus girl. Written by
This 1952 version of "The Merry Widow" couldn't possibly compare to the 1934 Lubitsch production, but MGM went all out to make a lavish, colorful film starring Lana Turner and Fernando Lamas. To do so, all of the singing, except for one short section, was taken away from Turner. I guess someone thought a soprano voice coming out of her mouth would seem funny to 1952 audiences, which seems a strange decision. Some stars, like Ava Gardner, were dubbed constantly. Lamas did his own singing in a tremulous tenor. Considering the fact that "The Merry Widow" has been a staple of opera companies for years, it really needs some bigger guns. MGM had them but didn't use them.
"The Merry Widow" is about Crystal Radek (Turner), a wealthy widow living, in this version, in New York, whose husband was from a small country, Marshkovia. She is lured to Marshovia under false pretenses. The country is broke and Count Danilo (Lamas) has been asked to court and marry her so the debts can be paid. Danilo mistakes Crystal's attractive but older friend (Una Merkel) for Crystal and is reluctant to pursue her. Crystal finds out why she has been brought to Marshovia and takes off for Paris. Danilo follows her - still not knowing what she looks like - and she follows him to Maxim's and introduces herself as Fifi, a chorus girl. Danilo falls in love with Fifi, but his country has ordered him to marry Crystal.
This film was nominated for best art direction and best costumes, and no wonder. "The Merry Widow" is absolutely gorgeous, with the most heavenly costumes and sets. Turner looks fabulous and despite the long gowns, gets to show off her legs. Lamas makes a handsome and charming Danilo. As Billy Crystal would say, he looks mahvelous.
The supporting players - Thomas Gomez, Richard Haydn, Maurice Danilo, King Donovan, are all excellent, and if you think you recognize Gwen Verdon among the dancers at Maxim's, you do.
The best part of the film is the waltz toward the end of the film, which is stunning. Hitchcock aficionados will recognize "The Merry Widow Waltz" from "Shadow of a Doubt" and get an eerie feeling every time they hear it - which in "The Merry Widow" is more than once.
When Dore Schary took over MGM in 1951, he considered Lana Turner, at the age of 30, nothing more than an over-the-hill actress. She proved him wrong. Seeing her in "The Merry Widow" is a good indication that Dore Schary needed stronger glasses.
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