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In Australia we are still able to see the beautiful MGM musical in a real 1952 vintage 3 strip Technicolor print which is still in very good condition. I saw it last year and apart from a few bumpy reel changes it is very clean and not scratched too much. Lucky us! I know this is not the definitive version purists rave about (that is the 1934 version) but MGM in 1952 was about as technically lush and state of the art perfect as one could want for any musical. In fact MW is is as colorful and as visually lavish as MY FAIR LADY or ON A CLEAR DAY or HALF A SIXPENCE or even the indoor scenes in TITANIC to any modern audience. The Gen x-ers who saw this version were absolutely in awe of how spectacular this REAL Technicolor version is. Lana is amazingly beautiful and Fernando is his virile Latin he man best. The Waltz in the last reel is exquisite. The only irritating bit is the same 'mid-west-Yanks-in-Europe' antics that annoy in LOVELY TO LOOK AT made the same year. However, who really cares when THE MERRY WIDOW is visually astonishing and musically delicious. What a year it was at MGM in 1952! And this much guarded and treasured proper Hollywood 3 strip Technicolor print is staying here, folks! If you wanna see it you have to come visit.
Other than identifying the title character as an American now, The
Merry Widow pretty much retains the same plot, even some of the same
lines from the 1934 Jeanette MacDonald-Maurice Chevalier film.
Lana Turner is the widow of the man who was the richest person in the small kingdom of Mariskova. It's estimated in fact she has part ownership in 52% of the gross national product of the kingdom. She's the big fish in this pond.
Operating under the premise that Lana though she is now living in New York would still like to be a big fish in a small pond than be swallowed by an Austrian whale, King Thomas Gomez dispatches one of his playboy relations, Fernando Lamas too woo and wed the widow. The Hapsburgs are threatening that if they don't make good what's owed them they'll just come in and annex Mariskova. King Tom obviously does not want to spend his declining years in the fleshpots of Baden Baden or Marienbad or the French Riviera, he wants to stay king.
Getting the rich widow to underwrite the kingdom is not as silly a premise as it sounds. Just a bit before the action of The Merry Widow takes place, J. Pierpont Morgan literally underwrote the USA financial structure when asked to by President Cleveland.
Of course with a multi-millionaire fortune, Turner is naturally suspicious of a host of people trying to become friends and lovers.
The Franz Lehar songs which is what makes this operetta a beloved one by many repertoire companies are mostly present. Some are sung, others are relegated to the background. They are divided equally with the leading man and woman, here though Fernando Lamas carries the musical load. Trudy Erwin who dubbed Lana Turner's singing voice joins him briefly in the Merry Widow Waltz. All the other songs are given to Lamas including Vilia which is sung by the leading lady normally. Jeanette MacDonald sang it in the 1934 version and did it well.
Lamas and Turner were quite involved during this film. Esther Williams in her memoirs and this was years before she married Fernando tells that she was visiting the set at MGM one day and heard all kinds of squeals of passion coming from Turner's trailer. Obviously Fernando and Lana getting some rehearsal done.
Look for two nice supporting performances from Richard Haydn and John Abbott as a pair of bumbling Mariskovian diplomats and Una Merkel in her usual role as secretary and gal pal to Turner.
Even with technicolor this one doesn't quite measure to the 1934 version though Fernando Lamas does sing real nice.
The one thing I like about this movie is that Lana Turner got a chance to do something that she normally wouldn't do; be in a musical. O.K., so she couldn't sing and the one song that she did sing was dubbed by Trudy Erwin who dubbed Kim Novak in Pal Joey! Big deal! So, all of the singing numbers went to Fernando Lamas who "could" sing, and he does them very well, but this film has a lot more going for it than what one would think. First of all, it's not as stuffy as the Jeanette McDonald version in which she is to fall in love with Maurice Chevalier and why would a beauty like Jeanett want to fall in love with Maurice? At least we have the beautiful Lana falling in love with the very handsome Fernado which they did when making this movie together and it shows. What doesn't show through the movie is Lana's wrists which were bandaged because of a suicide attempt. The Merry Widow Ballet at the end of the movie is just down-right glorious. The cast looks like they're having the time of their life including Una Merkel who didn't look like it in the Jeanette McDonald version in which she played the same role! In fact, in this version, the credits and one scene on the balcony makes you ask, "Is Una's name Kitty or Katie? When Lana enters Maximes, we see Gwen Verdon doing the Can Can and at that time she wasn't really that well known except for her dance number with Betty Grable "I Feel Like Dancing Tonight" is Meet Me After the Show! But, Lana Turner never looked more beautiful, Fernando Lamas was just terrific as Count Denilo, and you couldn't help wondering where you heard Richard Haydens voice until you saw Disney's Alice In Wonderland in which he spoke for the Catipillar! And, of course, years later, we would recognize him as Uncle Max in the movie version of "The Sound of Music", and even though it's trivia now, we have Fernando Lamas' impersonating Richard Hayden, and very well, saying, "It's your little Fifi" which is right in there with the trivia question "What did Klatu tell Patricia Neal to tell Gort is anything happened to him!. Klatu Barada Nico". So, all in all, the music is great, the performances are high camp at its best, and that great Ballet at the end, leading into Lana Turner asking Charles Gomez, "What did your Excellency exactly mean - heads will roll?" and that glorious Technicolor makes this great entertainment, but - again, I have to say that these movies were meant for the large movie theater screen, and without that screen you can not even imagine how wonderful this movie and other were in those days! That large screen "did" make the difference!
This 1952 MGM production of Franz Lehar's classic pales in comparison
with the Erns Lubitsch's lavish version, that even in black and white,
is richer and more appealing to the eye than the later account.
Part of the blame must go to whoever decided to tailor make the film to suit its star, Lana Turner, and the direction of Curtis Bernhardt. As an operetta "The Merry Widow" has been delighting audiences for quite some time. The music alone is worth the price of admission, or in this case, the price of being able to get TCM on cable.
The other interesting thing is how the Technicolor used in the filming of this remake has faded after more than fifty years. The copy shown by TCM recently had a faded look that made it less interesting to watch.
Lana Turner and Fernando Lamas made an attractive couple, but their chemistry doesn't quite make it. Veterans Una Merkel, Thomas Gomez, Richard Haydn, and Marcel Dalio, among others, try their best, but their efforts don't make the film better.
We would strongly advise discerning viewers to check out the older Lubitsch's take on this timeless work.
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.
Lana Turner is "The Merry Widow" who goes to Marchovia to see her
deceased husband being honored by his homeland. In the meanwhile, she
hears Fernando Lamas singing at a party at an inn, where he and the
band were staying. They were supposed to greet her at the train's
arrival. But, the train was late. What she doesn't know is that the
country's king, played by Thomas Gomez, only asked her there, because
they are in debt and need financial aid, badly. Or else, another
country will invade and make their small country a province. Lamas is,
of course, the prince and he is ordered to woo the rich widow. Una
Merkel has a memorable role as her companion, and then there's a case
of mistaken identity.
I do admit that it kind of feels its age with its obvious corniness. Some may say it is better than "Latin Lovers." But I can see their separate good points."Latin Lovers", I think, comes off better with its well-written dialogue and scenario. But, "The Merry Widow" is much more romantic and is very expressive with the grand score and dance numbers, which is its strength. Also, the good looks and chemistry between the stars help. They were a couple at this point in their careers, and they were very amorous. So I've read here.
All in all, if you want to see Lana and Fernando and love the waltz and the music of "The Merry Widow", then this is for you. I personally watch it every chance I get. After all, like people, if you love them, then you can forgive their flaws. "Say it again." (Inside joke.) After all, like people, if you love them, then you can forgive their flaws. Watch "The Merry Widow" and enjoy, flaws and all!
The lovely Lana Turner stars in this rather lackluster Technicolor
musical. In my opinion it is far inferior to the charming and hilarious
1934 Ernst Lubitsch version. (Both films are adaptations of an
operetta, so the 1934 one isn't exactly the "original".)
To this film's credit, it's rather different from Lubitsch's version. It doesn't try to be an exact copy and can therefore be judged on its own merits. (I can't say which version of the story is most true to the original play.) This 1952 version is, for one thing, in color and features some new ballads to go with a couple familiar tunes from the earlier film. The songs, however, are largely forgettable. The storyline, about a small European kingdom sending a man to woo a wealthy widow, is a little different in this version, although the general arc is similar. (Viewers familiar with the 1934 version will notice the differences; I won't mention them here.)
This film overall did not impress me, partly because I'd been previously spoiled with the Lubitsch version, which is simultaneously a fairy tale romance and a hilarious comedy (with music, too!). This 1952 version is more of a second-tier MGM romance musical. It's really not a legitimate comedy, although it does try to be funny. But Lana Turner looks great in this good girl role (she'd played many a femme fatale) and the cast isn't bad. I can't fault the movie for trying, but it just falls a little flat for me.
THE MERRY WIDOW (1952) may be fun for musical junkies or viewers who don't know what they're missing, but I'd recommend the comedy of the 1934 version of the same story.
This movie is wonderful. You can relax and enjoy a romantic film with one of the most handsome and sensuous leading men in Hollywood history - Fernando Lamas. And Lana Turner is beautiful. The movie allows you to forget about your worries and just enjoy a wonderful, romantic time.
My wife and I met doing a professional production of "The Merry Widow"
in 1982 -- in English, but a straight translation.
Only the very basic skeleton of the original plot is visible in this "adaptation". Most of the characters have been deleted, along with the entire B plot, and all but one of the characters remaining have been renamed. Most of the characters in the movie aren't in the operetta, either. The action has been moved from Paris to, at first, Washington, DC, and then to the fictional country of Pontevedro, which the movie has renamed "Marshovia", and only later to Paris. The net result is that we don't reach the beginning of the original play until about 45 minutes in.
And the main source of tension in the plot is deleted, too. In the original, years before, Count Danilo and the heroine were very much in love, but his family refused to allow them to marry because she was poor; it's his broken heart that has rendered him a careless playboy. Now that, as a widow, she's the richest woman in the world, she still loves him, and he still loves her, but his pride won't let him admit it to anyone, even himself, and she must spend three acts playing mind games to break him down. The trope of the aristocrat with money problems who won't admit that he's in love with a rich woman for fear of what people will think supplied the main plots of a substantial fraction of Viennese operettas for decades after the 1906 "Widow". In this movie, they've never met before, which rips out not only the heart of the whole thing, but nearly all the comedy.
Lamas does a pretty decent job, though.
An interesting musical point is that several times we hear a snippet or so of "Trés Parisien", an extra song written (in English, despite the title) for the London première, which was not, as far as I know, usually found in American productions until the 1980s or so.
The script is not terrible, but much of it is simplistic and some of it
doesn't make sense. The star soprano's arias have been transposed to the
baritone's. She no longer sings the `Vilja' song about the woods maiden
the huntsman; instead he does, to a gypsy girl of that name. The film's
biggest drawback is the direction, which is dull and sluggish. But 45
minutes into the movie, when Lana Turner and Una Merkel exchange identities,
the pace picks up. What raises the film from 4 (Of Mild Interest) to 5
Some Interest) is Fernando Lamas, appearing in only his third film, his
first starring role. He not only is a handsome, dashing, and confident
actor, but also has a good sense of comic timing. His warm speaking voice
is part of his strength and appeal, and he sings with a very pleasant
vibrato and a sophisticated use of dynamics and nuance.
The movie lacks 1934's marvelous Ernst Lubitsch touch, not to mention the dark bizarreries of Erich von Stroheim's 1925 silent version. Lana is no match to Jeanette MacDonald as a charming, sophisticated comedienne. Happily in 1934 Jeanette had just arrived at MGM from Paramount and was being guided by the director who understood her best. Her new studio had not yet had a chance to stifle her personality by molding her into an icon. On the other hand, by 1952 MGM had transformed Lana from a sexpot into a lady, as they had done to Norma Shearer in the 1930s and to Greer Garson in the 1940s, squeezing almost all of the juice out of them. But Lana and Lamas were `an item' at the time (the reason he was cast over MGM's original choice, Ricardo Montalban), and their personal affair lends a modicum of interest, too.
For the real thing -- Lehár's music done in authentic operetta style -- get the 1953 monaural EMI recording conducted by Otto Ackermann. It features Elizabeth Schwarzkopf as Hanna, baritone Erich Kunz as Danilo, tenor Nicolai Gedda as Camille, and soprano Emmy Loose as Valencienne. Ten years later Schwarzkopf and Gedda repeated their roles in a stereo recording, but the earlier version is better.
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