Marie Antoinette (1938) Poster

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Top Ten Reasons why "Marie Antoinette" is quite possibly the best movie ever made in Hollywood
benoit-323 March 2002
10. The script

Uncredited as a scriptwriter is novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. His love scenes are extremely elaborate and exquisitely structured. They also introduce innovations that have since become clichés and the hallmark of 'women pictures' everywhere.

9. The actors

Barrymore is unforgettable as the regally cranky Louis XV. Morley gives one of his best interpretations. Schildkraut plays the best two-faced villain of his entire body of work. As for Power... remember the anecdote about the reporter asking romance-writer Barbara Cartland (Lady Di's stepmother) how she could possibly have written so many romance novels before she was even married and while she was still a virgin? Her answer was: 'Oh! We didn't have sex in those days. We had Tyrone Power.'

8. The director

Van Dyke was an expert at handling large crowds and acts of God. His directing style was a compromise between time-efficiency and giving the stars leeway as long as they respected the general style of the piece. This 'honour system' seems to have encouraged the actors to do their homework and present a credible, coherent performance every time. He also got an assist here from uncredited French genius Julien Duvivier.

7. Artistic direction

What can you say about a period film that tackled the challenge of recreating Versailles in the XVIIIth century on the MGM back lot? The production values are staggering. The Gallery of Mirrors is actually longer, higher and wider than the original. The costumes tread a fine line between historical accuracy (covered shoulders and revealed cleavage) and the requirements of the movie code (exposed shoulders were tolerated but bosoms had to be covered) but still manage to convey the era and the fairy-tale quality of Marie's court. The costumes were also specially constructed to shine, glitter and shimmer on black and white film.

6. Historical accuracy

The film's script is based (in part) on Stefan Zweig's groundbreaking biography of the Queen, "Marie Antoinette, Portrait of an Ordinary Woman", which tried to create the first accurate, adult, factual but Freudian-inspired narrative of the Queen's life by using documents and correspondence that had long been overlooked or suppressed. The book was the first to reveal Louis XVI's mechanical sexual problems, which prevented his consummating the marriage during its first seven years (until a slight surgical intervention) and explained in turn the Queen's extravagant spendthrift personality, in Freudian terms, as extreme sexual frustration. This story actually makes it to the screen in a large degree. Compare this to recent biopics like "A Beautiful Mind", whose scriptwriters conveniently 'forget' essential but non-mainstream plot elements like the fact that John Nash's paranoia may have been caused or amplified by the McCarthy era persecution of homosexuals. Some historical events have been telescoped into one another in order to accommodate the general American public's limited understanding of French history and the Orléans character was used to maintain tension by representing the turncoat part of the nobility which exploited MA for their own various agendas.

5. The music

Herbert Stothart may not be a household word but he did win an Oscar for his original score to "The Wizard of Oz", based, of course in part on Harold Arlen's melodies. Besides giving Miss Gulch/the Wicked Witch her immortal theme, he is also one half of the composing team that produced the operetta "Rose Marie". Stothart shines in two respects: the approximate recreation of XVIIIth century dance music in the court scenes, emphasizing the bored grandeur of the proceedings, and the psychological music that accompanies everything from exciting chase scenes to the love scenes between Shearer and Tyrone. Note especially the use of the harpsichord in a rupture scene between Orléans and MA and the use of the viola d'amour in the garden love scene.

4. The cinematography

MA is in 'glorious black and white', but especially in the escape to Varennes sequence which has the most credible - and suspenseful - 'day for night' sequence ever filmed. The marriage scene may have inspired Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. Also notable are the matte paintings, the overwhelming use of cranes to move in on particular characters in a crowd scene and the chiaroscuro of the last meeting with Fersen.

3. Detail and scope

Every scene has something special added to it in characterization, movement, rhythm, lighting, art direction, choreography (and not just in the dance scenes). The costumes could have starred in a picture by themselves.

2. The lost art of story-telling

This film was planned with intelligence and skill and was built around the principle stated by Selznick when filming GWTW: 'The secret of adapting a book to the screen is to give the impression that you are adapting a book to the screen.' Which means that many literary devices are used to give the story many interesting arcs and recurring themes. The story is well balanced in terms of spectacular action, recreation of important historical events (giving the impression of the passage of time) and intimate scenes. It is truly 'the intimate epic' that Mankiewicz's 'Cleopatra' was supposed to be. Need I add I am really dreading the Sofia Coppola version...

1. Norma Shearer

Norma Shearer is an unjustly forgotten star of the first magnitude. MA is permanent testament to her uncanny abilities. In this film she portrays the main character from the age of sixteen to her death as a prematurely aged and debilitated woman of 38, all with perfect verisimilitude, thanks to her magnificent vocal instrument and stage presence. As a fairy-queen, she makes Cate Blanchett as Galadriel (in LOTR) look like Carol Burnett's charwoman. Her virtuosity as the fated widowed Queen is all the more poignant when one realizes that at the time she was Thalberg's widow in her last husband-approved venture and that the Hollywood suits were rapidly closing in on her.
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MGM's lavish look at the French Revolution...a Shearer triumph...
Doylenf22 October 2006
MGM's lavishly budgeted look at the French Revolution during the reign of King Louis and his famously selfish MARIE ANTOINETTE spares no expense in detailing the grim background of court conspiracies and the people's unrest that led to their downfall.

Too bad none of this eye-popping splendor wasn't captured in Technicolor, as originally planned--but with a budget well over 1.5 million it was decided to film it in glorious B&W. No matter, it's still a spectacle for sore eyes.

There can be no doubt about NORMA SHEARER's triumph in the title role nor is any of the acting in the large cast below standard. ROBERT MORLEY as the weak and indecisive Louis is immensely touching and effective as he realizes the gravity of their predicament. JOHN BARRYMORE is fine and Joseph SCHILDKRAUT is wonderful as an aristocratic fop. TYRONE POWER lends his romantic presence to a role that requires little more than his good looks. He and Shearer make a physically appealing romantic team.

It's interesting that Irving Thalberg died before production began on the film. One wonders whether his influence on it might have made it an even stronger production. There are definite lulls in the telling but it builds dramatically to all of the final scenes. It's the kind of film that leads one to read more about the actual events and that's always a good thing.

Summing up: Sumptuously produced, well acted and well directed--what more could you want for an interesting glimpse of a life of royalty among a time of social upheaval? Shearer's triumphant return to the screen after a two-year absence.
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Norma at her best!
Monica49375 June 2005
I was delighted to see this at the rental store because I absolutely adore Norma Shearer and had yet to see this piece of work. Overall it was very nice, with extravagant costumes (This must have been high up on Liberace's top 100 list), good acting, and fantastic directing. The only thing I have a major problem with is the fact that the director tried to cram in too much of her life into the span of only 2 and a half hours. You first start the movie with Marie Antoinette finding out she is to be married to Louis the XVI, then during the film so much goes on that you sort of have a hard time keeping up with how much time has past in her life, until finally you get to the crucial part in the film where her and her husband are to be executed. I don't know much about her life so I honestly have no idea how much they left out, but as a regular film watcher, I found this piece to be just wonderful. Norma Shearer did such a great job near the end, when she was about to be beheaded. When Count Axel de Fersen comes down the stairs into her dungeon to bid her a final fairwell, you really get the feeling that she is just completely drained with all emotion by the simple look in her eyes. I must admit to shedding some tears during that scene. Another highly recommended film. 8/10
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Norma Shearer's Greatest Triumph!
voodoochild-219 July 2000
This is a fantastic movie, a real emotional roller coaster, one feels emotionally exhausted at the end, the last 20mins are truly harrowing. How Norma Shearer didn't win the academy award for best actress is beyond me. Other great performances include the debut of Robert Morley and the incredible acting of Joseph Schildkraut, the makeup he wears must have been truely scandalous at the time. The costumes are spectacular you really are taken back to the late 1770's. another point of note is how Norma Shearer ages in the film is incredible, from the young girl in the beginning to the much older broken woman at the end, very well done indeed. Tyrone Power is very good as well, one can go on for ages about Marie Antoinette, it truly is a spectacle in the grand MGM scale. 8 1/2 out of 10!
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One of the best and most sumptuous film biographies of all time.
brisky14 April 1999
This film boasts a number of wonderful performances and is a great example of film acting in the thirties and the power of the studios. Robert Morley steals the show as Louis XVI, but equally fine are John Barrymore as the dying Louis XV, Gladys George as Madame du Barry, Joseph Schildkraut as the Duke of Orleans and a whole slew of wonderful character actors who enlivened even the smallest role. Norma Shearer admirably tackles the nearly impossible task of portraying the life of Marie Antoinette from a young girl to a broken woman on her way to the guillotine. In the style of the time, the film has a tendency toward histrionics but for the viewer with patience the overall effect is fascinating. Of special interest to students of art direction. The sets and costumes are incredible.
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Rediscovering Norma Shearer
eskridge22 June 2001
As a young actress still in her 20s, Norma Shearer was hailed as the First Lady of MGM, and she reigned as queen of the studio throughout the 1930s. For about two decades after early retiring in 1942, she was fondly remembered by fans and critics, but slowly she was forgotten. Then in the early 70s, antagonistic film critic Pauline Kael, grudge-holding MGM rival Joan Crawford and others took delight in trashing her, usually with the implication that Norma's greatest talent was finding a powerful husband (Irving Thalberg). Unfortunately, those unfair remarks carried great weight since Shearer's movies were unavailable on video and rarely shown on TV.

We're now able to see her talent for ourselves, thanks largely to Turner Classic Movies, and Norma Shearer's star is rising again.

If you've never seen a Shearer movie, Marie Antoinette is a good beginning. It is one of Hollywood's great epics of the 1930s, with lavish costumes and scenery, and its historic setting holds up well. Shearer plays the doomed French queen from teenager to the Guillotine, and the final scenes as she awaits death in prison are among the finest of her career.

In recent years, Shearer has gained new respect for her silent films, in which she was one of the most accomplished young actresses of the era. Two standouts are Lady of the Night and A Lady of Chance, in which she plays "worldly" women with a sly wit. She was not a typical ingénue, and you can see why sophisticated audiences of the time were enchanted by her.
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absolutely adored it - and Adrian worked overtime
blanche-210 September 2005
Adrian went all out for this lavish, gorgeous production of "Marie Antoinette" starring Norma Shearer, who is never more beautiful or glamorous than in this epic biography. This Marie is quite the heroine, a woman of the people, generous to a fault, and never says, "Let them eat cake," and would only have said it in reference to her children. History tells us that Marie's downfall was really the "Affair of the Necklace," and she was no different from other aristocrats in being totally out of touch with what was going on with the French people.

This film is jaw dropping in its splendor. Adrian's costumes are totally magnificent, as are the palace settings. Tyrone Power is drop-dead gorgeous as Marie's Swedish lover, who comes to her aid in her time of need. Power was the inspiration for Barbara Cartland to say, when asked how she could write so convincingly about sex while she was a still a virgin, "We didn't need sex. We had Tyrone Power." The rest of the cast is fantastic, including Robert Morley, John Barrymore, Joseph Schildkraut, and Gladys George. As for Norma, she does a great job, giving a vivid, if movie star, performance in one of her last films. The last scenes are very touching and beautifully done.

I had no expectations for this film and as a rule am not crazy about period pieces, but this one swept me away. It does follow history quite closely - for those who commented that the Tyrone Power character was fictional, he was not, and he did try to help her.

Don't miss this one.

**A funny Marie Antionette anecdote: The studio wanted Shearer to use their contract star, Robert Taylor, but Shearer got a look at Power at a dinner, invited him to be part of the film, and got her way. During their first kiss, she held on so long the kiss had to be edited down. Power apparently did not return her affections. She became angry. At a photo shoot, she appeared with gigantic plumes that hid him as he posed behind her and the plumes shot up. The photographer gave Power a box to stand on. As the photographer activated the flash, Power crashed through the box and hit the floor. Though he escorted Shearer to the premier, he snuck out to see his soon to be wife, Annabella.
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excellent film!
jan_neptune1 March 2005
This movie will probably never be excelled largely because of the casting. I don't believe that anyone will ever find better actors or actresses to portray King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette than Robert Morley and Norma Shearer. The black and white aspect of this great classic film is simply spell binding in its interpretation of the life of the Royal Family. Color will give it a different dimension. The manner in which the conflict of the ensuing mob marching upon the Versailles is well portrayed. I especially like the sense of paranoia and fear that grip the Queen and her entourage. The use of the outside gate is especially endearing to me, reminding me why it is that King Louis XIV created the Château d' Versailles in such a distance from Paris. Unless one knows the history of the Château, nobody can truly appreciate the march of the Faubourgs. Excellent film, and I recommend seeing it before any other on the same subject!
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Norma's zenith and with one exception the end of her reign
jjnxn-115 February 2014
Made directly after Irving Thalberg's death but arranged by him beforehand this was Norma's final solo showcase. A mixture of the loss of her behind the scenes champion, poor script judgment and her vanity which caused her to turn down possible career savers Mrs. Miniver and Old Acquaintance lead to her days as a top star coming to an end. She still had a few decent pictures in her future, most notably The Women, but this is the last of her big star vehicles and her final big success as the main star of a film.

But this is certainly a grand way to end her time at the top. Norma does well in the lead her occasional lapses into grandiosity are well suited to a queen and don't get in the way of her characterization like they often did in several of her other films and her smaller moments are well played. Although this really should have been in color, the sets, wigs and costumes are almost impossibly lavish and are dazzling even in B&W. It's an enjoyable if questionably accurate historical account of Marie's rise and fall.

Aside from Shearer Robert Morley gives a gem of a performance as the not terribly bright Louis XVI, never making him seem a simpleton just a gentle man unequal to the role thrust upon him by birth. There are a few other good performances from Gladys George as the cheap but flashily dressed Madame du Barry and Joseph Schildkraut as the queen's venal cousin. Tyrone Power is impossibly handsome but his part is really window dressing so he doesn't make much of an impression.

Fine through they all are the film would be nothing without Norma. The title role requires someone whose well seasoned star power couldn't be overpowered by the sumptuous trappings and this is Norma's show straight down the line. Perhaps the one she was most suited to it's certainly one of her strongest performances. The film itself is a trifle overlong but for those who stick with it worthwhile entertainment.
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An elaborate costume masterpiece...
Nazi_Fighter_David20 February 2000
Warning: Spoilers
The Austrian archduchess Marie Antoinette (Norma Shearer) is seen being married off by her mother Maria Theresa (Alma Kruger), the Empress of Austria, to the immature dauphin Louis (Robert Morley) grandson of France's king Louis XV (John Barrymore).

She is soon disillusioned at her first meeting with the timid, uninspiring Louis who proves to be an inattentive husband, frigid in his relations with his young beautiful wife... Louis lacks self-confidence and is completely dominated by his grandfather, King Louis XV... He also is ridiculed by his cunning cousin, the Duke of Orléans (Joseph Schildkraut) and the king's mistress, Madame Du Barry (Gladys George).

On her wedding night, Marie Antoinette is left confused and tearful by Louis, who admits he is incapable of being a husband... She soon becomes a hopeless forsaken figure at Versailles...

Denied the love of a husband and the counsel of trusted friends, Marie Antoinette becomes a pawn in the hands of the dishonest Duke of Orléans - cousin of Louis - who plays her against Du Barry: "Conquer Paris", he said, "and you will conquer Madame Du Barry."

Left into the companionship of a small circle of frivolous court favorites, Marie Antoinette becomes the most lavishly dressed woman in France, losing fortunes at the gambling tables... There she meets a Swedish nobleman with whom she falls in love, the attractive Count Axel de Fersen (Tyrone Power).

When the alliance with Austria is threatened, Marie Antoinette is persuaded by Count de Mercey (Henry Stephenson), her mother's clever ambassador, to give a ball at which she can in public recognize Madame Du Barry... Instead, her insulting manner toward the mistress of the king enrages Louis XV who informs her that he is annulling her marriage and he is sending her back to Austria...

Marie Antoinette goes to the Count de Mercey for help, where she meets there Axel de Fersen who reaffirm his love for her...

The sudden death of Louis XV places her husband on the throne and Marie Antoinette finds herself Queen of France... Fersen, realizing that he could not dare to love a queen, leaves her that night and sails for America...

Marie Antoinette, determined to become a good queen bears a son and a daughter... The king (a loving father) had not sufficient strength of character or power of decision to combat the influence of court factions...

Marie Antoinette's close associations with the more dissipated members of the court aristocracy prompted her enemies to circulate false and insulting reports of her alleged extramarital affairs... These vilifications culminated in the 'Affair of Diamond Necklace' in which the queen was unjustly accused...

Duke of Orléans plots against the throne and becomes a leader in the Revolution... As a result, Marie Antoinette becomes the main target of the popular agitators, and the royal family hostages of the Revolutionary movement...

Count Fersen, hearing of Marie Antoinette's danger, goes to her and arranges an escape from Paris...

Norma Shearer, billed by M.G.M as "The First Lady of the Screen" receives her sixth Oscar nomination for her performance... She plays with dignity the title role of Marie Antoinette, the unfortunate French queen sank to the deepness of cell, tumbrel and guillotine...

Tyrone Power is convincing as the Swedish nobleman who gave the ill-fated monarch romantic surcease...

Robert Morley makes a memorable film debut, playing the feeble-minded Louis XVI - a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination...

John Barrymore plays King Louis XV and in flashing traces of his old sardonic glee, he says: "The state will last my time. After me the deluge!"

Norma Shearer "come-back" picture, is an elaborate costume masterpiece, glamorized in satin wardrobes, elaborate costumes, elegant huge sets... It traces the life of the Austrian princess who becomes queen of France covering her romantic attachment for the Swedish Count Axel de Fersen...
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The MGM Queen Plays France's Fallen Queen
nycritic18 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
At the time, only MGM could bring forth this overproduced, lavish drama detailing the rise and fall of Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI of France. Their preference for elaborate sets and ornate costumes made this story a natural for the studio to give it all their best and bring that dazzling, rococo period to life. The casting of Norma Shearer in the title role -- one of the perks of being married to Irving Thalberg who had had this movie in production for more than a year before its release in 1938 and was in many ways the person above Louie B. Mayer -- is a bit of an irony since she at the time was considered the Queen of MGM, now its Widow, at the height and end of her acting career. Never allowing her Adrian costumes to out-wear her, her rendition of Marie-Antoinette is moving, convincing as a girl about to be married, who evolves into a woman aware of her position as Queen of France but is a little out-of-touch, and who later becomes one of the many victims who lost their heads under the guillotine's deadly blade. One of her finer performances, she was Oscar nominated but lost to Bette Davis who won for JEZEBEL. Robert Morley, a character actor who made his film debut in MARIE ANTOINETTE and went on to appear in many films until the 80s, is also dead-on as the awkward Louis XVI and was also nominated for his supporting role but lost to Walter Brennan for KENTUCKY.
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Simply Great
Mukanil16 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I just saw this on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), and from now on, Norma Shearer is the face I will put on Marie Antoinette. Such great acting from such a beautiful woman who truly embodied the role.

These days, it seems that every big movie has to have some cursing, nudity, sexual references of every kind or strong violence, but this old film is better than many of the latest, and it's in black and white, no nudity, or anything else that we have come to expect from movies.

For instance, if this film were made today, we would expect to see the beheading. This film doesn't show it, so it doesn't leave you with the shock or awe of seeing a beheading, but it does leave the cruelty of the situation which is much more enduring and meaningful to the tragedy.

Whether this is historically accurate wasn't a concern with me since all I really remembered from school was that she was beheaded, so this shouldn't be a spoiler. But the story was engrossing and very enjoyable regardless of whether it was historically accurate. Indeed, if anything, it may inspire personal research as to what Marie Antoinette was really like.

Full stars because this film truly is an excellent film and should be watched. I'm really liking some of these old great movies for some of the reasons already stated. Take away color, special effects, gratuitous violence and nudity, and you're pretty much left with having to make a movie with great photography, acting, and writing. Take the cream of that crop, and you're pretty much guaranteed an enjoyable experience.

Forgive me, I just recently became willing to pay for cable TV, and I'm really starting to dig these classics that I would probably never have seen otherwise. It's like finding hidden treasure in a way!
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"They don't make them this way anymore!"
willyboy_ky19 July 2000
Often said, and, for better or for worse, just as often true: "Marie Antoinette" is one of THE definitive examples of an MGM prestige picture, 1930s style. Years in planning and preproduction, "Marie Antoinette" was Norma Shearer's first film after Irving Thalberg's death: little expense was spared in making the "First Lady of MGM"'s return to the screen a royal one in every sense.

Technically superb, the film suffers from erratic pacing and a patchwork script. But the supporting cast alone almost compensates for these deficiencies: Robert Morley side-stepping caricature to make Louis XVI touchingly human; John Barrymore and Gladys George contributing brilliant, razor-sharp vignettes as Louis XV and Madame du Barry (indeed, the confrontation between Marie Antoinette and du Barry is one of the film's highlights); and Joseph Schildkraut redefining the term "oily" as the scheming Duke of Orleans. Only Tyrone Power (borrowed from 20th Century-Fox) comes off less well; this, perhaps is due more to an ill-conceived role in the script than to a lack of acting ability as such.

But it is, first and foremost, Shearer's film and she is superb. From the young, light-hearted Austrian Archduchess to the fun-loving, lightheaded Queen to the prematurely aged but proud and defiant widow on her way to the guillotine, Shearer is in full command, giving a splendid display of her artistry (including, in the prison scenes, an outstanding example of silent film technique): it is her finest mature dramatic performance.

Carps, quibbles, and differences of opinion? Yes, every film lover has them, if only out of love for the medium or a specific film. But after viewing a film such as "Marie Antoinette," it can with utmost conviction be stated, "They DON'T make them that way anymore."
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Empathy defined
ayokum20 January 2003
It never ceases to amaze me at how completely I might be suddenly drawn into the emotional moment of a film by the power of the actor. Usually the strongest ones come suddenly, and without warning, giving you no time to put up defenses. Brando's eruptions of moods when talking to his dead wife in Last Tango in Paris is probably the most dramatic example of this. (His greatest scene ever, that I have witnessed) But before that, Norma Shearer's panic and utter emotional breakdown when the guards come to take her son from her in the prison, is overwhelming and complete. Anyone who is not genuinely moved to the core by this incredible performance, either sleeps or does not possess those human sensitivities that are torn by the loss of a child. For it is not sympathy that is evoked, but an empathy called forth by the raw, human agony of the suffering before you. Years later when I visited the actual site in Paris where that tragedy would have taken place, I experienced a time of respect and reflection such as I have never had in any other place in the world that I have visited.

This is one of the truly great films. If you want to find out how deeply someone can feel, show it to them and observe. Norma Shearer set a standard I fear has been forgotten, as evidenced by the way tinsel town hands out awards today for mediocre work pushed onto the modern consciousness by glitzy ad campaigns and self-serving accolades.
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"Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman"
G_a_l_i_n_a28 July 2007
During the last week, I saw two movies with the same title that both focus on the life of the last Queen of France, Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793). Both films start when Marie is 15 and she leaves her beloved Vienna to marry the future Luis XVI, the Dauphine of France, one year her senior. Unlike the Coppola picture, W.S. Van Dyke's 1938 film, takes the royal couple through their imprisonment and all the way to the guillotine. The final chapter of Marie Antoinette's life from July 1789 until her execution in 1793 is filled with losses, falls, and deepest tragedy. We witness an unsuccessful attempt of Royal family to leave the country that brought both, the King and the Queen to the trial for treason; execution of her husband on the guillotine, separation from her son who was taken from her on the very day of Louis XVI's death, brought to court to testify against her, and died in captivity when he was 12 years old. She herself was accused among the other things in sexual abuse of her son. To this horrible accusation, the former queen, "the Widow Capet" or simply "Antoinette Capet" replied with the genuine royal dignity, "If I have not replied it is because Nature itself refuses to respond to such a charge laid against a mother..."

I did not like Sophia Coppola's boring horror in pink but I truly enjoyed the older film which was released on DVD for the first time on October 10, 2006. The movie made almost 70 years ago has everything right. With 157 minutes of the run time, it moves and breezes freely. It is lavish, staggering grandeur that perfectly represents the golden days of Hollywood and I am sure it still will attract and amaze the viewers many years from now. There are multiple reasons for it. One of them is the intelligent script based on the famous biography by Stefan Zweig, "Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman" which focuses on the human emotions of the ordinary people who happened to live and die during the extraordinary times. The love scenes between Marie Antoinette (Norman Shearer) and the Swedish count Axel de Fensen (Tyrone Power -just imagine the young Alain Delon but more passionate) are exquisite and emotional without being overtly sentimental. Acting also must be mentioned. Everybody shines in the film starting with powerful and extravagant Louis XV (John Barrimor) to whom belongs the famous phrase, "After me, the deluge." It turned out to be prophetic. Louis XVI (Robert Morley in his film debut practically stole the show and earned the nomination for the Best Supporting Actor), the grandson of Louis XV, was swept away in the French Revolution--even though he himself was relatively modest, unassuming, and moral. Louis XVI as played by Robert Morley would've made an excellent locksmith. He would've been an obedient and loyal citizen and perhaps a happy father of the family somewhere in the quiet province. Instead, he had became the King of France who would end his days on the guillotine. Joseph Schildkraut is marvelous as the snake-like intriguing Philippe Joseph II, Duke of Orléans who had changed his name to Citoyen Philippe Égalité, supported the French Revolution, voted on the National Assembly for the death of the king but was nonetheless guillotined during the Reign of Terror very soon after Louis XVI. Norma Shearer is very convincing playing a naïve average young woman in a beginning of the movie and she makes you forget that she was 20 years older than Antoinette in the first scenes. As her character matures and changes, her performance changes, too, becoming heartbreaking and very touching in the last scenes. The "Last Supper" scene is simply unforgettable with both Morley and Shearer on the peak of their abilities.

I can go on for long time praising a competent directing, masterfully created set and decorations, attention to the small details, moving and believable intimate scenes and historical accuracy – any way you look at it, "Marie Antoinette" (1938) is a triumph of film-making and I highly recommend it.
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No cake at the guillotine
jarrodmcdonald-128 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
At first I was hesitant...I thought, oh no, this is going to be an over-blown costume epic, a film that was probably trying to exaggerate its own importance. But it really doesn't play that way.

Norma Shearer in the title role is not exactly subtle, but she's not over-the-top, either. I agree with others who say that the ending of the film is the strongest section, but I also loved the 'Russian' scenes when Marie met Axel. There should be more movies like this today, not because we need to bring back a certain time in American cinema, but because we need to be reminded that life is simple and grand at the same time. This picture captures that perfectly.

The only quibble I have about some of the film is that it does seem a bit too American and British to me...I had difficulty believing there was a French or Austrian element. I think the sentimentality could've been muted a bit and if it were remade today, I think more of the execution scenes should be featured, instead of played off-camera. Also, we should've seen the part when the son was forced to testify against his mother.

Nonetheless, the entire effort is very memorable. My favorite scene was when Marie was being led to the guillotine and her eyes locked with the peasant woman in the crowd who could empathize with her. Very powerful!
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rupie15 August 2002
I first saw this excellent and powerful story on television sometime in the late 50's or early 60's, and had not seen it since until I caught it on television more than 40 years later. The powerful impression the story made on me had not dimmed with the passage of time. Norma Shearer, who here was toward the end of her career, puts in a topnotch performance as the doomed, conflicted dauphine and queen, which serves as the core of the film. Robert Morley gives us a superb portrayal of the dim and well-meaning but hopelessly incompetent Louis XVI. Joseph Schildkraut's portrayal of d'Orleans is a classic study in unctuous treachery. John Barrymore shines in his short appearances as the dauphin's father. The weakest major part, for my money, is Tyrone Power, whose box office appeal as far as I can see seems to have been rooted more in sex appeal than in acting ability. Not being sufficiently versed in the actual history I suspect the relation between Marie and Powers' Count Axel was blown up or perhaps even invented for drawing power, and indeed I find the film's weakest parts the rather purple moments between the two which do seem to encroach into the realm of melodrama. However, the powerful closing scene of Marie - prematurely old and broken - ascending the gibbet with memories of her girlish fancies ("Think of it! I shall be Queen of France!") is one of the great moments of cinema. Altogether a rich, sumptuous and multifacted portrayal of a tragic story which does pretty well by the historical reality.
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Oui Oui Marie
bkoganbing2 March 2006
Although the story of Marie Antoinette starts when Marie was a teenager, unlike in her Romeo and Juliet, Norma Shearer ages in this part. If she's not quite convincing as a teenager, Shearer more than makes up for it as the character of the luckless Queen of France ages into wife, mother and royalty.

Norma was the dowager queen herself of the MGM lot by dint of her marriage and widowhood to the late chief of production Irving Thalberg. She got the first call on properties at MGM with the exception of Greta Garbo.

The only problem with Marie Antoinette was the choice of a leading man. The story is such that her husband Louis XVI does not cut a romantic figure so none of the available leads at MGM would or could be considered for the part. Her great romantic love before she settled down into domesticity was Count Axel Fersen, the Swedish Ambassador and his screen time is probably not even 40 minutes. So Louis B. Mayer and Darryl Zanuck worked out a deal. MGM got the services of Tyrone Power who was Zanuck's number one male star at Fox. It was Power's last film outside of Fox until 1952's Mississippi Gambler.

But without a doubt the best performance in the film is that of Robert Morley as the shy and bumbling Louis XVI. The adage at least taught in American schools was that if Louis XVI had been a king, he'd have stayed a king. One of the great ironies of history is that Louis XVI was the last thing from a tyrant you could be. If family inheritance didn't force the issue, he would have preferred being a clockmaker. And about matters of sex, he was at best ill informed. Morley brings out the whole range of Louis's personality and makes the audience really care about the tragedy befalling his family.

Other performances of note are Joseph Schildkraut as the scheming Duke of Orleans who was not the prime mover of the events that took place as this film makes him to be. Also Gladys George as Madame Dubarry, the last favorite of Louis XV. What this film does not cover is what happens to Dubarry after Louis XV dies and Louis XVI takes the throne. She meets ironically the same end as Marie Antoinette although with hardly as much dignity.

This was the final large scale film of John Barrymore who plays Louis XV who arranges the marriage of the ruling houses of France and Austria in alliance. Hereafter Barrymore left the big studio of MGM for smaller studios, taking roles in films well beneath his abilities, but due to dissipation, all he could handle. Still he cuts a fine figure here as Louis XV, who aptly prophesied, apres moi l'deluge.

If it ain't good history, Marie Antoinette is great entertainment.
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Great entertainment, but not history
carmi47-122 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Norma Shearer's turn as Marie Antoinette, the tragic 18th-century queen of France, will always stand out as one of the lushest of MGM's 1930s lush budget productions, and for that reason alone is always worth a look--and a very enjoyable look it is. Forget that the costume designs are more than a bit over the top, even for the Versailles of Marie Antoinette's day. Forget Shearer's uneven acting, which as in all her films veers from the truly affecting to the annoyingly melodramatic (e.g., her stagey, even hokey body language in the night meeting with Tyrone Power in the garden just after she becomes queen, when he makes her understand they must not see each other again). Just enjoy the experience of what Hollywood figured it could pass off as history in the 1930s and expect a worldwide audience to accept as history.

The film fails as history for two major reasons. First, it is based on a groundbreaking biography of the queen by Stefan Zweig, an Austrian novelist who was a close friend of Freud and was deeply influenced by psychoanalytic thought. Zweig's book created and popularized the view of Marie Antoinette's sex life that remained current for decades--that Louis XVI was physically unable to consummate his marriage with her for more than 7 years, and had to have minor surgery before he could seal the deal. Zweig's predictable view was that sexual frustration explained Marie Antoinette's notorious frivolity and spendthrift ways. We know today that Zweig created his tale by suppressing valuable evidence that would have weakened his theory, and giving inappropriate prominence to other material that let him paint the picture he wanted to create. Recent historians--Zweig was a novelist, not an historian--looked at the evidence Zweig omitted and proved conclusively that Louis XVI was not incapable of fathering a child, and never had the surgery Zweig claimed was necessary. Louis was a lousy lover, true, and it did take some years before he got down to serious boudoir athletics, but Zweig's thesis has been thoroughly wrecked.

In the 1930s when Zweig's book was new and influential, MGM could base a film on it but couldn't openly address the sexual issues at the heart of Zweig's account. Screenwriters had to dance around Louis' bedroom limitations and had to find a way to imply that the queen and Count Axel Fersen (Tyrone Power) were not adulterous lovers as Zweig implied they were. Hence the film's version, that the noble Fersen gently but firmly told the enamoured queen that they could no longer see each other. In fact, Fersen was at Versailles on and off throughout Louis XVI's reign; it was rumored that he fathered the queen's second son, born in 1785 exactly 9 months after one of Fersen's visits. But Louis accepted the child as his, so he must have been visiting the queen's bedroom at the right time. There's no proof Fersen ever paid the queen that kind of visit, or that she wanted him to do so.

The second major flaw in the film's historicity is that Shearer would not play Marie Antoinette as a featherbrained, shop-til-you-drop type, which would be nearer the truth than the noble character Shearer gives us. It's unlikely that Marie's sex life was as active as some writers want us to believe--after visiting Versailles in 1777, her own brother wrote frankly that she had no interest in bedtime antics--but she could spend up a storm when she put her mind to it. Shearer preferred to act a queen seriously devoted to the welfare of France and the French people, a writer of Louis' speeches and a woman who relentlessly labored to improve her subjects' lot. Shearer's queen bears no resemblance to the real deal. Attractive, charming, stylish, generous to a fault, yes; a skilled and dedicated politician, no.

The film's hold on history is thus slender. In 1938 Hollywood could not acknowledge that the real dupe in the Affair of the Necklace was a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church; here the fool appears as the duke de Rohan, the cardinal's cousin. Mozart's "Don Giovanni" minuet is played at a ball during which Marie Antoinette insults Louis XV's mistress, Mme du Barry. In the film's chronology the ball immediately precedes Louis XV's illness and death in 1774; Mozart composed "Don Giovanni" only in 1787. The film compresses the ball and Louis XV's death into 24 hours, but Louis XV's last illness lasted 2 weeks. Marie Antoinette never openly insulted du Barry as shown here, nor was there ever an official decision to annul Marie's marriage. The royal family's return to Paris after their foiled escape attempt in June 1791 is here followed immediately by Mme de Lamballe's murder. Lamballe was not with the royal party during the attempt (as shown in the film), and she was killed in the September Massacres of 1792, more than a year after the escape attempt.

So enjoy this splendid piece of film purely as spectacle--a testament to Hollywood's world view in a bleak decade. Entertainment it truly is, and not at all bad. As history, it's bunk.
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Norma Shearer brings her graceful elegance to the role of the Queen in this epic production!
vleonica29 December 2002
Fairly accurate Historical Drama of the life of Marie Antoinette from when she left Austria (age 15 in 1770) to marry the Dauphin of France through her demise via guillotine (1793) in the chaos of the French Revolution. The beautiful Arch Dutchess, Princess of the house of Hapsburg, daughter of Empress Marie Theresa, Queen of Austria and Hungry & Francis 1, Holy Roman Emperor, foresees a glorious future with her marriage to the dauphin of France. Marie envisions palaces, magnificent jewels, breathing taking gowns & servants. All she dreams of comes true only for it to be swept away during the Reign of Terror. Norma Shearer brings her graceful elegance to the role of the Queen in this epic production, which is as vast & luxurious as the era it portrays.

Thousands of yards of satin & lace, a then gigantic 1.8 dollar million budget plus hundreds of extras made this movie one of the most opulent epic's of the 30's & shall forever shine as one of the most glamorous ever made.

Norma Shearer's nomination for an Academy Award was well deserved but, unfortunately she was up against another actress in equally powerful role & the award went to Bette Davis in Jezebel & though I love the movie Jezebel I wished Norma Shearer had won.

Shearer's very powerful role was a great challenge which she met with great skill. Her delightful performance makes this a film to be cherished as we see her as a giddy youth while she enjoys being the dauphine, flirtatious nature with Count Fersen, loving queen to Louis XVI, anxious escapee during Flight to Varennes, horrified spouse when she learns of her husbands fate, terrified parent when her child is taken from her & dignified condemned prisoner as she rides in the cart & up the stairs to die are all moments is this wonderful movie than begin when the movie begins & wont ever end in your mind. Truly a magnificent actress in her most glorious role which she brought to life as if she herself lived the part, and who knows, perhaps she did. It's interesting to note that the leading actors/actresses within this movie bear a strong resemblance to the people they portray. In reality Fersen was fair haired, but the facial resemblance is uncanny to say the least. No doubt MGM's way of making the movie more realistic. Definitely among my 10 favorite movies of all time.
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The court of Versailles
jotix10025 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The tragic figure of Marie Antoinette, an Austrian princess who married Louis XVI of France, has been the subject of many books and two films. This 1938 version was the brain child of Irving Thalberg, a man who was well connected in Hollywood. This project which took a while to go into production, was a vehicle for his wife, the reigning queen of MGM, Norma Shearer.

Marie Antoinette was the daughter of Maria Theresa, the empress of Austria, a woman who understood the role of power. The empress married her daughters in what she believed would be advantageous as she forged strategic alliances with other royal houses in Europe. Her daughter Marie Antoinette, like some of her sisters, married men that were not compatible with them, as proved by her union with the inept Louis XVI, a man that was childish and inefficient. A few years after the marriage both Louis and Marie Antoinette would be taken care by the popular justice of the French Revolution.

Before her horrible end, Marie Antoinette was the object of envy and disdain by the sophisticates of the French courtiers who saw in her a naive girl. Marie Antoinette became the object of gossip. Her attraction for Count Axel DeFersen was natural since she had no love for her own husband. Her notorious rivalry with her father in law's mistress, the calculating Madame DuBarry, didn't help things either. In spite of all that she found a kindred soul in the Duc D'Orleans, who saw in her a girl lost among the wolves of Versailles.

Norma Shearer, who returned to MGM after her husband's death, made a good impression as Marie Antoinette. Her take on the doomed queen seemed to be what was expected of her. Tyrone Power, as Count Axel projects his handsome presence; it's clear to see what the tragic queen saw in him. Robert Morley, who plays Louis XVI made quite an excellent contribution to the film. John Barrymore as Louis XV, is a welcome presence. Joseph Schildkraut appears as the Duc D'Orleans, and Gladys George plays Mme. DuBarry. Others in the talented cast include Henry Stephenson, Alma Kruger, Albert Dekker, and many others that were uncredited for their efforts.

The production owes big to Cedric Gibbons, the art director. His interiors of Versailles are stunning. For a black and white film, Mr. Gibbons' interiors look and feel like the real thing. The cinematography of William Daniels, a man with a great eye for what worked in the cinema, captures the action in his unrivaled style. The background music of Gluck plays well with what one sees. Donald Ogden Stewart's screen play does justice to his subject. W. S. Van Dyke directed with an eye for the spectacle he delivers in this picture.
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Kirasjeri4 July 2002
No movie could ever do more to personify the word "sumptuous". The film spared no expense in recreating the court of the French kings in pre-Revolution France in the 18th century. It is immensely enjoyable. It was definitely a prestige movie for the studio.

It starts with the young Austrian princess, Marie Antoinette, going to Paris for her arranged marriage with the grandson of the King who will be the next French monarch. (All of the king's male children had died young). Marie's reception as a wide-eyed innocent by the opulent French court, complete with fanfares, is remarkable and memorable.

Marie soon experiences the byzantine intricacies of the French court and the realities of her new life with Louis - her diffident and none-too-bright young husband. Both we in their mid-teens when married. France soon heads inexorably towards revolution and it will mean a tragic fate for the Royal family.

My only complaint bout the film is not that Norma Shearer was just a bit too old for the role; her fine acting and the makeup and lighting take care of that well enough. The complaint is an historical one: it was a bit too sympathetic towards Marie, and even Louis, both of whom ended up beheaded because they encourage foreign armies to invade France and put the king back on the throne. Marie's over-spending is also glossed over. But she was tragic in her way.

Louis, played beautifully by Robert Morley, was even more tragic. In another life he would have been happy and accomplished as the clock maker he always wanted to be.

Joseph Schildkraut was superb as the unctious and conniving Duke who had no problem switching sides as the political winds blew. Gladys George was very effective as Madame du Barry. Tyrone Power was merely OK as a love interest for Marie which seemed rather gratuitous.

Along with Abel Gance's "Napoleon", and "A Tale of Two Cities" (the Ronald Colman version), this is as good as it gets as an historical drama of the French Revolution. Exciting, emotional, sad, affecting, and very memorable. Superb.
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Bye history,hello novel!
dbdumonteil19 March 2007
A legend in France tells that Julien Duvivier was involved in this film;if he really did something,it was probably minimal;an educated man like him would have been scared by the numerous historical errors of the film.

Here are some of them: -Never Louis XV spoke of sending the dauphine back to where she once belonged,in Austria.The quarrel with Madame du Barry is pure fiction:M.A. spoke once to the favorite ,she said " There are many people here today in Versailles."She never addressed her afterward.

-Louis XVI was not the moron we see in the film.He was actually an educated man.When he was in jail,he would teach his son maths,history ,geography and other subjects.He was not made to be king,that's true ,and all that follows Louis XV 's death is accurate .He reportedly said to his distraught wife :"What a misfortune,we're too young to reign!".He used to go hunting (his favorite pastime) but he was not the half-wit depicted in Van Dyke's film.

-The Royal family was not imprisoned in Le Temple just after the night of Varennes.That escape took place on the 20th of June 1791.The storming of the Tuileries (not included in the movie for a good reason)happened on August ,the 10th 1792;the fall of the monarchy and the Republic followed in September the same year.

-But the queen's last night takes the biscuit!Fersen in her dungeon,no less!

Forget history,and you have a wonderful show,a novel based on M.A.'s life.There are many remarkable things all along the viewing: M.A. in the corridors of her palace,in Vienna ,where her mother tells her "You shall be queen of France" . The sentence will come back ,quite rightly so,in the last pictures.

The affair of the necklace,told in admirable succinct style;the scene when the queen learns that the cardinal de Rohan is free ,while arriving at the opera theater,is a great dramatic idea.

The longest night of June,which tragically ended in Varenne is given an adequate dark treatment where only the torches lighten the forest or the village.

The scene which climaxes the movie is the Royal family's last supper.Here Robert Morley transcends the limitation he is working under ,and makes Louis XVI a clever sensitive man :the rapport he has with his child was obvious in real life and all rings true.The broken soldier's story will intensely move you.Besides ,it was a good idea to film M.A.'s and the dauphin's separation just after the king's death (actually ,the king died on the 21th of January 1793,and M.A. was separated from her child in the following Summer) cause it increases tenfold the queen's tragedy.This scene lasted one hour!one hour! When she left LE Temple for la Conciergerie (where you can visit her dungeon today),the queen said:"Nothing can hurt me now."
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Large and lush in every way.
movibuf196229 August 2006
Of course 2 million dollars is nothing for a movie budget today, but back in 1938 it was the equivalent of what would now be about 40 million dollars. Fortunately, every penny of MGM's French Revolution tragedy shows up on-screen. The sets, the b/w cinematography, and of course the Adrian costumes (the large hooped gowns which barely pass through the doorways are a movie onto themselves) culminate in one opulent, frenzied, pageant of a story. Norma Shearer Thalberg is the quintessential queen; it's interesting to see her age throughout the film. Though there are always critics who need to nitpick at her age appropriateness (sp?) for this film, I think she does a perfectly credible job going from a teenager to a young adult at the time of execution (the queen was supposed to about 36 when she was guillotined). There are several astonishing moments: the wedding night sequence with Shearer and a somewhat frigid but endearingly shy Robert Morley; the costume party and blind man's bluff game with Shearer and Reginald Gardiner which becomes deliciously provocative; and of course, the final scenes with an imprisoned Shearer who has by now aged so severely she is barely recognized by lover Tyrone Power. A big movie in every way that would, sadly, be eclipsed barely a year later by GONE WITH THE WIND. Check it out.
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Perhaps Norma Shearer's finest hour
calvinnme4 October 2017
If there's only one performance in Norma Shearer's career that should be seen, for my money it's in the title role of Marie Antoinette, MGM's extraordinarily lavish costume depiction of the legendary figure of French history.

The film is a model of the studio system when it spared no expense, with breath taking costumes and sets. Yes, the film goes on too long and not all of its performances are a success. For example, Tyrone Power has a particularly weakly written character to play, one actually based on history, but, for the most part, this films works.

Norma is very impressive in her early scenes as a young innocent arriving at the French court, expecting her yet unseen betrothed to be a prince charming but getting, at first glance, and at first conversation for that matter, a frog. She gradually learns the ways and politics of the court of France and experiences a gradual conversion over to a life of frivolity.

But Shearer's finest moments in the film are those that depict her character's downfall with the French Revolution. Shearer plays the scenes with a dignity and strength of character that are impressive before, inevitably, her character starts to break down under the strain.

The most heart breaking scene in the film is the scene in the prison cell in which members of the Revolution suddenly appear to take the former queen's children away from her. Shearer is no longer a proud queen as she plays a woman who will fight like a wildcat to keep her children with her.

Having said all this about Shearer, I think that the most memorable performance in the film comes from Robert Morley as Louis XVI, a simple minded man derided by aristocratic members of the French court, but, in the final analysis, a good man who displays dignity and courage when he faces the end.
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