Friday, June 18, 2010

The Merry Widow(1934). This is a Little Master Piece!

The Merry Widow(1934). Film adaptation of the operetta of the same name by Franz Lehár. Director: Ernst Lubitsch. Cast: Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. A French-language version was produced at the same time and released in France the same year as La Veuve joyeuse.

In the European kingdom of Marshovia, playboy Count Danilo, the captain of the royal guard, sees the veiled widow Sonia during a military parade and later meets up with her in her gardens. Because of Marshovian edict widows must wear veils in public, the surprised Sonia covers her face before Danilo can see her. Sonia rejects Danilo's flirtations but, over the next few days, can not seem to get him out of her mind. Sonia decides her one-year widowhood over and moves to Paris. Because Sonia controls half of the economy, her leaving worries the king, Achmed II, who talks it over with Queen Dolores, about possible suitors for the widow. After Dolores rejects all of his suggested suitors, Achmed catches the queen entertaining Danilo in her bedroom. Angry, Achmed orders Danilo to go to Paris and marry Sonia. Before reporting to the Marshovian embassy, Danilo visits Maxim's, where all of the can-can dancers adore him. As Danilo leaves his rooms, Sonia, sees him and follows him to Maxim's. There Danilo runs into Ambassador Popoff, who shares his plan of capturing the widow attentions during the embassy ball. When Sonia meets up with him at Maxim's, she is mistaken for a cabaret "girl" and is picked by the unsuspecting Danilo. Shocked by Danilo's playboy ways, Sonia, decides to call herself Fifi, flirts with all the men who catch her eye in front of the count and laughs at his hurt feelings. In one of the private dining rooms, Sonia decides to give Danilo some of his own medicine by acting seductive and indifferent towards him. Danilo says to her that he prefers cabaret girls because they never ask about "tomorrow," Sonia tells him that she is a "lady" and quickly leaves. Heartbroken, Danilo fails to show up at the embassy ball and is found by his orderly, in a drunken stupor at Maxim's.
You have to watch to see if the ambassador of Paris plans work out..

I just saw the film, Merry Widow(1934), for the first time on TCM. I thought Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald gave very convincing performances. Loved the romance of the music. MGM built some wonderful sets: the grandeur of the King of Marshovia's palace and the great dance sequences at the Embassy Ball may have influenced others 20 or so years later. There are some humorous touches and every performance is perfect right down to the gypsy violinist.


MGM hired at least 500 extras for the "Merry Widow" dance number.

It took four months and 12 seamstresses to make Adrian's two dozen designs for Jeanette MacDonald's gowns.

The 1,000 gas chandeliers on the sets took two hours to turn on.

The final film collaboration between Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, and director Ernst Lubitsch.

A French-language version was filmed simultaneously, with Chevalier and MacDonald in the starring roles. (As a trained opera singer, MacDonald spoke and sang excellent French.) However, the rest of the cast was replaced with French-speaking actors. Marcel Vallée played the Ambassador (who is played by Edward Everett Horton in the English version).

Una Merkel (December 10, 1903 – January 2, 1986), looked a lot like actress Lillian Gish and began her career as a stand-in for Gish, in the 1928 classic The Wind, a late silent film. Merkel appeared in a few films during the silent era, including the two-reel Love's Old Sweet Song (1923).

Merkel achieved her greatest success with the "talkies". She played Ann Rutledge in the film Abraham Lincoln (1930). During the 1930s, Merkel became a popular second lead in a number of films, usually playing the wisecracking best friend of the heroine,  Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Loretta Young, and Dorothy Lamour. Merkel was an MGM contract player from 1932 to 1938, appearing in as many as twelve films in a year, often on loan-out to other studios. She was also often cast as leading lady to a number of comedians in their starring pictures, including Jack Benny, Harold Lloyd, and Charles Butterworth.

In 42nd Street (1933), Merkel played Ginger Rogers's character's buddy.  Merkel appeared in both the 1934 and the 1952 film versions of The Merry Widow, playing different roles in each. One of her most famous roles was in the Western Destry Rides Again (1939) in which her character, Lillibelle, gets into a famous "cat-fight" with Frenchie (Marlene Dietrich). She played the elder daughter to the W. C. Fields character, Egbert Sousé in the 1940 film The Bank Dick. In 1950 she was leading lady to William Bendix in a baseball comedy Kill the Umpire.

She had a major part in the MGM 1959 film, The Mating Game as Paul Douglas's wife and Debbie Reynolds's mother, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Summer and Smoke (1961).

Merkel, whose final film role was in the Elvis Presley film Spinout (1966).

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