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).

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Camille(1936). Director: George Cukor. Produced: Irving Thalberg and Bernard H. Hyman, from a screenplay by James Hilton, Zoe Akins and Frances Marion. The picture is based on the 1852 novel and play La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils. Cast: Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Jessie Ralph, Henry Daniell, and Laura Hope Crews.

The film inspired Milton Benjamin to write a song called "I'll Love Like Robert Taylor, Be My Greta Garbo." Camille was included in Time Magazine's All-Time 100 Movies in 2005. It was also included at #33 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions. Portions of the film, including the final scene, are featured in the 1982 musical film Annie after the number "Let's Go To The Movies."

Beautiful Marguerite Gautier, is known as "the lady of the camellias" because of her love for the flowers. Marguerite's friends know her as a woman whose heart is bigger than her bank account. Though she is given money and jewels by her many suitors, her lifestyle and generosity have kept her in debt. Prudence Duvernoy, comes to Marguerite and tells her, she must find a rich man who can take care of her and arranges for her to meet, Baron de Varville. When Prudence leaves the theater box to find de Varville, Armand Duval, who has been in love with Marguerite and has been following her for weeks, joins her. Because they have never met, she thinks that he is the baron. When she is introduced to the real Baron, Marguerite is disappointed, but she leaves with him.Soon, Marguerite is de Varville's mistress and has indulged herself with his money. When he goes on a business trip to Russia, her frail health keeps her home. At a coach auction, she meets Armand again and is told by her maid, that he came to ask about Marguerite's health every day. Later, Marguerite invites him to a party at her home, and when she becomes ill, he carries her into her bedroom and tells her that he is deeply in love with her and wants to take care of her. Marguerite, must choose between the young man who loves her and the baron who wants her.

I feel this is one of the most romantic film ever made and it is one of my favorite Garbo performances. She is beautiful, her performance is full of moments of flawless acting. The cinematography, art direction and costume design are also beautiful. The supporting performances from Lionel Barrymore, Laura Hope Crewes to Maureen O'Sullivan are perfect. Robert Taylor, is very young and handsome. A wonderful classic film you will not want to miss.

Fun Facts:

Greta Garbo's personal favorite of all her films.

Greta Garbo wore bedroom slippers under all her fancy dresses so she could be comfortable.

Film debut of Joan Leslie.

Elizabeth Allan (9 April 1908 – 27 July 1990) was an English actress who worked in both England and Hollywood, making about 50 films over more than a quarter century. She made her movie debut in 1931, first appearing in Alibi. 1935 was her most memorable year in Hollywood, when she not only distinguished herself in two memorable Dickens' adaptations as David's young mother in, David Copperfield and as Lucie Manette in Jack Conway's, A Tale of Two Cities, but was also featured in, Mark of the Vampire. By the 1950s, Allan had made the transition to character parts. Particularly memorable is her appearance in, The Heart of the Matter (1953). In 1958, she appeared as Boris Karloff's wife in, The Haunted Strangler.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Life With Father(1947)

Life with Father(1947). Tells the true story of Clarence Day, a stockbroker who wants to be master of his house. Unfortunately, his wife and his children ignore him, until they want him to change his own life. In keeping with the autobiography, all the children in the family (all boys) are redheads. Cast: William Powell and Irene Dunne as Clarence and his wife. Elizabeth Taylor performs as the girl that Clarence's oldest son becomes infatuated with, along with Edmund Gwenn, ZaSu Pitts, Jimmy Lydon and Martin Milner.

Fun Fact:
The play's writers, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, and Clarence Day's widow were on the set and were given power of the film. According to author David Chierichetti, Mrs. Day approved Irene Dunne's characterization and even lent some jewelry that belonged to the real Vinnie.

Click to view LIFE WITH FATHER in full.

I thought this was a very "charming" period film, that takes you back in time, to a simpler life. Powell and Dunne are excellent and play off each other very well. It is fun to see a very young Elizabeth Taylor .

Edmund Gwenn (26 September 1877 – 6 September 1959), appeared in more than eighty films during his career, including the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice, Cheers for Miss Bishop, Of Human Bondage, and The Keys of the Kingdom. He is perhaps best remembered for his role as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He received a second nomination for his role in Mister 880 (1950). Near the end of his career he played one of the main roles in Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry (1955). He has a small role as a Cockney assassin in another Hitchcock film, Foreign Correspondent (1940).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex(1939)

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). Romantic/drama. Cast Bette Davis, and Errol Flynn. Director: by Michael Curtiz, and was based on the Maxwell Anderson play. Supporting cast: Olivia de Havilland, Donald Crisp, Henry Daniell, Henry Stephenson, and Vincent Price. The score was composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who later used a theme from the film. The elaborate costumes was designed by Orry-Kelly. Among the film's five Academy Award nominations was a nomination for Best Color Cinematography. Bette Davis was thought to receive an Academy Award nomination for her role; instead, she was nominated in that year for Dark Victory.

Earl of Essex returns from his battle at Cadiz to be greeted by Lady Penelope Gray and other ladies of the court and the jealousy of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Robert Cecil. Queen Elizabeth, in love with Essex, fears his thirst for power and puts him down him for the high cost of his victory. Proud and thinking the Queen is wrong, Essex travels back to Wonstead. Francis Bacon, wants to smooth things over, suggests that Elizabeth appoint Essex Master of the Ordnance in order to stop the uprising in Ireland. To serve his country, Essex returns to court where he falls victim to Raleigh and Cecil who conspire to turn him and the queen against each other by sending Essex to Ireland against the Queens wishes.. Later his pleas for help go unanswered and facing death, he is forced to surrender to Tyrone. Unknown to either Essex or Elizabeth, Cecil, Raleigh and Penelope have been intercepting the lovers' letters, and so Essex returns to England, believing that he has been betrayed by his queen.

This has to be one of Davis best dramatic performance ever!

Fun Fact:

The sixth of nine movies made together by Warner Brothers' romantic couple Olivia De Havilland and Errol Flynn.

Donald Crisp (27 July 1882 – 25 May 1974) was an English film actor. He was also an early motion picture producer, director and screenwriter. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1942 for his performance in How Green Was My Valley.

While touring with the company in the United States and Cuba, Crisp first became interested in a career in the theatre. By 1910, Crisp, now using the name Donald, was working as a stage manager for director George M. Cohan. It was during this time he met and befriended film director D. W. Griffith. When Griffith moved to Hollywood in 1912, Crisp accompanied him.

From 1908 to 1930, Crisp, in addition to directing dozens of films, also appeared in nearly 100 silent films, though many in bit or small parts. One notable exception was his casting by Griffith as General Ulysses S. Grant in Griffith's and The Birth of a Nation in 1915. Another was his role in Griffith's 1919 film Broken Blossoms, as "Battling Burrows".

Crisp worked as an assistant to Griffith for several years and learned much during this time from Griffith. His first directing credit was Little Country Mouse, made in 1914. Over the next fifteen years, Crisp directed some 70 films, most notably The Navigator (1924) with Buster Keaton and Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925) with Douglas Fairbanks. His final directorial effort was the 1930 film The Runaway Bride starring Mary Astor.