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Mayerling (1968) is a lavishly designed and photographed costume drama, a genre that enjoyed a brief resurgence in the 1960s, in the wake ofDavid Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965). Omar Sharif - who also playedthe title character in Lean's picture - stars in Mayerling as Rudolph,the Crown Prince of Hapsburg. The film was inspired by the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of the real Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria and a beautiful young woman in 1888.
Director Terence Young spins a romantic tale based on Rudolph's doomedrelationship with Baroness Maria Vetsera (Catherine Deneuve). Rudolphyearns for Maria, but he's been forced by his overpowering father, EmperorFranz Josef (James Mason), into a loveless marriage with Crown PrincessStephanie (Andrea Parisy). Stephanie's sour personality drives Rudolph toan affair with a young actress (Fabienne Dali), as well as to a dalliancewith morphine.
When Maria is sent to Venice to discourage the possibility of an illicitromance, Rudolph is encouraged by his sympathetic mother, Empress Elizabeth(Ava Gardner), to bring her back. Unfortunately, Rudolph's involvement in afailed Hungarian political uprising is suddenly revealed, much to thedissatisfaction of his father. With their future together lookingbleak, Rudolph and Maria decide to seal their fate with a final, irrevocable act.
At the time of its release, critics agreed that the best performances in Mayerling weredelivered by the old pros, Ava Gardner and James Mason, although many peoplecomplained that Gardner was too young to play Sharif's mother. Gardner was 45 when she accepted the role of the 60-year-old Empress Elizabeth. However, the actual Empress was famously youthful-looking, so Gardner fit the role better than most people realized. (A few years later, in the blockbuster, Earthquake, 1974, Gardner portrayed Lorne Greene'spetulant daughter while being [and looking] a mere seven years younger thanGreene. Even the studio's publicity department couldn't explain thatone.)
Mayerling was originally planned for the husband-and-wife team of MelFerrer and Audrey Hepburn, both of whom participated in a disastroustelevised version of the story in 1957. Hepburn received rave reviews forher work in Young's cult thriller, Wait Until Dark (1967), so she wasupset when Sharif and Deneuve were cast. But it may have been for the best.By the time filming commenced on Mayerling, Ferrer and Hepburn werepreparing to divorce.
Producer: Robert Dorfmann
Director: Terence Young
Screenplay: Terence Young, Dennis Cannan, Joseph Kessel
Editor: Monique Bonnot
Cinematographer: Henri Alekan
Music: Francis Lai
Production Designer: Georges Wakhevitch
Art Director: Maurice Colasson, Tony Roman
Costumes: Marcel Escoffier
Principal Cast: Omar Sharif (Crown Prince Rudolph), Catherine Deneuve(Baroness Maria Vetsera), James Mason (Emperor Franz Josef), Ava Gardner(Empress Elizabeth), James Robertson Justice (Edward, Prince of Wales),Genevieve Page (Countess Larisch), Fabienne Dali (Mizzi Kaspar), MauriceTeynac (Mortiz Szeps).
by Paul Tatara