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Marion Davies's first full-length talkie, Marianne (1929), actually started life as a silent. Davies, who had a stammer, felt she wasn't ready to do a talking picture yet, even though she had already started work on one, "The Five O'Clock Girl," which was abandoned after only a few weeks of production. From all indications, the shutting down of that project had nothing to do with Davies's abilities; nevertheless, it was decided to shoot Marianne without sound. When it quickly became apparent that talkies were here to stay, the entire film was reshot with a new supporting cast and added musical numbers. Davies worked hard at overcoming her stutter, even taking Demosthenes's ancient advice to try speaking with a pebble in her mouth (a disaster, she later joked, because she swallowed the stone and nearly choked). Her efforts proved successful; she never stammered once and even pulled off a passable French accent.
Davies plays a sweet, vivacious French girl whose childhood sweetheart and intended husband is missing in action. A company of American soldiers is quartered in the village where Marianne runs an inn and cares for orphans, and she soon finds herself falling for Pvt. Stagg, a doughboy who lands in the brig after his gallant attempt to save her pet pig. When her French sweetheart shows up, circumstances take a turn that allows Marianne to start a new life.
Marianne was inspired by King Vidor's epic World War I hit The Big Parade (1925). Davies's lover and patron, William Randolph Hearst, wanted to ensure the quality of her picture by hiring Laurence Stallings, the writer of that earlier war film as well as Davies's acclaimed comedy Show People (1928), to help craft the screenplay.
Davies's costar in the silent version, Oscar Shaw, was a veteran of Broadway musicals, but, oddly enough, he was replaced by Lawrence Gray in the sound version. Gray had appeared with Davies in one of her biggest hits, The Patsy (1928), and would act opposite her again in The Florodora Girl (1930). Davies found him very easy to work with, although she later related a story about his hot temper exploding after he burned his costume uniform jacket by setting it on a curling iron a hairdresser had left on the set.
The star herself incurred the anger of MGM production chief Irving Thalberg during the filming of Marianne. The company had been given use of an orchestra for three hours to record a musical number that they finished in two hours. So she suggested throwing in another number, one that Thalberg had already decided should be cut from the movie, and it was recorded on the spot. Thalberg fumed when he found out, but later apologized and relented on leaving the number in the movie. Marianne also produced a lasting hit in the tune "Just You, Just Me."
Davies's actual sound debut was a brief song-and-dance appearance in the all-star The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929), released just ten days prior to Marianne and featuring the star as herself.
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Producers: Marion Davies, Robert Z. Leonard
Screenplay: Laurence Stallings, Gladys Unger, story by Dale Van Every
Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh
Editing: James McKay
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: William Axt, Charles Maxwell (both uncredited) Cast: Marion Davies (Marianne), Lawrence Gray (Pvt. Stagg), Cliff Edwards (Soapy Soapstone), Benny Rubin (Sammy Samuels), George Baxter (Andre).
by Rob Nixon