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Ernst Lubitsch - Spotlight of the Month
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The Merry Widow (1934)

Sunday April, 2 2017 at 08:15 AM

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The third film version of Franz Lehar's 1907 operetta, The Merry Widow (1934) was the first talking version, and thus the first to take full advantage of Lehar's glorious music. Cedric Gibbons and Fredric Hope won the film's only Oscar® for their sumptuous set design.

Wittily directed by Ernst Lubitsch, The Merry Widow is a rich Viennese pastry of a movie, perfectly cast with a sparkling Jeanette MacDonald as the widow and a roguish Maurice Chevalier as the playboy prince. It was MacDonald and Chevalier's fourth and final film together, and their only one at MGM. Yet as perfect as their romantic pairing seemed, they actually disliked each other intensely. He thought she was a prude, and she called him "the biggest bottom-pincher I have ever come across." They had made three films together at Paramount, with MacDonald taking second billing to Chevalier, who was a much bigger star. Then she went to MGM, and her star was on the rise. MGM Producer Irving Thalberg, trying to entice Chevalier away from Paramount, offered him The Merry Widow. Chevalier was interested, but only if Thalberg would promise that he would not have to co-star with MacDonald. Thalberg agreed, signed Chevalier...then reneged on his promise. To add insult to injury, he gave MacDonald equal billing to Chevalier. Chevalier was furious, and his fury extended to Ernst Lubitsch as well.

Somehow, none of these animosities showed onscreen. Critics loved The Merry Widow, and predicted a big hit. But the film had cost $1,600,000, and it ended up losing money. By 1934, it must have seemed old-fashioned to audiences dazzled by the art-deco sleekness of RKO's Astaire-Rogers musicals, and Warner Bros.' Busby Berkeley films. But even after 66 years, The Merry Widow shows remarkable durability. Today, its charm, wit, and style seem not quaint, but ageless.

Producer: Irving G. Thalberg
Director: Ernest Lubitsch
Screenplay: Samson Raphaelson
Art Direction: Frederic Hope; Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Oliver Marsh
Costume Design: Ali Hubert
Film Editing: Frances Marsch
Original Music: Franz Lehar
Principal Cast: Maurice Chevalier(Captain Danilo), Jeanette MacDonald (Sonia), Edward Everrtt Horton (Ambassador Popoff), Una Merkel (Queen Dolores), Sterling Holloway (Mischka).
BW-99m. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri

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