The Merry Widow


1h 39m 1934
The Merry Widow

Brief Synopsis

A prince from a small kingdom courts a wealthy widow to keep her money in the country.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Musical
Period
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Nov 2, 1934
Premiere Information
New York opening: 11 Oct 1934
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the operetta Die lustige Witwe , music by Franz Lehar, book and lyrics by Victor Leon and Leo Stein (Vienna, 28 Dec 1905).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 39m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Synopsis

In 1885, in the tiny European kingdom of Marshovia, playboy Count Danilo, the captain of the royal guard, admires the veiled rich widow Sonia during a military parade and later slips into her gardens to woo her. Obeying a Marshovian edict that stipulates that widows must always wear veils in public, the surprised Sonia covers her face before Danilo sees her and, in spite of his begging, refuses to lift it. Sonia then firmly rejects Danilo's deft flirtations but, over the next few days, is filled with confused thoughts about him. Unable to deal with her emotions, Sonia declares her one-year Marshovian widowhood over and moves to Paris. Because Sonia owns fifty-two percent of every cow in Marshovia and therefore controls the economy, her departure alarms the king, Achmed II, who frantically confers with his wife, Queen Dolores, about possible local suitors for the widow. After Dolores vetoes all of his suggested suitors, Achmed catches the queen entertaining Danilo in her bedroom. As punishment for his philandering, Achmed orders Danilo to go to Paris and marry Sonia. Before reporting to the Marshovian embassy for further instructions, Danilo decides to visit Maxim's, a favorite cabaret where all of the can-can dancers know and adore him. As Danilo leaves his rooms, Sonia, his neighbor, sees him and, abandoning her horde of insincere suitors, follows him to Maxim's. There Danilo runs into the bumbling Ambassador Popoff, who relates his "top secret" plan of ensnaring the coveted widow during the next night's embassy ball. When Sonia arrives at Maxim's, she is mistaken for a cabaret "girl" and is engaged by the unsuspecting Danilo. Irritated by Danilo's casual romantic attitudes, Sonia, who calls herself Fifi, flirts with various men in front of the count and laughs at his jealous indignation. In one of Maxim's private dining rooms, Sonia then drives Danilo to distraction by acting seductive and indifferent in turn. However, when Danilo confesses to her that he prefers cabaret girls because they never ask about "tomorrow," Sonia reveals that she is a "lady" and leaves in a wounded huff. Devastated by Sonia's exit, Danilo fails to show up at the embassy ball as expected and is found by Mishka, his orderly, in a drunken stupor at Maxim's. In his intoxicated state, Danilo reveals his diplomatic mission to the Maxim's women and is dragged to the ball under protest. After Popoff threatens to court-martial him if he refuses to woo the widow, the lovesick Danilo prepares to do his duty and meet Sonia. When Danilo discovers that Sonia and Fifi are one in the same, he is overjoyed but covers his feelings when she coolly rebuffs him. Eventually Danilo convinces Sonia of his sincere desire to give up his playboy ways and marry. Danilo's victory is short-lived, however, when Sonia overhears Popoff telling Danilo that, because the Marchovian newspapers are about to print a story exposing the marriage scheme, he must wed Sonia that night. Although Danilo refuses to participate further in the scheme and is put on trial for treason in Marchovia, Sonia continues to condemn him as a cold-blooded womanizer. Shortly before his execution is to take place, however, Sonia visits Danilo in jail, and while aware that Popoff is still conniving to bring them together, the couple finally gives in to love and embraces.

Cast

Maurice Chevalier

[Count] Danilo

Jeanette Macdonald

Sonia [also known as Fifi]

Edward Everett Horton

Ambassador [Popoff]

Una Merkel

Queen [Dolores]

George Barbier

King [Achmed II]

Minna Gombell

Marcelle

Ruth Channing

Lulu

Sterling Holloway

Orderly [Mishka]

Donald Meek

Valet

Herman Bing

Zizipoff

Henry Armetta

Turk

Barbara Leonard

Maid

Akim Tamiroff

Manager of Maxim's

Lucien Prival

Adamovitch

Luana Walters

Sonia's maid

Sheila Mannors

Sonia's maid

Caryl Lincoln

Sonia's maid

Edna Waldron

Sonia's maid

Lona Andre

Sonia's maid

Patricia Farley

Maxim's girl

Shirley Chambers

Maxim's girl

Maria Troubetskoy

Maxim's girl

Eleanor Hunt

Maxim's girl

Jeanne Hart

Maxim's girl

Dorothy Wilson

Maxim's girl

Barbara Barondess

Maxim's girl

Dorothy Granger

Maxim's girl

Jill Dennett

Maxim's girl

Mary Jane Halsey

Maxim's girl

Peggy Watts

Maxim's girl

Dorothy Dehn

Maxim's girl

Connie Lamont

Maxim's girl

Charles Requa

Escort

George Lewis

Escort

Tyler Brooke

Escort

John Merkyl

Escort

Cosmo Kyrle Bellew

Escort

Roger Gray

Policeman

Christian J. Frank

Policeman

Otto Fries

Policeman

George Magrill

Policeman

John Roach

Policeman

Gino Corrado

Waiter

Perry Ivins

Waiter

Katherine Burke

Prisoner

George Baxter

Ambassador

Paul Ellis

Dancer

Leonid Kinsky

Sheppard

Evelyn Selbie

Newspaper woman

Wedgwood Nowell

Lackey

Richard Carle

Defense attorney

Morgan Wallace

Prosecuting attorney

Frank Sheridan

Judge

Arthur "pop" Byron

Doorman

Claudia Coleman

Wardrobe mistress

Lee Tin

Excited man

Nora Cecil

Animal woman

Tom Francis

Orthodox priest

Winter Hall

Nondescript priest

Matty Roubert

Newsboy

Ferdinand Munier

Jailer

Dewey Robinson

Fat lackey

Russell Powell

Fat lackey

Billy Gilbert

Fat lackey

Arthur Housman

Drunk

Johnny "skins" Miller

Drunk

Hector Sarno

Gypsy leader

Jan Rubini

Practical violinist

Albert Pollet

Head waiter

Rolfe Sedan

Gabrielovitsch

Jacques Lory

Coatman

Allan Rogers

Tenor in "Vilia" number

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Musical
Period
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Nov 2, 1934
Premiere Information
New York opening: 11 Oct 1934
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the operetta Die lustige Witwe , music by Franz Lehar, book and lyrics by Victor Leon and Leo Stein (Vienna, 28 Dec 1905).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 39m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Articles

The Essentials (7/30 & 1/28) - THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)


SYNOPSIS

The tiny European country of Marshovia is in a crisis when the richest woman in the land (Jeanette MacDonald), a widow owning 52 percent of their wealth, decides to take her riches to Paris in search of a new husband. The only man who can win the widow and keep the wealth in Marshovia is Count Danilo (Maurice Chevalier), a notorious Casanova whom the king has just discovered in his beautiful young wife's bedchamber. But as the music and the champagne flow, the widow discovers Danilo's plot in the midst of a blossoming love affair with him.

Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Producer: Irving G. Thalberg
Screenplay: Samson Raphaelson, Ernest Vajda
Based on the operetta Die Lustigue Witwe by Franz Lehar, Victor Leon and Leo Stein
Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh
Editing: Frances March
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Fredric Hope
Music: Franz Lehar, Herbert Stothart
Cast: Maurice Chevalier (Count Danilo), Jeanette MacDonald (Sonia), Edward Everett Horton (Ambassador Popoff), Una Merkel (Queen Dolores), George Barbier (King Achmet), Minna Gombell (Marcelle), Sterling Holloway (Mischka), Henry Armetta (Turk), Donald Meek (Valet), Akim Tamiroff (Maxim's Manager), Herman Bing (Zizipoff), Katherine Burke [Virginia Field] (Prisoner), Leonid Kinskey (Shepherd), Billy Gilbert (Fat Lackey).
C-99m.

Why THE MERRY WIDOW is Essential

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. It was the last great example of the "continental" musical that had made Maurice Chevalier a star. Its combination of European operetta with a witty, sophisticated script hinting at more sexuality than it ever shows was typical of such musicals as The Love Parade (1929) and Love Me Tonight. (1932). Many critics have hailed it as the best of its kind.


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. The Lubitsch Touch, the delicacy with which director Ernst Lubitsch deflected sentimentality and hinted at sexuality, was in full flower in The Merry Widow. He keeps the film light and lively by filling it with witty and comical supporting characters whose lines and reaction shots provide a sophisticated context for the action. They also offer reactions that suggest what's really going on behind the famous closed bedroom doors in his films.

Because of his ability to alter the meaning of a scene with a single reaction shot or by focusing on one detail, Lubitsch is one of the key directors in the development of the auteur school of film criticism, the theory that the director is the true author of the film who communicates his personality through the way in which he films scenes.

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. Regardless, Jeanette MacDonald's performance convinced MGM that she was more than just a classically trained singing actress. They saw her star potential and started grooming her, which would lead to her pairing with Nelson Eddy for her next film, Naughty Marietta (1935). As for The Merry Widow, it shows remarkable durability. Today, its charm, wit, and style seem not quaint, but ageless.

by Frank Miller & Margarita Landazuri
The Essentials (7/30 & 1/28) - The Merry Widow (1934)

The Essentials (7/30 & 1/28) - THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)

SYNOPSIS The tiny European country of Marshovia is in a crisis when the richest woman in the land (Jeanette MacDonald), a widow owning 52 percent of their wealth, decides to take her riches to Paris in search of a new husband. The only man who can win the widow and keep the wealth in Marshovia is Count Danilo (Maurice Chevalier), a notorious Casanova whom the king has just discovered in his beautiful young wife's bedchamber. But as the music and the champagne flow, the widow discovers Danilo's plot in the midst of a blossoming love affair with him. Director: Ernst Lubitsch Producer: Irving G. Thalberg Screenplay: Samson Raphaelson, Ernest Vajda Based on the operetta Die Lustigue Witwe by Franz Lehar, Victor Leon and Leo Stein Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh Editing: Frances March Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Fredric Hope Music: Franz Lehar, Herbert Stothart Cast: Maurice Chevalier (Count Danilo), Jeanette MacDonald (Sonia), Edward Everett Horton (Ambassador Popoff), Una Merkel (Queen Dolores), George Barbier (King Achmet), Minna Gombell (Marcelle), Sterling Holloway (Mischka), Henry Armetta (Turk), Donald Meek (Valet), Akim Tamiroff (Maxim's Manager), Herman Bing (Zizipoff), Katherine Burke [Virginia Field] (Prisoner), Leonid Kinskey (Shepherd), Billy Gilbert (Fat Lackey). C-99m. Why THE MERRY WIDOW is Essential 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. It was the last great example of the "continental" musical that had made Maurice Chevalier a star. Its combination of European operetta with a witty, sophisticated script hinting at more sexuality than it ever shows was typical of such musicals as The Love Parade (1929) and Love Me Tonight. (1932). Many critics have hailed it as the best of its kind. 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. The Lubitsch Touch, the delicacy with which director Ernst Lubitsch deflected sentimentality and hinted at sexuality, was in full flower in The Merry Widow. He keeps the film light and lively by filling it with witty and comical supporting characters whose lines and reaction shots provide a sophisticated context for the action. They also offer reactions that suggest what's really going on behind the famous closed bedroom doors in his films. Because of his ability to alter the meaning of a scene with a single reaction shot or by focusing on one detail, Lubitsch is one of the key directors in the development of the auteur school of film criticism, the theory that the director is the true author of the film who communicates his personality through the way in which he films scenes. 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. Regardless, Jeanette MacDonald's performance convinced MGM that she was more than just a classically trained singing actress. They saw her star potential and started grooming her, which would lead to her pairing with Nelson Eddy for her next film, Naughty Marietta (1935). As for The Merry Widow, it shows remarkable durability. Today, its charm, wit, and style seem not quaint, but ageless. by Frank Miller & Margarita Landazuri

Pop Culture (7/30 & 1/28) - THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)


Pop Culture 101 - THE MERRY WIDOW

Initial critical reaction to The Merry Widow put Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn in search of an operetta of his own. He signed Grace Moore after MGM dropped her for weighing too much, put her on a diet (some suggested that he even put her in his bed, too) and starred her in One Night of Love (1934). The film ended up a bigger hit than The Merry Widow, even bringing Moore an Oscar® nomination.

Moore's success and MGM's faith in Jeanette MacDonald inspired a new spate of American operettas starting with Naughty Marietta (1935), the first film to team MacDonald with her most popular co-star, Nelson Eddy. MacDonald and Eddy would become stars in decidedly more sentimental offerings that played better in small town America.

Director Ernst Lubitsch's sophisticated treatment of the battle of the sexes and screen romance were a tremendous influence on other directors. Both Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder -- writer-directors from Lubitsch's home studio, Paramount -- would credit him as an inspiration. Even international filmmakers tried to emulate him, most notably Jean Renoir in La Regle de Jeu (1939) and Ingmar Bergman with Smiles of a Summer Night (1955).

MGM made yet another version of The Merry Widow in 1952, with Fernando Lamas as Danilo and a non-singing Lana Turner as the widow. The film did well at the box office but poorly with critics. It won Oscar® nominations for Art Direction and Costume Design. To avoid confusion with the remake, the 1934 version was re-titled The Lady Dances for television showings.

The Merry Widow was accepted into the operatic repertoire in 1978, when the New York City Opera mounted a new production starring Beverly Sills and Alan Titus. Although opera stars had appeared in the show prior to that, those productions had been confined to theatres doing musical comedy.

Other versions included a German film in 1962, a television broadcast of the Sills production and an Australian video starring Peter Martins and Patricia McBride, with a guest appearance by Joan Sutherland.

by Frank Miller

Pop Culture (7/30 & 1/28) - THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)

Pop Culture 101 - THE MERRY WIDOW Initial critical reaction to The Merry Widow put Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn in search of an operetta of his own. He signed Grace Moore after MGM dropped her for weighing too much, put her on a diet (some suggested that he even put her in his bed, too) and starred her in One Night of Love (1934). The film ended up a bigger hit than The Merry Widow, even bringing Moore an Oscar® nomination. Moore's success and MGM's faith in Jeanette MacDonald inspired a new spate of American operettas starting with Naughty Marietta (1935), the first film to team MacDonald with her most popular co-star, Nelson Eddy. MacDonald and Eddy would become stars in decidedly more sentimental offerings that played better in small town America. Director Ernst Lubitsch's sophisticated treatment of the battle of the sexes and screen romance were a tremendous influence on other directors. Both Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder -- writer-directors from Lubitsch's home studio, Paramount -- would credit him as an inspiration. Even international filmmakers tried to emulate him, most notably Jean Renoir in La Regle de Jeu (1939) and Ingmar Bergman with Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). MGM made yet another version of The Merry Widow in 1952, with Fernando Lamas as Danilo and a non-singing Lana Turner as the widow. The film did well at the box office but poorly with critics. It won Oscar® nominations for Art Direction and Costume Design. To avoid confusion with the remake, the 1934 version was re-titled The Lady Dances for television showings. The Merry Widow was accepted into the operatic repertoire in 1978, when the New York City Opera mounted a new production starring Beverly Sills and Alan Titus. Although opera stars had appeared in the show prior to that, those productions had been confined to theatres doing musical comedy. Other versions included a German film in 1962, a television broadcast of the Sills production and an Australian video starring Peter Martins and Patricia McBride, with a guest appearance by Joan Sutherland. by Frank Miller

Trivia (7/30 & 1/28) - THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)


Trivia and Other Fun Stuff on THE MERRY WIDOW

When the film's 1925 version appeared, a real Prince Danilo turned up and sued the studio. He agreed to drop the complaint when they paid him $4,000.

Cinematographer Oliver Marsh had also worked on the 1925 version.

To create a language for Prince Danilo and Sonia's native Marshovia, the lyrics to the "Russian Dance" were written in gibberish.

The 24 gowns Adrian designed for Jeanette MacDonald were so lavish it took 12 seamstresses four months to build them.

This was the first film on which MacDonald had to lip synch to her pre-recorded song tracks. MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier shot a French-language version of the film at the same time as the English one. French audiences were suitably impressed with her handling of the language, even down to subtleties in her line readings. Russian actor Akim Tamiroff, who plays the manager of Maxim's in the American version, took on the larger role of Turk for the French film. He was the only other cast member to appear in both versions. The French version is now lost.

The famous ball scene featured 500 extras dancing through mirrored rooms that made the crowd seem even larger.

The ballroom set featured 1,000 gas chandeliers. It took two hours to light them.

Chevalier's assistant and good friend Robert Spencer did a bit in the film as the man Chevalier cuts in on so he can dance with MacDonald.

For the versions released in England and Belgium, where gibes at the monarchy were considered offensive, King Achmet was turned into a general.

Una Merkel, who plays Queen Dolores, is the only performer to appear in two different screen versions of The Merry Widow. She played the role of Kitty Riley, the widow's traveling companion, for the 1952 version.

by Frank Miller

Famous Quotes from THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)

"Are you pretty? Or beautiful?"
"Gorgeous." -- Maurice Chevalier, as Prince Danilo, and a veiled Jeanette MacDonald, as Sonia.

"Love calls to love and my heart is your own." -- Sterling Holloway, as Mischka, serenading MacDonald, as Sonia, on behalf of Chevalier, as Prince Danilo.

"So they're blaming me, huh?"
"For everything. They're even telling jokes about your majesty."
"Are they funny?"
"No."
"That's bad." -- George Barbier, as King Achmet, discussing his failing country with Donald Meek, as his valet.

"Put Gabrielovitsch and Sienkovitsch together, and what have you got? Gabrielovitsch and Sienkovitsch." -- Una Merkel, as Queen Dolores, dismissing rumors of her infidelity.

"Have you ever had diplomatic relations with a woman?" -- Edward Everett Horton, as Ambassador Popoff, making sure Chevalier, as Danilo, is up to the task of seducing MacDonald, as Sonia.

"Your left eye says yes, and your right eye says no. Fifi, you're cockeyed!" -- Chevalier to MacDonald, when he thinks she's one of the girls at Maxim's.

"I'm a soldier. My duty is to fight. I'm willing to die on every battlefield. But I'm not going to drink another cup of coffee!" - Chevalier.

Compiled by Frank Miller

Trivia (7/30 & 1/28) - THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)

Trivia and Other Fun Stuff on THE MERRY WIDOW When the film's 1925 version appeared, a real Prince Danilo turned up and sued the studio. He agreed to drop the complaint when they paid him $4,000. Cinematographer Oliver Marsh had also worked on the 1925 version. To create a language for Prince Danilo and Sonia's native Marshovia, the lyrics to the "Russian Dance" were written in gibberish. The 24 gowns Adrian designed for Jeanette MacDonald were so lavish it took 12 seamstresses four months to build them. This was the first film on which MacDonald had to lip synch to her pre-recorded song tracks. MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier shot a French-language version of the film at the same time as the English one. French audiences were suitably impressed with her handling of the language, even down to subtleties in her line readings. Russian actor Akim Tamiroff, who plays the manager of Maxim's in the American version, took on the larger role of Turk for the French film. He was the only other cast member to appear in both versions. The French version is now lost. The famous ball scene featured 500 extras dancing through mirrored rooms that made the crowd seem even larger. The ballroom set featured 1,000 gas chandeliers. It took two hours to light them. Chevalier's assistant and good friend Robert Spencer did a bit in the film as the man Chevalier cuts in on so he can dance with MacDonald. For the versions released in England and Belgium, where gibes at the monarchy were considered offensive, King Achmet was turned into a general. Una Merkel, who plays Queen Dolores, is the only performer to appear in two different screen versions of The Merry Widow. She played the role of Kitty Riley, the widow's traveling companion, for the 1952 version. by Frank Miller Famous Quotes from THE MERRY WIDOW (1934) "Are you pretty? Or beautiful?" "Gorgeous." -- Maurice Chevalier, as Prince Danilo, and a veiled Jeanette MacDonald, as Sonia. "Love calls to love and my heart is your own." -- Sterling Holloway, as Mischka, serenading MacDonald, as Sonia, on behalf of Chevalier, as Prince Danilo. "So they're blaming me, huh?" "For everything. They're even telling jokes about your majesty." "Are they funny?" "No." "That's bad." -- George Barbier, as King Achmet, discussing his failing country with Donald Meek, as his valet. "Put Gabrielovitsch and Sienkovitsch together, and what have you got? Gabrielovitsch and Sienkovitsch." -- Una Merkel, as Queen Dolores, dismissing rumors of her infidelity. "Have you ever had diplomatic relations with a woman?" -- Edward Everett Horton, as Ambassador Popoff, making sure Chevalier, as Danilo, is up to the task of seducing MacDonald, as Sonia. "Your left eye says yes, and your right eye says no. Fifi, you're cockeyed!" -- Chevalier to MacDonald, when he thinks she's one of the girls at Maxim's. "I'm a soldier. My duty is to fight. I'm willing to die on every battlefield. But I'm not going to drink another cup of coffee!" - Chevalier. Compiled by Frank Miller

The Big Idea (7/30 & 1/28) - THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)


The Big Idea Behind THE MERRY WIDOW

The Merry Widow was one of the 30 operettas composed by Austrian Franz Lehar. It was a hit first in Vienna in 1905, then traveled to Broadway in 1907, where it played 416 performances. It was such a big hit in the United States that it led to the import of other European operettas and even inspired a line of promotional tie-ins: Merry Widow hats, gowns, cigarettes and corsets. The name became iconic, with "Merry Widow" used ever after to describe a particular type of corset.

The operetta was filmed twice during the silent era, first as a two-reeler in 1912, starring Wallace Reid and Alma Rubens. In 1925, director Erich von Stroheim treated it as a discourse on decadence, freely adapting the original libretto to create one of MGM's biggest early hits. John Gilbert starred as Prince Danilo, with Mae Murray in the title role. Eagle-eyed film fans can spot Clark Gable as an extra.

MGM first considered re-making The Merry Widow in 1930, only to learn that most of the plot elements they hoped to use in the new version had been added by von Stroheim, who had maintained the rights to them. It took three years for lawyers to straighten out the rights issues.

When MGM first considered making the film, opera singers Grace Moore and Lawrence Tibbett were announced as the stars. Then publicity suggested the studio would borrow Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald and director Ernst Lubitsch from Paramount. It would take four years, however, to put that package together.

Chevalier and MacDonald had made four films together by the time MGM lured her away from Paramount in 1932. At her previous studio, she had never gotten the star treatment that MGM promised her. She did well with her first film there, The Cat and the Fiddle (1934) and was ready for more ambitious assignments. In 1933, Thalberg managed to steal Chevalier. Although he had been one of the biggest stars in the movies in the early '30s, Chevalier was facing a box-office decline that he attributed to his typecasting as a bon vivant song and dance man. MGM production chief Irving G. Thalberg promised him the chance to expand his range.

Chevalier and MacDonald had not gotten along together on their earlier films. She considered him a first-class bottom-pincher, while he thought her a prude. He also resented the grande dame persona she assumed on the set and her condescending air. When he signed with MGM, he made Thalberg promise that he would not have to work with her again.

With Chevalier finally under contract, Thalberg announced that his first MGM film would be a new version of The Merry Widow. The role was similar to those Chevalier had been playing, but when Thalberg arranged to borrow Lubitsch from Paramount and promised the star more diverse roles afterwards, Chevalier agreed.

Chevalier's personal choice to co-star with him was Moore. Her earlier films at MGM, New Moon and A Lady's Morals (both 1930), had not performed well at the box office. In addition, she was having trouble keeping her weight below the 135 pounds dictated by her contract. Lubitsch didn't care for her either, and even though she offered to play the role for free, Thalberg decided to look elsewhere.

Meanwhile, MacDonald's next scheduled film, I Married an Angel (1942), was put on hold because of problematic content in the screenplay that would have trouble getting past the censors. MGM would end up selling the rights to Broadway where Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, who had been working on the score for them, turned it into a hit. MacDonald would finally film the project, with perennial co-star Nelson Eddy, in 1942, when it flopped at the box office.

Lubitsch had discovered MacDonald in a musical production in Chicago and recommended her to executives at Paramount Pictures for the female lead in his first film with Chevalier, The Love Parade (1929). He kidded her relentlessly on the set to keep her from getting too haughty.

With Lubitsch's full support behind MacDonald, Thalberg finally decided to cast the actress rather than a non-singing star like Joan Crawford, who was briefly considered (others mentioned for the role were stage star Peggy Wood and silent screen siren Gloria Swanson). Chevalier complained to gossip columnist Louella Parsons, triggering a war of words between himself and Lubitsch. The director told Parsons, "I can only think when he was so determined not to have Jeanette MacDonald that he was afraid of her great popularity abroad...if MGM intends to keep Lehar's music and really make a musical play, there should be someone who can sing" (quoted in Edward Behr, The Good Frenchman: The True Story of the Life and Times of Chevalier). In the face of such a public thrashing from his director, Chevalier backed down and agreed to make the film with MacDonald. Legally, he couldn't sue, as Thalberg's promise about the casting only appeared in an informal letter, not his contract.

Lehar himself contributed new music to the film and new lyrics were written by Lorenz Hart and Gus Kahn. Because MGM had hired Hart and composer Richard Rodgers as a team, they had to give Rodgers a credit as well, although he never worked on the film.

The screenplay was written by Ernest Vajda, who had written The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) for Lubitsch and Chevalier, and one of Lubitsch's favorite writers, Samson Raphaelson, who worked on such classics as Trouble in Paradise (1932) and The Shop Around the Corner (1940).

by Frank Miller

The Big Idea (7/30 & 1/28) - THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)

The Big Idea Behind THE MERRY WIDOW The Merry Widow was one of the 30 operettas composed by Austrian Franz Lehar. It was a hit first in Vienna in 1905, then traveled to Broadway in 1907, where it played 416 performances. It was such a big hit in the United States that it led to the import of other European operettas and even inspired a line of promotional tie-ins: Merry Widow hats, gowns, cigarettes and corsets. The name became iconic, with "Merry Widow" used ever after to describe a particular type of corset. The operetta was filmed twice during the silent era, first as a two-reeler in 1912, starring Wallace Reid and Alma Rubens. In 1925, director Erich von Stroheim treated it as a discourse on decadence, freely adapting the original libretto to create one of MGM's biggest early hits. John Gilbert starred as Prince Danilo, with Mae Murray in the title role. Eagle-eyed film fans can spot Clark Gable as an extra. MGM first considered re-making The Merry Widow in 1930, only to learn that most of the plot elements they hoped to use in the new version had been added by von Stroheim, who had maintained the rights to them. It took three years for lawyers to straighten out the rights issues. When MGM first considered making the film, opera singers Grace Moore and Lawrence Tibbett were announced as the stars. Then publicity suggested the studio would borrow Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald and director Ernst Lubitsch from Paramount. It would take four years, however, to put that package together. Chevalier and MacDonald had made four films together by the time MGM lured her away from Paramount in 1932. At her previous studio, she had never gotten the star treatment that MGM promised her. She did well with her first film there, The Cat and the Fiddle (1934) and was ready for more ambitious assignments. In 1933, Thalberg managed to steal Chevalier. Although he had been one of the biggest stars in the movies in the early '30s, Chevalier was facing a box-office decline that he attributed to his typecasting as a bon vivant song and dance man. MGM production chief Irving G. Thalberg promised him the chance to expand his range. Chevalier and MacDonald had not gotten along together on their earlier films. She considered him a first-class bottom-pincher, while he thought her a prude. He also resented the grande dame persona she assumed on the set and her condescending air. When he signed with MGM, he made Thalberg promise that he would not have to work with her again. With Chevalier finally under contract, Thalberg announced that his first MGM film would be a new version of The Merry Widow. The role was similar to those Chevalier had been playing, but when Thalberg arranged to borrow Lubitsch from Paramount and promised the star more diverse roles afterwards, Chevalier agreed. Chevalier's personal choice to co-star with him was Moore. Her earlier films at MGM, New Moon and A Lady's Morals (both 1930), had not performed well at the box office. In addition, she was having trouble keeping her weight below the 135 pounds dictated by her contract. Lubitsch didn't care for her either, and even though she offered to play the role for free, Thalberg decided to look elsewhere. Meanwhile, MacDonald's next scheduled film, I Married an Angel (1942), was put on hold because of problematic content in the screenplay that would have trouble getting past the censors. MGM would end up selling the rights to Broadway where Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, who had been working on the score for them, turned it into a hit. MacDonald would finally film the project, with perennial co-star Nelson Eddy, in 1942, when it flopped at the box office. Lubitsch had discovered MacDonald in a musical production in Chicago and recommended her to executives at Paramount Pictures for the female lead in his first film with Chevalier, The Love Parade (1929). He kidded her relentlessly on the set to keep her from getting too haughty. With Lubitsch's full support behind MacDonald, Thalberg finally decided to cast the actress rather than a non-singing star like Joan Crawford, who was briefly considered (others mentioned for the role were stage star Peggy Wood and silent screen siren Gloria Swanson). Chevalier complained to gossip columnist Louella Parsons, triggering a war of words between himself and Lubitsch. The director told Parsons, "I can only think when he was so determined not to have Jeanette MacDonald that he was afraid of her great popularity abroad...if MGM intends to keep Lehar's music and really make a musical play, there should be someone who can sing" (quoted in Edward Behr, The Good Frenchman: The True Story of the Life and Times of Chevalier). In the face of such a public thrashing from his director, Chevalier backed down and agreed to make the film with MacDonald. Legally, he couldn't sue, as Thalberg's promise about the casting only appeared in an informal letter, not his contract. Lehar himself contributed new music to the film and new lyrics were written by Lorenz Hart and Gus Kahn. Because MGM had hired Hart and composer Richard Rodgers as a team, they had to give Rodgers a credit as well, although he never worked on the film. The screenplay was written by Ernest Vajda, who had written The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) for Lubitsch and Chevalier, and one of Lubitsch's favorite writers, Samson Raphaelson, who worked on such classics as Trouble in Paradise (1932) and The Shop Around the Corner (1940). by Frank Miller

Behind the Camera (7/30 & 1/28) - THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)


Behind the Camera on THE MERRY WIDOW

Shooting started in March 1934.

The Merry Widow was the only film teaming Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald in which they never sang together. Aware that her classical style was poorly matched to his popular vocalizing, director Ernst Lubitsch even inserted a joke about the musical mismatch. At one point Chevalier seemed to be serenading MacDonald with a cultured baritone voice, only for Lubitsch to reveal the voice belonged to one of his orderlies.

Chevalier avoided any confrontations with MacDonald and Lubitsch throughout production. He did, however, blow up at his assistant, Robert Spencer. Spencer had relayed the director and co-star's invitation to Chevalier to help them plan the wrap party and provide gifts for the crew. The actor handed the assignment to Spencer, but when Spencer presented him with the bill for the gifts, which came to about $1,000, the notoriously stingy actor screamed at him. After thinking about it, and realizing that the cost of the gifts was not out of line with current Hollywood custom, Chevalier apologized.

Biographers have suggested that one reason for Chevalier's good mood on the set was his romantic involvement with one-time Paramount star Kay Frances. The actor had been married when they first met, but by 1934 he had divorced his wife. He and Frances were so serious that Newsweek announced they were getting married but they never did.

As he had done at Paramount, Lubitsch continued to play practical jokes on MacDonald. During one romantic musical number, he had left in her view on the set a Hollywood Reporter story announcing that MGM had imported English soprano Evelyn Laye as a threat to her. The star ran from the soundstage in tears.

Censors from the film industry's Production Code Administration objected to a scene at Maxim's in which Chevalier carries MacDonald to a couch, drops her there and then sits beside her. They only passed the scene when the stars managed to contort their bodies so she could keep both feet on the floor. That taken care of, PCA head Joseph Breen passed the film.

When the film premiered in New York City, Breen's boss, Will Hays, and Catholic publisher Martin Quigley, one of the Production Code's authors, were horrified at what they considered the introduction of filth into a harmless operetta. Breen had to come to New York, where he met with MGM executives and members of the Catholic church's Legion of Decency until 2 a.m. working out cuts to tone down Count Danilo's Casanova image and the suggestion that Maxim's was a glorified brothel. Since the film had already been sent to distributors, each distribution office had to cut the prints itself before they could be sent to theatres. Fortunately, the studio kept all the cut material and the film was restored as censorship restrictions relaxed.

With a $1.6 million budget, The Merry Widow was the most expensive musical of its day. It was also MGM's most expensive film since Ben-Hur (1925).

With the financial failure of The Merry Widow, Chevalier did not move on to better, more ambitious roles at MGM. The only parts Thalberg offered him were more Gallic charmers, first in an adaptation of The Chocolate Soldier, then in The Cardboard Lover. The former would have finally paired him with Grace Moore, who had moved to Columbia Pictures and scored a hit in One Night of Love (1934), but Chevalier wanted to return to France. When Thalberg informed him that in order to borrow Moore from Columbia he had had to promise her top billing, a clear violation of Chevalier's contract, the French star claimed breach of contract and left. After only one more film in the U.S. (Folies-Bergere, 1936), he returned to France until after World War II.

by Frank Miller

Behind the Camera (7/30 & 1/28) - THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)

Behind the Camera on THE MERRY WIDOW Shooting started in March 1934. The Merry Widow was the only film teaming Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald in which they never sang together. Aware that her classical style was poorly matched to his popular vocalizing, director Ernst Lubitsch even inserted a joke about the musical mismatch. At one point Chevalier seemed to be serenading MacDonald with a cultured baritone voice, only for Lubitsch to reveal the voice belonged to one of his orderlies. Chevalier avoided any confrontations with MacDonald and Lubitsch throughout production. He did, however, blow up at his assistant, Robert Spencer. Spencer had relayed the director and co-star's invitation to Chevalier to help them plan the wrap party and provide gifts for the crew. The actor handed the assignment to Spencer, but when Spencer presented him with the bill for the gifts, which came to about $1,000, the notoriously stingy actor screamed at him. After thinking about it, and realizing that the cost of the gifts was not out of line with current Hollywood custom, Chevalier apologized. Biographers have suggested that one reason for Chevalier's good mood on the set was his romantic involvement with one-time Paramount star Kay Frances. The actor had been married when they first met, but by 1934 he had divorced his wife. He and Frances were so serious that Newsweek announced they were getting married but they never did. As he had done at Paramount, Lubitsch continued to play practical jokes on MacDonald. During one romantic musical number, he had left in her view on the set a Hollywood Reporter story announcing that MGM had imported English soprano Evelyn Laye as a threat to her. The star ran from the soundstage in tears. Censors from the film industry's Production Code Administration objected to a scene at Maxim's in which Chevalier carries MacDonald to a couch, drops her there and then sits beside her. They only passed the scene when the stars managed to contort their bodies so she could keep both feet on the floor. That taken care of, PCA head Joseph Breen passed the film. When the film premiered in New York City, Breen's boss, Will Hays, and Catholic publisher Martin Quigley, one of the Production Code's authors, were horrified at what they considered the introduction of filth into a harmless operetta. Breen had to come to New York, where he met with MGM executives and members of the Catholic church's Legion of Decency until 2 a.m. working out cuts to tone down Count Danilo's Casanova image and the suggestion that Maxim's was a glorified brothel. Since the film had already been sent to distributors, each distribution office had to cut the prints itself before they could be sent to theatres. Fortunately, the studio kept all the cut material and the film was restored as censorship restrictions relaxed. With a $1.6 million budget, The Merry Widow was the most expensive musical of its day. It was also MGM's most expensive film since Ben-Hur (1925). With the financial failure of The Merry Widow, Chevalier did not move on to better, more ambitious roles at MGM. The only parts Thalberg offered him were more Gallic charmers, first in an adaptation of The Chocolate Soldier, then in The Cardboard Lover. The former would have finally paired him with Grace Moore, who had moved to Columbia Pictures and scored a hit in One Night of Love (1934), but Chevalier wanted to return to France. When Thalberg informed him that in order to borrow Moore from Columbia he had had to promise her top billing, a clear violation of Chevalier's contract, the French star claimed breach of contract and left. After only one more film in the U.S. (Folies-Bergere, 1936), he returned to France until after World War II. by Frank Miller

The Critics Corner (7/30 & 1/28) - THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)


The Critics' Corner on THE MERRY WIDOW

The Merry Widow cost $1.6 million to make and lost about $100,000 during its initial release. Historians have attributed the film's box-office failure to the popularity of more American musicals like the Busby Berkeley extravaganzas at Warner Bros. and the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films at RKO.

"Doing it in his own way, yet refraining from committing mayhem on the lovely Lehar masterpiece, Lubitsch has turned in a winner in this Merry Widow. As the music sweeps, so sweeps Lubitsch. It's a swell picture on its own and a credit to picturedom in general." - Bige, Variety.

"The new Ernst Lubitsch confection, a witty and incandescent rendition of The Merry Widow, had its first public hearing on this earth last night, where it was presented amid the tumult and the shouting which befit important cinema openings and perhaps the coronation of emperors." - The New York Times.

"Undoubtedly this charming, tongue-in-cheek version of Lubitsch comes closest to the composer's and librettists' intentions, even though only half the score is sung and that almost entirely by Jeanette MacDonald." - George Sadoul, Dictionary of Films.

"it is Lubitsch; it is also Hollywood; it is the cream of the American bourgeois film. It is a charlotte russe." - Peter Ellis, New Masses.

"Patchy, but sometimes sparkling version." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.

AWARDS & HONORS

The Merry Widow won the Oscar® for Best Art Direction for Cedric Gibbons and Fredric Hope. It was the film's only nomination.

by Frank Miller

The Critics Corner (7/30 & 1/28) - THE MERRY WIDOW (1934)

The Critics' Corner on THE MERRY WIDOW The Merry Widow cost $1.6 million to make and lost about $100,000 during its initial release. Historians have attributed the film's box-office failure to the popularity of more American musicals like the Busby Berkeley extravaganzas at Warner Bros. and the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films at RKO. "Doing it in his own way, yet refraining from committing mayhem on the lovely Lehar masterpiece, Lubitsch has turned in a winner in this Merry Widow. As the music sweeps, so sweeps Lubitsch. It's a swell picture on its own and a credit to picturedom in general." - Bige, Variety. "The new Ernst Lubitsch confection, a witty and incandescent rendition of The Merry Widow, had its first public hearing on this earth last night, where it was presented amid the tumult and the shouting which befit important cinema openings and perhaps the coronation of emperors." - The New York Times. "Undoubtedly this charming, tongue-in-cheek version of Lubitsch comes closest to the composer's and librettists' intentions, even though only half the score is sung and that almost entirely by Jeanette MacDonald." - George Sadoul, Dictionary of Films. "it is Lubitsch; it is also Hollywood; it is the cream of the American bourgeois film. It is a charlotte russe." - Peter Ellis, New Masses. "Patchy, but sometimes sparkling version." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide. AWARDS & HONORS The Merry Widow won the Oscar® for Best Art Direction for Cedric Gibbons and Fredric Hope. It was the film's only nomination. by Frank Miller

The Merry Widow (1934)


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

The Merry Widow (1934)

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

Quotes

Are you pretty? Or beautiful?
- Count Danilo
Gorgeous.
- Sonia
Have you ever had diplomatic relations with a woman?
- Ambassador Popoff
I'm a soldier. My duty is to fight. I'm willing to die on every battlefield. But I'm not going to drink another cup of coffee!
- Danilo
So they're blaming me, huh?
- King Achmet
For everything. They're even telling jokes about your majesty.
- Valet
Are they funny?
- King Achmet
No.
- Valet
That's bad.
- King Achmet
There's a limit to every widow.
- Sonia

Trivia

Because the contracts of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart contained a clause stating they were a team, they both got on screen credit for the lyrics of the songs, even though only Hart wrote them.

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

It took 4 months and 12 seamstresses to make Adrian's two dozen designs for Jeanette MacDonald's gowns.

The 1000 gas chandeliers on the sets took two hours to turn on.

Notes

A French-language version, La veuve joyeuse, which was released in France in 1934, was produced simultaneously with the English version. According to a June 19, 1934 Variety news item, four versions of the film were being shot simultaneously by director Ernst Lubitsch for American, French, English and Belgian markets. The article states that while only two languages, French and English, were being used, certain scenes in the picture were being "emphasized for the English speaking audiences and others played down for foreign consumption."
       An article in a 1934 Picturegoer Weekly Supplement adds the following information about the film's pre-production history: M-G-M acquired the rights to Franz Lehar's operetta in 1923 and made a silent screen version of the story in 1925. After sound was introduced to movies, the studio made plans for a "talking" remake of the operetta but lost their screen rights in a court battle. In 1928, M-G-M repurchased story rights from Lehar and his partners and announced that Sidney Franklin would direct and Albert Lewin and Ernest Vajda would write a sound adaptation, which was scheduled to be released in 1930. Although the studio owned the story, to which changes were made to avoid lawsuits from a real-life Prince Danilo, who had sued M-G-M after the release of the 1925 film, the filmmakers were restricted legally in their use of the operetta's score. In addition, Erich von Stroheim, the director of the 1925 film, claimed ownership of particular story points from the silent version and threatened legal action if they were used in the sound version. Overwhelmed by these obstacles, M-G-M halted activity on the production for three years until legal matters were addressed satisfactorily. A January 1933 Film Daily news item announced that Paramount was considering buying the rights to the story from M-G-M to produce a French language version of Lehar's operetta, to be directed by Lubitsch and to star Jeanette MacDonald. Lehar reportedly had been approached by Paramount about writing additional music for the film, which was to be shot at the Joinville studios in France. This Paramount version never was made, however. In the fall of 1933, Lubtisch and M-G-M's Irving Thalberg became involved in a contract dispute over salary requirements, which was resolved in early October 1933, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item.
       When they were assigned to The Merry Widow, composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart were at the end of a one-year contract with M-G-M, which according to Rodger's autobiography, contained a "whither thou goest I will go" clause. Consequently, Rodgers is credited on screen as a co-lyricist with Hart, even though only Hart wrote for the production.
       A July 1933 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Maurice Chevalier, after signing a contract agreeing to participate in the production, backed out of the project because he wanted "to get away from the charming prince and lieutenant roles" and asked instead for a "down to earth and human story." By late August 1933, Chevalier was, according to Hollywood Reporter news items, apparently re-instated in the cast, but an October 1933 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that John Gilbert was seriously being considered for Chevalier's role. According to Hollywood Reporter, Chevalier's contract with M-G-M gave him the right to approve his feminine co-stars. In September 1933, Joan Crawford, Jeanette MacDonald and Grace Moore were announced in Film Daily as possible co-stars for Chevalier. Modern sources state that Chevalier wanted Grace Moore for the widow's role, but Moore's lack of box-office success in two previous M-G-M films crippled her chances, and MacDonald was selected. A contract dispute between MacDonald and M-G-M, however, postponed the start of production, and the studio announced in Hollywood Reporter in late January 1934 that British actress Evelyn Laye was being considered for the lead. Then, in early February 1934, Gloria Swanson was announced in Hollywood Reporter as a possible co-star for Chevalier. Although modern sources contend that Chevalier was less than enthusiastic about MacDonald, with whom he had appeared in three Paramount productions, two of which were directed by Lubitsch, he announced in a February Hollywood Reporter news item that he had "washed his hands" of the casting problem and was leaving the final decision up to producer Thalberg. A March 1934 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that for his portrayal of "Danilo," Chevalier received $150,000.
       A Hollywood Reporter production news item listed Joan Gale in the cast, while Hollywood Reporter production charts included Earl Oxford, Florine McKinney and Arthur Jowett in the cast. Their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a December 1933 Hollywood Reporter news item, Thalberg was "mulling over" the possibility of filming the story in three-strip Technicolor. A June 1934 Daily Variety news item announced that a copy of the film's soundtrack was being shipped to Lehar in Vienna for his approval and comment. The article notes that while the lyrics of the operetta were updated for the screen, Lehar's score was unchanged. In addition, M-G-M representatives in Europe were arranging to film a promotional short with Lehar. Modern sources note that the trailer for the film included footage of Lehar conducting an orchestra. For the "Merry Widow" dance number, M-G-M hired over five hundred extras, according to a Hollywood Reporter production news item. According to Picturegoer, Adrian's two dozen gown designs for MacDonald required four months and twelve seamstresses to execute. Forty-four sets, which included a full-scale construction of a vintage 1885 train and a re-creation of a period French village, were built. One thousand gas chandeliers, which took two hours to turn on, were used on the sets. Prior to this film, Lubitsch worked with German costume designer Ali Hubert on the 1919 picture Passion. Cedric Gibbons and Fredric Hope won an Academy Award for Best Interior Decoration for their work on the film.
       According to files in the MPPA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, some deletions in the film were ordered by Joseph I. Breen, the director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP. Although at first reluctant to demand the changes because of costs to M-G-M, Breen instructed M-G-M distributing executives in a memo dated October 29, 1934 to make the following eliminations from all release prints: "Marcelle takes garter off her leg, close up of garter, the line 'She jumped into a cold bath, and you'd be surprised, Captain, what cold water can do,'" as well as other lines and bits of action. Various states and Canadian territories objected to the inscription on the garter, which read, "Many happy returns," and the lines, "I know what to do but am too old to do it" and "Have you ever had diplomatic relations with a woman?" All of these lines and bits, however, were in the cutting continuity for the release print. Modern sources contend that in all television prints and some theatrical prints of the film five censorship cuts, including the garter inscription, were made.
       According to modern sources, the production cost M-G-M nearly two million dollars and lost $113,000 at the box office. Modern sources add Gabriel Scognamillo to the art direction and set decoration credits, and credit Joe Lefert as a co-assistant director and Eric Locke as the film's business manager. Modern sources also note that during the filming of the song "Tonight Will Teach Me to Forget," MacDonald lip-synced to a pre-recorded soundtrack for the first time in her career.
       A one-reel version of Lehar's operetta, starring Alma Rubens, was filmed in 1912 by Reliance-Majestic. The 1925 von Stroheim version featured Mae Murray and John Gilbert. Cedric Gibbons and photographer Oliver Marsh worked on both the 1925 and 1934 versions. According to a March 1934 Hollywood Reporter news item, Roy D'Arcy, who played the villain in von Stroheim's film, was slated to reprise his role in the Lubitsch version, but was eliminated from the cast when Thalberg ordered the "heavy" part cut from the script. In 1952, Curtis Bernhardt directed Lana Turner, Fernando Lamas and Una Merkel, playing the part of Sonia's companion, in an M-G-M Technicolor remake of the operetta. Modern sources state that to avoid confusion with the 1952 remake, the title of the 1934 film was changed to The Lady Dances for broadcasting on American television. According to modern sources, prints of the 1934 film that were distributed through M-G-M's "Golden Operetta" series were cut to 103 minutes.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1934

Released in United States 1994

Released in United States 1996

Released in United States on Video April 18, 1989

Released in United States 1934

Released in United States 1994 (Shown at AFI/ Los Angeles International Film Festival (All Night Movie Marathon: "Comedies of Elegance") June 23 - July 7, 1994.)

Released in United States 1996 (Shown in Los Angeles (Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex) as part of program "Turner's Tuners: Great Musicals From the Turner Library" October 12 - December 29, 1996.)

Released in United States on Video April 18, 1989