Merry Widow, The (1934)

“Have you ever had diplomatic relations with a woman?”

When a wealthy widow (Jeanette MacDonald) leaves for Paris — thus threatening her small nation’s financial livelihood through loss of tax revenue — the King of Marshovia (George Barbier) orders a playboy captain (Maurice Chevalier) to court her and bring her back.


Based on an oft-filmed, beloved operetta by Franz Lehar, this romantic musical by director Ernst Lubitsch features Jeanette MacDonald in one of her best-known roles, starring opposite an actor (Maurice Chevalier) she detested in real life — thus making their on-screen romantic challenges all the more believable. The storyline is pure fluff, as perhaps it should be, with Chevalier’s playboy apparently so desirable he can bed any woman he wants — including the King’s wife (Una Merkel) — while not instilling a shred of possessiveness or jealousy in a one of them. (It’s quite extraordinary — see still below; click to enlarge.)

Cedric Gibbons and Fredric Hope’s Oscar-winning art direction, and Adrian’s gorgeous gowns (according to TCM, MacDonald’s 24 gowns alone “were so lavish it took 12 seamstresses four months to build them”) make this a treat to watch, and fans of MacDonald won’t want to miss it — but it’s not quite must-see viewing for all film fanatics. I recommend seeing MacDonald in Naughty Marietta (1935) instead.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Stunning gowns by Adrian
  • Lavish sets

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for one-time viewing. Listed in the back of Peary’s book as a film with Historical Relevance and a Personal Favorite.


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