“What’s marriage got to do with love?”
A European prince (John Gilbert) falls for an American showgirl (Mae Murray) but is forbidden by his parents from marrying her. Heartbroken, she weds an elderly baron (Tully Marshall) who promptly dies, leaving her free to marry again — but will the newly wealthy widow forgive Gilbert, or accept the proposal of his nefarious cousin, Crown Prince Mirko (Roy D’Arcy)?
Response to Peary’s Review:
This little-seen adaptation of Franz Lehar’s operetta (remade in 1934 by Ernest Lubitsch) is primarily notable as the first film Erich von Stroheim directed for MGM immediately after the studio butchered his ten-hour epic Greed (1923). As Peary notes, it’s a rather “odd film”, given to “bursts of bizarre slapstick humor” and full of “weird characters” (including one with an amusing foot fetish); meanwhile, the story is relatively trite and predictable (especially given its studio-added happy ending). What’s most memorable about The Merry Widow is its visual creativity: soft matte backgrounds evoke an appropriately fairytale-like European ambience, while Oliver Marsh’s cinematography — though badly glaring and/or washed out in the print I saw — is boldly luminous, and Von Stroheim adds plenty of unique touches (a pair of blindfolded musicians lurk in the background as Gilbert romances Murray; D’Arcy sees only Murray’s glowing jewels once she’s become a wealthy widow). Gilbert — who was on the cusp of a brief rise to stardom before the arrival of “talkies” dashed his career — is a solid, sympathetic lead, while silent star Murray (a notorious diva who apparently made life miserable for von Stroheim on set) had what many consider her greatest role here. Film fanatics will likely be curious to take a look.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- John Gilbert as Prince Danilo
- Resplendently baroque sets
- Fairytale-like matte backgrounds
- Oliver Marsh’s luminous cinematography
- Evidence of von Stroheim’s unique directorial touch
Yes, for its historical significance.