Released in October 1934, “The Merry Widow” brought to an end the spirited musicals – operettas, really – that Ernst Lubitsch had begun with his first sound film, “The Love Parade,” in 1929, and continued through “Monte Carlo” (1930), “The Smiling Lieutenant” (1931) and “One Hour With You” (1932).
“The Merry Widow” stars Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier (in the last of their musicals together) and/or France, which for Lubitsch was a mythical kingdom in itself. Lubitsch, who was born into a prosperous Jewish family in Berlin in 1892, supposedly told an interviewer: “I have been to Paris, France, and Paris, Paramount. Paris, Paramount, is better.”
In his films, Paris becomes the fantasy capital of perfect freedom, tolerance and joie de vivre, qualities that were becoming difficult to find in the real Paris of the Depression, and by 1934, essentially unknown in Lubitsch’s hometown.
“The Merry Widow,” which has been released by the Warner Archive Collection in a remastered edition with a much improved image and soundtrack, stands apart from the earlier musicals, because it is based on an established piece (Franz Lehr’s 1905 operetta), and because it was made at MGM.
Chevalier is back as the irresistible rou, cheered by grateful women of Marshovia as he marches with his military unit through the streets, and as in “The Love Parade” and “Monte Carlo,” MacDonald is a woman of power and independence.
A captain in the army, Chevalier is commanded by his king, who has found Chevalier consorting with his queen (Una Merkel), to marry the reclusive widow and keep her fortune from falling into foreign hands – a prospect that becomes threateningly real when she casts off her weeds and heads to Paris. Chevalier, who acknowledges that his French is pretty good, is ordered to bring her back, bound by matrimony.
Because o f the musicality of Lubitsch’s direction, the film offers a climactic court-martial scene in which the dialogue is played as recitative, with an underscore that weaves in and out of the “Merry Widow” theme.
Danilo, condemned as a traitor for failing to win the widow for Marshovia, can only agree with the sentence of the court: “Let my fate be a warning to every man. Any man who can dance through life with hundreds of women, and is willing to waltz through life with one, should be hanged.”
Luckily, Edward Everett Horton is on hand, to arrange a happier ending.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less