The Merry Widow

( 1 )


This silent adaptation of Franz Lehar's famous operetta in which precious little of the original story was retained was a rare event in Erich Von Stroheim's directorial career -- a critical and commercial success that the director was also able to complete according to his wishes though in the latter years of his life, he would claim that the film's final moments were forced upon him by studio brass intent on a happier ending. Prince Danilo John Gilbert and Crown Prince Mirko Roy D'Arcy are two brothers in the ...
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This silent adaptation of Franz Lehar's famous operetta in which precious little of the original story was retained was a rare event in Erich Von Stroheim's directorial career -- a critical and commercial success that the director was also able to complete according to his wishes though in the latter years of his life, he would claim that the film's final moments were forced upon him by studio brass intent on a happier ending. Prince Danilo John Gilbert and Crown Prince Mirko Roy D'Arcy are two brothers in the Ruritanian royal family who are notorious womanizers, frequently finding themselves competing for the same woman. When Sally O'Hara Mae Murray, a dancer from America, stops in Ruritania on a performance tour, both Danilo and Mirko are both strongly attracted to her, as is the older Baron Sadoja Tully Marshall. Each begins making plans to seduce her; however, during Sally's performance, the differences between the three men become apparent -- Danilo is attracted to the beauty of Sally's eyes and face, while Mirko is strictly interested in her body, and Sadoja's intense focus is upon her feet. Danilo introduces himself to Sally after a performance as "Danilo Petrovich," claiming to be a wealthy commoner rather than royalty. He invites her to dine at his estate after her performance, and when he "mistakenly" spills soup on her dress, it's the first step in his successful efforts to lead her to his bed. Danilo asks Sally to marry him, and she agrees. To his surprise, Danilo finds that he is eager to settle down with the American dancer, but King Nikita George Fawcett and Queen Milena Josephine Crowell forbid him to marry a woman who does not carry a royal title, and Danilo is forced to leave Sally waiting at the altar. Seizing an opportunity, the aging Sadoja asks Sally for her hand in marriage, and she grudgingly accepts; he dies on their wedding night while ecstatically rummaging through her collection of shoes. Sally inherits Sadoja's estate and retains the title of Baroness, and a year later she encounters Danilo, who is still deeply in love with Sally and wants another chance to win her heart -- although since she never learned the truth about why he never arrived for their wedding, she is not eager to be wooed by him again. Mirko also re-enters the picture in a new effort to win Sally's affections, but while Danilo is motivated by true love, Mirko's efforts are fueled by lust, both for her body and her newly-gained wealth. The Merry Widow was a lavishly-staged production shot on a long schedule 19 weeks, very unusual for the time with a large cast of extras. If you look carefully, you can spot Clark Gable and Myrna Loy among the bit players, several years before either would become a star.
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Lucia Bozzola
Even though stars John Gilbert and Mae Murray were foisted on director Erich von Stroheim by MGM, The Merry Widow was released essentially as von Stroheim conceived it, and it became the year-old studio's first major critical and popular hit (and von Stroheim's last MGM film). Freely adapting Franz Lehar's Viennese operetta, von Stroheim spent a great deal of screen time on Murray's less-than-merry life as a showgirl and desired object of a baron/fetishist, a lecherous prince, and Gilbert's noble Danilo of "Monteblanco." Through lavishly depicted show numbers, orgies, boudoir assignations, and finally Sally's marriage and swift widowhood by the physically impaired baron, von Stroheim turned The Merry Widow into an examination of the decadence beneath the polished surface of the European nobility. Numerous cuts to feet (over the objections of production head Irving Thalberg) particularly reveal the nature of the baron's fetish; MGM cut a few scenes deemed too racy. Danilo and Sally still unite in the famed "Merry Widow Waltz," allowing love to triumph over sordidness and lead to a grand Technicolor finale.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 4/22/2011
  • UPC: 883316227190
  • Original Release: 1925
  • Source: Warner Archives
  • Region Code: 1
  • Time: 2:17:00
  • Format: DVD
  • Sales rank: 413

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Mae Murray Sally O'Hara
John Gilbert Prince Danilo
Roy D'Arcy Crown Prince Mirko
Josephine Crowell Queen Milena
George Fawcett King Nikita I
Tully Marshall Baron Sadoja
Edward Connelly Ambassador
Anielka Eller Blindfolded Musician
Alec C. Snowden Black Dancer
Lucille Van Lent Innkeeper's Daughter
William Von Brincken Danilo's Aide-de-camp
Gertrude Bennett Hard Boiled Virginia
Sidney Bracey Danilo's Footman
Estelle Clark French Barber
Albert Conti Danilo's Adjutant
D'Arcy Corrigan Horatio
Dale Fuller Sadoja's Chambermaid
Clark Gable Extra
Jacqueline Gadsden Madonna
Hughie Mack Innkeeper
Ida Moore Innkeeper's Wife
Lon Poff Sadojo's Lackey
Don Ryan Mirko's Adjutant
Edna Tichenor Dopey Marie
Zack Williams George Washington White
George Nichols Doorkeeper
Technical Credits
Erich Von Stroheim Director, Costumes/Costume Designer, Producer, Screenwriter
Dr. William Axt Score Composer
Margaret Booth Editor
William H. Daniels Cinematographer
Richard Day Costumes/Costume Designer, Production Designer
Louis Germonprez Asst. Director
Cedric Gibbons Production Designer
Benjamin Glazer Screenwriter
Frank E. Hull Editor
Oliver Marsh Cinematographer
David Mendoza Score Composer
Ray Rennahan Cinematographer
Benjamin F. Reynolds Cinematographer
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Disc #1 -- Merry Widow
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 1 )
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  • Posted July 8, 2011

    wickedly lavish von Stroheim production

    Finally, the best film version (or really, any version) of Franz Lehar, Viktor Leon and Leo Stein's "The Merry Widow." Of course, it could not be otherwise, as film's greatest director and screenwriter, Erich von Stroheim wrote and directed this first film version. Von Stroheim's able direction drove the great dancer (but previously mediocre actress) Mae Murray (as Sally O'Hara) to give an engaging acting performance, as well as launch John Gilbert (Prince Danilo) to stardom, and expose audiences to the wickedly snide Roy D'Arcy (Crown Prince Mirko). But this love triangle was not enough for von Stroheim. He added the aging, degenerate Baron Sixtus Sadoja (played by Tully Marshall) who woos and wins Sally, over his two younger handsome rivals. The scene where Sally's 3 suitors view her on stage is a never to be forgotten moment in cinema history. All this occurs before von Stroheim starts with the original flimsy plot, about 2/3rds of the way through the movie. Unlike his previous films, where he meticulously re-creates Paris (Devil's Passkey), Monte Carlo (Foolish Wives) and Vienna (Merry-Go-Round); or uses the authenticity of location shooting in "Greed" (San Francisco, Big Dipper gold mine and Death Valley), in "The Merry Widow," von Stroheim (really acting as his own set designer) gives us a lavish, fictional kingdom, with exacting, believable details. Unfortunately, "lavish" is not the word to apply to the packaging of this DVD. There are not "chapters," as apparently the transfer to digital was done with a software "default" that arbitrarily placed a new chapter every 10 minutes. There are no "bonus features," an especially impoverishing situation for new and younger viewers, as "silent" movies are becoming more an acquired taste. It would have been nice to have a scholar's commentary option, perhaps using Professor Arthur Lennig, the foremost von Stroheim authority. The rich back story of von Stroheim's "Merry Widow" is missed: his redemption (financially) by this most successful box office hit (following on the heels of "Greed"'s ungreedy returns), his row with star Mae Murray, which made headline news in its day, and which resulted in his firing by MGM's Mayer during production, only to have Mayer forced to re-hire von Stroheim when the crew refused to work for the new director, amidst shouts, "We want von Stroheim!" But, we should grateful this "The Merry Widow" is now available on DVD. The same cannot be said of the lost "The Devil's Passkey," nor of his masterpieces, "Greed" and "The Wedding March." With "The Merry Widow" if you want von Stroheim, you now got von Stroheim!

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