Friday, July 27, 2018

The Merry Widow (USA, 1925)

Director Eric von Stroheim has a larger than life reputation to this day, due to his multiple clashes with studios about budget and artistic freedom and even his tense relationships with some actors in the set. But this film, being one of his biggest successes, both financially and among audiences, proved that Stroheim could also excel in more mainstream films with well-established actors.
This film is an entertaining musical, starring the heartthrob John Gilbert (at the height of his fame and delivering a fine, passionate performance) and Mae Murray (an actress with good comedy and dancing skills, who was formerly in the Ziegfeld Follies).

This film had a careful production by MGM, which was already one of most prestigious studios of the era. The scenery is grandiose and the pace is quite relaxed, almost a fairy tale. Erick von Stroheim took time to introduce the characters. There is clever use of visuals and images, as Stroheim was almost literary when it came to attention to details of the plot.
John Gilbert played Prince Danilo Petrovich, a womanizer. His cousin, Crown Prince Mirko is also a womanizer and they both often competed for affections of the same women, although Mirko lacked the charm and elegance of Danilo and deep inside he was envious of it. Mae Murray was Sally O'Hara, a dancer (a role that fit perfectly the dancing qualifications she had in real life). Both Danilo and Mirko got attracted to Sally, as well as wealthy Baron Sadoja (the Baron turned out to be a feet fetishist and that gave room to some quite funny scenes). Sally chose Danilo as her sweetheart and they both fell in love with each other and Danilo wanted to marry Sally.

However, king Nikita forbade Danilo to marry her because she was a plebeian and a dancer and a prince was supposed to have the duty of marrying a proper woman to his dignity due to loyalty to his kingdom. Therefore, Danilo ended up leaving Sally at the altar because he could not bear the pressure of his family.

After such disappointment, Sally accepted marrying older Baron Sadoja, who had conveniently passed away at the wedding night. Sally inherited Sadoja's estate as well as the title of Baroness.
One year later, both Danilo and Sally meet in Paris. They both started dancing in the ballroom and talked about the past. The point is that Crown Prince Mirko was also in Paris and it became clear to Sally that Mirko showed interest in her only because of her money and she suspected that Danilo's affection for her was not sincere either.

Danilo challenged Mirko for a duel, even though Sally begged him to give up this idea. It seemed Danilo had died in the duel, but he only got wounded. Meanwhile, King Nikita passed away and Mirko inherited the throne, but it would not last because he was assassinated right afterwards. The second in the succession line was Danilo, who became king and was finally free to marry Sally, which he did without hesitation. 

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