Saturday, January 16, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Merry Widow (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Lana Turner stars as THE MERRY WIDOW (1952), recently released by the Warner Archive.

THE MERRY WIDOW was previously filmed in 1925, with John Gilbert and Mae Murray, and 1934, with Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier. In this 1952 Joseph Pasternak production for MGM, the merry widow is an American, Crystal Radek (Turner).

Radek is lured from the U.S. to the tiny kingdom of Marshovia with the promise of a statue to honor her late husband, who originally hailed from Marshovia. The plan is for handsome playboy Count Danilo (Fernando Lamas), nephew of the reigning king (Thomas Gomez), to woo the wealthy widow; the widow's $80 million would protect the future of cash-strapped Marshovia.

Crystal learns of the plan and lets Count Danilo believe that her loyal secretary Kitty (Una Merkel) is really the rich widow. (Merkel, a welcome presence in a number of '50s MGM films, was also in the 1934 MERRY WIDOW, playing the queen.) Crystal says she wants nothing more to do with Danilo...yet somehow she can't help being attracted to him.

Crystal meets Danilo at Maxim's in Paris, where she poses as a chorus girl in need of funds; Danilo falls in love with her, but is still being pressured by the king and his courtiers to marry the "widow."

There's a lot I liked about this movie, starting with the gorgeous Technicolor, photographed by Robert Surtees; have Turner's eyes ever looked so blue? The film has very nice production values; Turner's Helen Rose gowns are sumptuous!

There's a fine supporting cast, including Richard Haydn and Robert Coote; the film even boasts a couple minutes of Gwen Verdon dancing the can-can! And speaking of dancing, the scene where Lamas and Turner fall in love while singing and dancing to the melodic title tune is magical. Lamas has an excellent singing voice, while Turner was dubbed by Trudy Erwin.

All that said, the film's direction by Curtis Bernhardt and the 105-minute running time leave something to be desired. The film moseys along too slowly, without much real spark and fire; it's a pretty love story, but it doesn't deeply engage the viewer. It's a pleasant movie I enjoyed watching, but I felt it should be both "more" and "less" -- more emotion, less running time. Still, the film's numerous positive attributes make it definitely worth a look for fans of MGM musicals or Lana Turner.

The Warner Archive released THE MERRY WIDOW simultaneously with another early '50s Turner film for MGM, LATIN LOVERS (1953), which I reviewed in December. The story goes that Turner and Lamas were romantically involved during THE MERRY WIDOW and were set to be reteamed in LATIN LOVERS, but when they had a falling out he was replaced in LATIN LOVERS by Ricardo Montalban.

The Warner Archive print of THE MERRY WIDOW is lovely. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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