Thursday, May 03, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Merry Widow (1934) at the TCM Classic Film Festival

My first full day of movie viewing at the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival started out on a joyous note with THE MERRY WIDOW (1934), starring Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier.

THE MERRY WIDOW was the first of five films I saw on Friday, April 27th. The 35mm screening took place bright and early at the Egyptian Theatre, introduced by new TCM host Alicia Malone. Admittedly Malone's strong Aussie accent has taken me a bit to get used to, but I've found her to be a charming addition to the network and she was lovely to chat with in person.

THE MERRY WIDOW was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who had previously directed MacDonald and Chevalier in THE LOVE PARADE (1929) and ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932), which I saw at the festival last year. He also directed MacDonald in MONTE CARLO (1930) and Chevalier in THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (1931). I've seen all of those films, yet somehow before last week I had not managed to catch up with THE MERRY WIDOW.

THE MERRY WIDOW is a rib-ticklingly funny movie in which young widow Sonia (MacDonald) decides to throw off her black mourning and leave the small kingdom of Marshovia to live it up in Paris.

The King of Marshovia (George Barbier) is apoplectic that Sonia will marry someone from another country, since she's Marshovia's biggest taxpayer. He sends Count Danilo (Chevalier) to woo Sonia and bring her (and her money) back to Marshovia. This should be no imposition for the Count, as Sonia is lovely and wealthy; however, he's never seen her without her widow's veil and doesn't realize her identity when they meet at Maxim's. Nothing quite goes as planned...

With a supporting cast including Una Merkel as the King's unfaithful Queen, Edward Everett Horton as an ambassador, and Donald Meek as a valet, the movie is a pure comedic delight. MacDonald, in particular, deserves more recognition as a delightfully funny actress in addition to being a great singer.

At the same time, the film has a subtle serious undercurrent, meditating on life, death, and broken hearts. Sonia's previous loss is conveyed through a series of sad diary entries and we see that her life essentially came to a halt; when she re-emerges from mourning, there's a sumptuous sequence in which her wardrobe and even her little dog change from black to white. The black and white theme is later emphasized during the grand waltz sequence, which has seemingly scores of extras.

Everything about the film dazzles; even the placement and staging of the extras is utter perfection. The movie was filmed by Oliver T. Marsh.

It was simply wonderful to enjoy this film with an appreciative audience. I think I smiled most of the way through the movie, and as its 99 minutes came to a close and that famous waltz music swelled, I confess I teared up out of pure sentimental happiness. This was probably the high point of the festival for me, which is saying something as I thoroughly enjoyed 16 out of the 17 movies seen!

THE MERRY WIDOW is available on DVD from the Warner Archive. It was also released on VHS. It can be rented for streaming on Amazon Instant Video.

Coming soon: Looks at my complete viewing schedules for Friday through Sunday at the festival, along with additional reviews.


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