The Sunday Intertitle: Having a Ball

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Well, this is more like it — a proper intertitle. But from a talkie.

Lubitsch’s sublime THE MERRY WIDOW could be seen as a revival of the short-lived operetta-film form which he’d pioneered in the very early days of sound. Ruritanian romance, musical interludes, Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald — Lubitsch brings them all back, and this time configures the elements so perfectly that there was really no need to revisit the form again. He got it right.

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The movie benefits from a technical smoothness made possible by advances in sound and camera equipment, and from a gigantic MGM budget, not that THE SMILING LIEUTENANT or the others really suffers from a lack of those things. It also has really delightful performances from its leads — Lubitsch had a remarkable skill at getting light comedy performances from performers not necessarily associated with that tone… I guess I’m talking about Jeanette. I like her in LOVE ME TONIGHT just fine, but she’s more winning here, and there’s genuine chemistry with Chevalier. She played a lot of romantic comedy, I guess, but usually seemed a bit of a prig. Here, that’s part of her character, but she still has warmth.

Dancing on the spinning globe — that’s not easy to do!

There’s also Edward Everett Horton and Herman Bing and Una Merkel and George Barbier and Sterling Holloway and Akim Tamiroff… And a plethora of babes dropping by on their way to stardom or near-stardom or obscurity, making this the 1930s version of THE KNACK. We get delicious Lona Andre for about a line, Kathleen Burke (the Panther Woman from ISLAND OF LOST SOULS), Luana Walters…

vlcsnap-2013-01-13-11h40m41s25Lona Andre, right.

The Merry Widow 1934, (Region 2 import) Maurice Chevalier Jeanette MacDonald

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9 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Having a Ball”

  1. And Donald Meek! And Leonid Kinskey! And an odd fellow by the name of Cosmo Kyrle Bellew, son — maybe! — of actor and prospector Harold Kyrle Bellew, The IMDb listing lists him as playing characters such as “Ernestine” and “Matron” and, my favorite, “Becky Sharp.” Definitely an actor I’d love to know more about.

  2. David Boxwell Says:

    14 years later, EL wanted McDonald for “That Lady in Ermine,” but Zanuck gave him Betty Grable. It was obviously time to go to that great Viennese ballroom in the sky.

    (TLIE just issued on DVD in the US: it is atrocious.)

  3. That Lady in Ermine STARTS alright, for maybe the first two minutes. But Gorgeous Lifelike Color By Deluxe, which I adore, doesn’t seem to work for Lubitsch, though the colour in Heaven Can Wait is lovely. And the casting, and the obtrusive, garish 1940s Fox feeling, and probably Preminger’s interventions, kill it stone dead.

    Cosmo seems quite a fellow! Presumably a drag specialist, but not averse to wearing trousers when the plot demanded it.

  4. I’m crazy about Jeanette in both the phenomenal Love Me Tonight and this Lubitsch blockbuster. Maurice Chevalier was far and away her best partner IMO — though they couldn’t stand one another personally. That’s movie magic boys and girls. I’ve always found her sneakily sexy and ineffably charming. And Maurice sets this off like no one else.

    The climactic waltz scene is amazing. The visual dynamic at play here won’r be seen again until Cose Encounters of the Third Kind.

  5. Lubitsch may be responsible for the definitive foxtrot (The Oyster Princess), the definitive Charleston (So This is Paris), and if not the definitive waltz with this one, pretty damn close.

  6. And that’s not to mention the “Lubitsch Touch” as shown here –

  7. In Love Me Tonight, Jeanette is surrounded by sauciness. In The Merry Widow, Lubitsch actually gets her to take a hand in it.

  8. I simply adore Jeanette McDonald! She made affectation into an art form, which is a staggering achievement…of a sort.

    My favourite Jeanette film is THE FIREFLY, where she plays a glamorous Spanish dancer/secret agent during the Napoleonic Wars. At the film’s climax, she gazes soulfully through the bars of her prison and warbles the main love theme with cannon fire in the background as percussion. This scene sums up a certain movie aesthetic like no other I know, except possibly the whole of COBRA WOMAN!

  9. The MGM vibe has more poshlust and the Universal one, though not lacking in that department, is more perverse.

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