Archive for The Merry Widow

Madame Ora Was Right

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 5, 2019 by dcairns

Erich Von Stroheim’s introduction to THE MERRY WIDOW is the gift that keeps on giving ~

ERICH VON STROHEIM: Mae Murray, who always played under the direction of her husband, a very great man, very great, six-feet-three, and a very gentle man. I could make a comparison between a Saint Bernard dog… [laughter] …She herself, if I may say so, was very active, very agile, too active… [laughter] So this grand man and this little woman, you know very well who won the battle… [laughter] It was always Mae Murray, it was always she who won, and the big Saint Bernard did exactly as she told him to do.

But it was very different with me, since I was not married to this woman… [laughter]

No, she was very gentle, but she had ideas… [laughter] …And, as I said before, I have ideas myself. So these two ideas… [laughter] …clashed.

One time we had a terrible battle, during the embassy ball scene, and it was terrible because I had 350 extras in it who loved me very much… it was always the workers who liked me, not the producers — the workers… do you see the difference? … [laughter and applause] So this woman thought… it was after World War I… and she called me “dirty Hun”… naturally, I did not like it, since I was born in Austria, in Vienna, and since she was born in Vienna, too… [laughter] …As a matter of fact, she was born in Czechoslovakia, but, then, I did not see much difference… [laughter] …and, since my workers, the extras, understood that this meant the end, they took off their uniforms and threw them on the floor…

ERICH VON STOHEIM: I want to tell you a very, very strange story … You will permit me to sit down. [He sits on the podium.] Thank you. Because this is a very strange story… [Laughter]

…I am very superstitious, also religious, and in many cases that goes together, as you know. I had troubles with Mae Murray, as I said before, and, also, troubles with electricity, lamps, with the helpers, with everybody. And it was strange, because it had never happened that way before. So, after the duel with Mae Murray, I was discharged by the company, but really… [laughter] …But I almost forgot to tell you my story.

Since I am very superstitious and religious, I used to visit a certain voyeuse…


ERICH VON STROHEIM: …voyante… [laughter] …So, before I started working on THE MERRY WIDOW, at the time when the company approached me, I naturally went first to my friend Madame Ora… [laughter] … She was an old woman, only an EAR, so I asked her what would be the outcome, should I make the film or not? She waited a little while, just enough to give the necessary weight, and said that I should “absolutely do it,” because it will be a great feather in my hat… [laughter]… In California nobody wears a hat, and I did not have a hat — but she assured me of great success, a large feather, a beautiful plume in my hat, bon!

So I started the film. I was discharged, and I came immediately, the first thing I did, to my advisor Madame Ora. I told her that I was discharged and that the president of the company had shown me the doors himself and that, in my turn, I have given him a few words that he shall never forget, and that I am in the street now. What should I do? And you have assured me that this will be a large feather in my hat! The Madame said to me, “Monsieur Von Stroheim, I can’t change my idea. You will continue tomorrow on THE MERRY WIDOW, you will direct it tomorrow, and it will be a great success, and it will be a great feather in your hat.”

“I said, “Madame, you have not understood me correctly, I am in the street…” [laughter] … “No, Monsieur, it is you who does not understand, it is you who does not understand. You will be continuing tomorrow morning.” And this was at six o’clock in the afternoon. And she says to me that furthermore, now, at this very moment, there are four or five men in my Los Angeles home waiting to see me… regarding tomorrow’s work. I said, “But this is ridiculous, isn’t it?” And she says, “And they are in uniforms…” [laughter]

…And it was the time of prohibition in California, and I, like a good citizen, had plenty of whiskey in my house… [laughter] …and a few whiskeys in my car, just like that… [laughter] …That meant this… [laughter] …the years not in a private prison but on the island of Alcatraz…

So I hurried home, and, believe it or not, there were four men waiting and they were in uniforms. But they were not policemen but from the staff of the company, sent by the president himself to speak to me, to ask me to continue to swork on the film the next morning! That was too much… too strange. During the night, the president sent his men twice more, just to be sure that I would definitely be at work the next morning, at 8.30 — counting thirty minutes for the peace talks… Oui! Madame Ora was right.

I continued directing, it was one of the great successes of its time, and it was chosen by the critics of America as the best film of 1926. That, perhaps, is not such a great credit in itself, since, probably, the other films were very bad… [laughter]

Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, November, 1955


  1. David Lynch has also reportedly had strange troubles with electricity. Michael J. Anderson describes a generator repeatedly blowing on a night shoot for FIRE WALK WITH ME. Finally, Lynch rearranged a couple of lines of dialogue, and the generator went back to working normallt. “I thought that might have been it,” observed Lynch, mysteriously.
  2. Could this talented voyante be the same psychic who predicted Murnau’s death? It seems probably. How many psychics were there in LA in the late twenties, anyway? And how many of them were that good?

[laughter] …

The Sunday Intertitle: What Do You Want?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 3, 2019 by dcairns

John Gilbert and Mae Murray in THE MERRY WIDOW.

And now, here’s Erich Von Stroheim introducing a screening of the film at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1958.

“…this film has made for its company four and a half million … though not for me. I had 25% of it. How much do you think I received?

“I thank you once more and ask you to have patience because the film is thirty years old, this print is only a 16mm version projected on too large a screen, and I don’t have the sound or the colour or the Cinerama … I have nothing. And so I have made all the possible excuses that I could think of. All the good things in this film were made by me. The things that are no good in it were made by others…”

From Film Culture, an anthology edited by P. Adams Sitney


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2014 by dcairns


Martedi, in my Il Cinema Ritrovato program, seems to correspond to “Tuesday” in English time. But time at a film festival moves in mysterious ways.

I met somebody who had a chronological day — starting with FANTOMAS in the morning, following that up with a Wellman pre-code, moving on to Italy in the fifties, and so on — stopping around 1964, because there’s no sense in getting too contemporary, is there? There’ll be time enough for that later. We spend most of our lives in the moment, it’ a relief to escape.

I didn’t manage a day like, that, preferring to jump around crazily like I do on Shadowplay, but I did frequently start the day in 1914 or 15.

Three Chaplins, ably accompanied by Antonio Coppola. I’d never sen Chaplin on the big screen, incredibly. This was part of a retrospective of CC’s Essanay productions, which allowed him more time, money and control than Keystone had, but do not reach the dizzy heights of the later Mutual films. HIS NEW JOB, which is set in a film studio called Lockstone, co-stars Ben Turpin, and showcased some interesting directorial touches — Chaplin moves the camera precisely three times. In each case, it’s while the camera is rolling on a scene within a scene — in the first instance, he slides in to exclude the hand-cranking and focus on the actors, as if we were entering the world of the movie. The second time, he simply glides sideways, animating the action with an Altmanesque drift. It’s as if he’s saying, “Movies have tracking shots — the movies you’re used to seeing. But my movies only use those kind of things in inverted commas.”

A NIGHT OUT was plotless knockabout in the Keystone tradition (with Turpin again) but THE CHAMPION was something fairly special — the boxing match at the end is a real tour-de-force, anticipating the one in CITY LIGHTS and actually almost as good — also, for maybe the first time Chaplin is working on our sympathies — not for sentiment, exactly, but just to get us on his side. In A NIGHT OUT and HIS NEW JOB he’s a nasty little thug, but he opens THE CHAMPION by sharing his last sausage with a bulldog.


RAZZIA IN ST PAULI (1932) was my first Werner Hochbaum, though I’d had DVDs of some of his films in my possession for ages. Great Weimar grime, with ladies of the night, fugitive crooks, and late-night jazz musicians as protags. Hochbaum downgrades dialogue in favour of ecstatic details and establishers, weaving a city symphony into his tale of Hamburg low-life. Very atmospheric, and the heroine has sexy sharp shoulders, something I’d never thought of particularly as a turn-on before.

Crossing the hall from the Sala Scorsese to the Sala Mastroianni, I caught some more musical shorts. This program opened with a Dulac short illustrating a song, and also featured FOUR INDIAN LOVE LYRICS, starring Wheeler Dryden, half-brother to Charlie and Sydney Chaplin. Wheeler is the idiot brother par excellence, having failed to capture any of the talent genes before his quasi-siblings snapped them up. But maybe he was a nice guy, who knows? Charles wasn’t always the most affable of men, and Sydney was a rapist and a cannibal.

The after lunch slot typically offered the most mouth-watering choices, driving festival-goers crazy as they tried to balance entertainment value — THE STAR WITNESS, Wellman — with novelty value — Italian compendium segments — with the latest restoration — LE OLYMPIADI DI AMSTERDAM — with an exciting program — early Japanese talkies… I plumped for the short feature on this screening, a documentary on Japanese movie studios, full of moronic narration (at one point, during the shooting of a samurai action scene, the VO guy flatly intones, “Look at them.”) — I enjoyed it, and it was certainly rich in historical interest, but I do feel bad about missing most of the Japanese season.


I ducked out of this one and headed for DRAGON INN, a King Hu swordfighting flick which proved highly entertaining. And, shamefully, I’d never seen a KH joint, let alone on the big screen, so it was educational too. A heroine in drag who wouldn’t fool anyone but fools everyone — endless berserk action — impossible leaping — and an asthmatic villain. As a fellow wheezer, I liked seeing one of my own kind given enough respect to serve as an action baddie.

I could have stayed in my seat and seen the restored A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, but I was feeling virtuous and wanted to avoid movies I already knew well — I marched back to the Cinema Lumiere and took in a bunch of Germaine Dulac newsreels with one of her rarer features. The shorts were nice but the main movie, ANTONETTE SABRIER, was a snooze — romance and high finance, with only traces of impressionist technique and subverting of sexual mores.


I was feeling kind of tired and nearly missed the greatest event of the fest — THE MERRY WIDOW. A valuable lesson — when your body tells you it’s had enough movies, DON’T LISTEN!