The Merry Widow (1934)

99-100 or 110 mins | Romance | 2 November 1934

Director:

Ernst Lubitsch

Producer:

Irving G. Thalberg

Cinematographer:

Oliver T. Marsh

Editor:

Frances Marsh

Production Designer:

Cedric Gibbons

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

A French-language version, La veuve joyeuse , which was released in France in 1934, was produced simultaneously with the English version. According to a 19 Jun 1934 Var news item, four versions of the film were being shot simultaneously by director Ernst Lubitsch for American, French, English and Belgian markets. The article states that while only two languages, French and English, were being used, certain scenes in the picture were being "emphasized for the English speaking audiences and others played down for foreign consumption."
       An article in a 1934 Picturegoer Weekly Supplement adds the following information about the film's pre-production history: M-G-M acquired the rights to Franz Lehar's operetta in 1923 and made a silent screen version of the story in 1925. After sound was introduced to movies, the studio made plans for a "talking" remake of the operetta but lost their screen rights in a court battle. In 1928, M-G-M repurchased story rights from Lehar and his partners and announced that Sidney Franklin would direct and Albert Lewin and Ernest Vajda would write a sound adaptation, which was scheduled to be released in 1930. Although the studio owned the story, to which changes were made to avoid lawsuits from a real-life Prince Danilo, who had sued M-G-M after the release of the 1925 film, the filmmakers were restricted legally in their use of the operetta's score. In addition, Erich von Stroheim, the director of the 1925 film, claimed ownership of particular story points from the silent version and threatened legal action if they were used in the sound version. Overwhelmed by these obstacles, M-G-M halted activity on ... More Less

A French-language version, La veuve joyeuse , which was released in France in 1934, was produced simultaneously with the English version. According to a 19 Jun 1934 Var news item, four versions of the film were being shot simultaneously by director Ernst Lubitsch for American, French, English and Belgian markets. The article states that while only two languages, French and English, were being used, certain scenes in the picture were being "emphasized for the English speaking audiences and others played down for foreign consumption."
       An article in a 1934 Picturegoer Weekly Supplement adds the following information about the film's pre-production history: M-G-M acquired the rights to Franz Lehar's operetta in 1923 and made a silent screen version of the story in 1925. After sound was introduced to movies, the studio made plans for a "talking" remake of the operetta but lost their screen rights in a court battle. In 1928, M-G-M repurchased story rights from Lehar and his partners and announced that Sidney Franklin would direct and Albert Lewin and Ernest Vajda would write a sound adaptation, which was scheduled to be released in 1930. Although the studio owned the story, to which changes were made to avoid lawsuits from a real-life Prince Danilo, who had sued M-G-M after the release of the 1925 film, the filmmakers were restricted legally in their use of the operetta's score. In addition, Erich von Stroheim, the director of the 1925 film, claimed ownership of particular story points from the silent version and threatened legal action if they were used in the sound version. Overwhelmed by these obstacles, M-G-M halted activity on the production for three years until legal matters were addressed satisfactorily. A Jan 1933 FD news item announced that Paramount was considering buying the rights to the story from M-G-M to produce a French language version of Lehar's operetta, to be directed by Lubitsch and to star Jeanette MacDonald. Lehar reportedly had been approached by Paramount about writing additional music for the film, which was to be shot at the Joinville studios in France. This Paramount version never was made, however. In the fall of 1933, Lubtisch and M-G-M's Irving Thalberg became involved in a contract dispute over salary requirements, which was resolved in early Oct 1933, according to a HR news item.
       When they were assigned to The Merry Widow , composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart were at the end of a one-year contract with M-G-M, which according to Rodger's autobiography, contained a "whither thou goest I will go" clause. Consequently, Rodgers is credited on screen as a co-lyricist with Hart, even though only Hart wrote for the production.
       A Jul 1933 HR news item stated that Maurice Chevalier, after signing a contract agreeing to participate in the production, backed out of the project because he wanted "to get away from the charming prince and lieutenant roles" and asked instead for a "down to earth and human story." By late Aug 1933, Chevalier was, according to HR news items, apparently re-instated in the cast, but an Oct 1933 HR news item announced that John Gilbert was seriously being considered for Chevalier's role. According to HR , Chevalier's contract with M-G-M gave him the right to approve his feminine co-stars. In Sep 1933, Joan Crawford, Jeanette MacDonald and Grace Moore were announced in FD as possible co-stars for Chevalier. Modern sources state that Chevalier wanted Grace Moore for the widow's role, but Moore's lack of box-office success in two previous M-G-M films crippled her chances, and MacDonald was selected. A contract dispute between MacDonald and M-G-M, however, postponed the start of production, and the studio announced in HR in late Jan 1934 that British actress Evelyn Laye was being considered for the lead. Then, in early Feb 1934, Gloria Swanson was announced in HR as a possible co-star for Chevalier. Although modern sources contend that Chevalier was less than enthusiastic about MacDonald, with whom he had appeared in three Paramount productions, two of which were directed by Lubitsch, he announced in a Feb HR news item that he had "washed his hands" of the casting problem and was leaving the final decision up to producer Thalberg. A Mar 1934 HR news item noted that for his portrayal of "Danilo," Chevalier received $150,000.
       A HR production news item listed Joan Gale in the cast, while HR production charts included Earl Oxford, Florine McKinney and Arthur Jowett in the cast. Their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a Dec 1933 HR news item, Thalberg was "mulling over" the possibility of filming the story in three-strip Technicolor. A Jun 1934 DV news item announced that a copy of the film's soundtrack was being shipped to Lehar in Vienna for his approval and comment. The article notes that while the lyrics of the operetta were updated for the screen, Lehar's score was unchanged. In addition, M-G-M representatives in Europe were arranging to film a promotional short with Lehar. Modern sources note that the trailer for the film included footage of Lehar conducting an orchestra. For the "Merry Widow" dance number, M-G-M hired over five hundred extras, according to a HR production news item. According to Picturegoer , Adrian's two dozen gown designs for MacDonald required four months and twelve seamstresses to execute. Forty-four sets, which included a full-scale construction of a vintage 1885 train and a re-creation of a period French village, were built. One thousand gas chandeliers, which took two hours to turn on, were used on the sets. Prior to this film, Lubitsch worked with German costume designer Ali Hubert on the 1919 picture Passion . Cedric Gibbons and Fredric Hope won an Academy Award for Best Interior Decoration for their work on the film.
       According to files in the MPPA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, some deletions in the film were ordered by Joseph I. Breen, the director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP. Although at first reluctant to demand the changes because of costs to M-G-M, Breen instructed M-G-M distributing executives in a memo dated 29 Oct 1934 to make the following eliminations from all release prints: "Marcelle takes garter off her leg, close up of garter, the line 'She jumped into a cold bath, and you'd be surprised, Captain, what cold water can do,'" as well as other lines and bits of action. Various states and Canadian territories objected to the inscription on the garter, which read, "Many happy returns," and the lines, "I know what to do but am too old to do it" and "Have you ever had diplomatic relations with a woman?" All of these lines and bits, however, were in the cutting continuity for the release print. Modern sources contend that in all television prints and some theatrical prints of the film five censorship cuts, including the garter inscription, were made.
       According to modern sources, the production cost M-G-M nearly two million dollars and lost $113,000 at the box office. Modern sources add Gabriel Scognamillo to the art direction and set decoration credits, and credit Joe Lefert as a co-assistant director and Eric Locke as the film's business manager. Modern sources also note that during the filming of the song "Tonight Will Teach Me to Forget," MacDonald lip-synced to a pre-recorded soundtrack for the first time in her career.
       A one-reel version of Lehar's operetta, starring Alma Rubens, was filmed in 1912 by Reliance-Majestic. The 1925 von Stroheim version featured Mae Murray and John Gilbert. Cedric Gibbons and photographer Oliver Marsh worked on both the 1925 and 1934 versions. According to a Mar 1934 HR news item, Roy D'Arcy, who played the villain in von Stroheim's film, was slated to reprise his role in the Lubitsch version, but was eliminated from the cast when Thalberg ordered the "heavy" part cut from the script. In 1952, Curtis Bernhardt directed Lana Turner, Fernando Lamas and Una Merkel, playing the part of Sonia's companion, in an M-G-M Technicolor remake of the operetta. Modern sources state that to avoid confusion with the 1952 remake, the title of the 1934 film was changed to The Lady Dances for broadcasting on American television. According to modern sources, prints of the 1934 film that were distributed through M-G-M's "Golden Operetta" series were cut to 103 minutes. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
7 Jun 34
p. 4.
Daily Variety
1 Sep 34
p. 3.
Film Daily
16 Jan 33
p. 6.
Film Daily
19 Sep 33
p. 8.
Film Daily
13 Oct 34
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Dec 32
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jul 33
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jul 33
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Aug 33
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 33
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 33
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Dec 33
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Dec 33
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jan 34
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Feb 34
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Feb 34
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Mar 34
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Mar 34
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Apr 34
p. 3, 6
Hollywood Reporter
7 Apr 34
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jul 34
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jul 34
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Sep 34
p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily
4 Sep 34
p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald
8 Sep 34
p. 34.
MPSI
1 Feb 35
p. 11.
MPSI
1 Jun 35
p. 5.
New York Times
12 Oct 34
p. 33.
Variety
19 Jun 34
p. 2.
Variety
16 Oct 34
p. 12.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Sheila Mannors
Leonid Kinsky
Arthur "Pop" Byron
Russell Powell
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Ernst Lubitsch Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Contr wrt
Contr wrt
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir assoc
Art dir assoc
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set des
Set dresser
COSTUMES
Ward
Miss MacDonald's gowns by
DANCE
Dance dir
Waltz instructor for Jeanette MacDonald
PRODUCTION MISC
Grip
Grip
Stagemen
Stagemen
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the operetta Die lustige Witwe , music by Franz Lehar, book and lyrics by Victor Leon and Leo Stein (Vienna, 28 Dec 1905).
SONGS
"Girls, Girls, Girls!" "Vilia," "Maxim's," "Melody of Laughter," "The Merry Widow Waltz" and "If Widows Are Rich," music by Franz Lehar, lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
"Tonight Will Teach Me to Forget," music by Franz Lehar, lyrics by Gus Kahn.
DETAILS
Release Date:
2 November 1934
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 11 October 1934
Production Date:
9 April--17 July 1934
Copyright Claimant:
Metro Goldwyn Mayer Corp.
Copyright Date:
27 October 1934
Copyright Number:
LP5068
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
99-100 or 110
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
293
SYNOPSIS

In 1885, in the tiny European kingdom of Marshovia, playboy Count Danilo, the captain of the royal guard, admires the veiled rich widow Sonia during a military parade and later slips into her gardens to woo her. Obeying a Marshovian edict that stipulates that widows must always wear veils in public, the surprised Sonia covers her face before Danilo sees her and, in spite of his begging, refuses to lift it. Sonia then firmly rejects Danilo's deft flirtations but, over the next few days, is filled with confused thoughts about him. Unable to deal with her emotions, Sonia declares her one-year Marshovian widowhood over and moves to Paris. Because Sonia owns fifty-two percent of every cow in Marshovia and therefore controls the economy, her departure alarms the king, Achmed II, who frantically confers with his wife, Queen Dolores, about possible local suitors for the widow. After Dolores vetoes all of his suggested suitors, Achmed catches the queen entertaining Danilo in her bedroom. As punishment for his philandering, Achmed orders Danilo to go to Paris and marry Sonia. Before reporting to the Marshovian embassy for further instructions, Danilo decides to visit Maxim's, a favorite cabaret where all of the can-can dancers know and adore him. As Danilo leaves his rooms, Sonia, his neighbor, sees him and, abandoning her horde of insincere suitors, follows him to Maxim's. There Danilo runs into the bumbling Ambassador Popoff, who relates his "top secret" plan of ensnaring the coveted widow during the next night's embassy ball. When Sonia arrives at Maxim's, she is mistaken for a cabaret "girl" and is engaged by the unsuspecting Danilo. Irritated by Danilo's ... +


In 1885, in the tiny European kingdom of Marshovia, playboy Count Danilo, the captain of the royal guard, admires the veiled rich widow Sonia during a military parade and later slips into her gardens to woo her. Obeying a Marshovian edict that stipulates that widows must always wear veils in public, the surprised Sonia covers her face before Danilo sees her and, in spite of his begging, refuses to lift it. Sonia then firmly rejects Danilo's deft flirtations but, over the next few days, is filled with confused thoughts about him. Unable to deal with her emotions, Sonia declares her one-year Marshovian widowhood over and moves to Paris. Because Sonia owns fifty-two percent of every cow in Marshovia and therefore controls the economy, her departure alarms the king, Achmed II, who frantically confers with his wife, Queen Dolores, about possible local suitors for the widow. After Dolores vetoes all of his suggested suitors, Achmed catches the queen entertaining Danilo in her bedroom. As punishment for his philandering, Achmed orders Danilo to go to Paris and marry Sonia. Before reporting to the Marshovian embassy for further instructions, Danilo decides to visit Maxim's, a favorite cabaret where all of the can-can dancers know and adore him. As Danilo leaves his rooms, Sonia, his neighbor, sees him and, abandoning her horde of insincere suitors, follows him to Maxim's. There Danilo runs into the bumbling Ambassador Popoff, who relates his "top secret" plan of ensnaring the coveted widow during the next night's embassy ball. When Sonia arrives at Maxim's, she is mistaken for a cabaret "girl" and is engaged by the unsuspecting Danilo. Irritated by Danilo's casual romantic attitudes, Sonia, who calls herself Fifi, flirts with various men in front of the count and laughs at his jealous indignation. In one of Maxim's private dining rooms, Sonia then drives Danilo to distraction by acting seductive and indifferent in turn. However, when Danilo confesses to her that he prefers cabaret girls because they never ask about "tomorrow," Sonia reveals that she is a "lady" and leaves in a wounded huff. Devastated by Sonia's exit, Danilo fails to show up at the embassy ball as expected and is found by Mishka, his orderly, in a drunken stupor at Maxim's. In his intoxicated state, Danilo reveals his diplomatic mission to the Maxim's women and is dragged to the ball under protest. After Popoff threatens to court-martial him if he refuses to woo the widow, the lovesick Danilo prepares to do his duty and meet Sonia. When Danilo discovers that Sonia and Fifi are one in the same, he is overjoyed but covers his feelings when she coolly rebuffs him. Eventually Danilo convinces Sonia of his sincere desire to give up his playboy ways and marry. Danilo's victory is short-lived, however, when Sonia overhears Popoff telling Danilo that, because the Marchovian newspapers are about to print a story exposing the marriage scheme, he must wed Sonia that night. Although Danilo refuses to participate further in the scheme and is put on trial for treason in Marchovia, Sonia continues to condemn him as a cold-blooded womanizer. Shortly before his execution is to take place, however, Sonia visits Danilo in jail, and while aware that Popoff is still conniving to bring them together, the couple finally gives in to love and embraces. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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