Marie Antoinette (1938)

157 or 160 mins | Drama | 26 August 1938

Full page view
HISTORY

An onscreen dedication reads: "To Sidney Franklin...for his contribution in the preparation of this production...grateful acknowledgement." According to contemporary news items in trade publications, and information contained in the M-G-M story files at the USC Cinema-Television library, pre-production work on the film began in 1933. At that time, Sidney Franklin was assigned to direct the picture and Claudine West and Ernest Vajda were assigned to the script, which was to be supervised by M-G-M production head Irving Thalberg. News items in late 1933 through 1935 indicate that Norma Shearer, Thalberg's wife, was to take the title role and that Charles Laughton was "signed" to play opposite her as King Louis XVI. In late Dec 1935, it was announced that Marie Antoinette was to be the first major M-G-M production shot in Europe, and Thalberg was planning to go to Europe in preparation for the film in Jun 1936. The production was delayed a number of times, and after Thalberg's death in mid-Sep 1936, it appeared that the film might be shelved. In late Aug 1937, M-G-M assigned Jacques Tourneur, who later acted as second unit director on the film, to prepare a short documentary film about the last days of Queen Marie Antoinette to generate interest in the main film.
       By the time the picture was again back on M-G-M's production schedule in 1937, Charles Laughton was no longer available for the role of Louis XVI and Peter Lorre and Oscar Homolka were both tested for the part. In a modern NYT interview, actor John Gielgud has said that he, too, was considered for the role. In early Dec ... More Less

An onscreen dedication reads: "To Sidney Franklin...for his contribution in the preparation of this production...grateful acknowledgement." According to contemporary news items in trade publications, and information contained in the M-G-M story files at the USC Cinema-Television library, pre-production work on the film began in 1933. At that time, Sidney Franklin was assigned to direct the picture and Claudine West and Ernest Vajda were assigned to the script, which was to be supervised by M-G-M production head Irving Thalberg. News items in late 1933 through 1935 indicate that Norma Shearer, Thalberg's wife, was to take the title role and that Charles Laughton was "signed" to play opposite her as King Louis XVI. In late Dec 1935, it was announced that Marie Antoinette was to be the first major M-G-M production shot in Europe, and Thalberg was planning to go to Europe in preparation for the film in Jun 1936. The production was delayed a number of times, and after Thalberg's death in mid-Sep 1936, it appeared that the film might be shelved. In late Aug 1937, M-G-M assigned Jacques Tourneur, who later acted as second unit director on the film, to prepare a short documentary film about the last days of Queen Marie Antoinette to generate interest in the main film.
       By the time the picture was again back on M-G-M's production schedule in 1937, Charles Laughton was no longer available for the role of Louis XVI and Peter Lorre and Oscar Homolka were both tested for the part. In a modern NYT interview, actor John Gielgud has said that he, too, was considered for the role. In early Dec 1937, Lorre was announced as the first choice for the role, but by the time filming began on 30 Dec, English actor Robert Morley had been awarded the part. Marie Antoinette marked Morley's motion picture debut and his last film made in the United States until Take Her--She's Mine in 1963 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ; F6.4853). Maureen O'Sullivan was signed for the role of "Princess de Lambelle," but she had to replace the ill Luise Rainer in the lead of M-G-M's Port of Seven Seas (see below) and was thus prevented from appearing in Marie Antoinette . O'Sullivan was then replaced by Anite Louise, who was borrowed from Warner Bros. for the role. Tyrone Power was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for his role as "Count Axel de Fersen." Early HR production charts, as well as a studio cast sheet released before the film's completion, list actor Shepperd Strudwick in the role of "Toulan." That role was taken over by Leonard Penn at some point in the film's production. Modern sources add that Herbert Marshall and Robert Taylor were also considered for that role at various times. On or about the first day of filming, Sidney Franklin, who had been with the project from the beginning, was replaced by W. S. Van Dyke II. According to a HR news item, Franklin was "ill," but modern sources have indicated that after Thalberg's death, M-G-M's interest in the project waned and studio executives felt that Van Dyke would be a much faster, and thus cheaper, person to direct the project. In 1939 Franklin became an M-G-M producer, a position he held into the 1950s. The only film he worked on as a director after 1938 was The Barretts of Wimpole Street , a 1957 remake of his 1934 film of the same name.
       During principal photography on Marie Antoinette , portions of the film were shot on location at the recently completed Hollywood Park Racetrack in Inglewood, CA. The racetrack's facade was decorated to stand-in for the exterior of the Palace at Versailles. A press release, contained in the AMPAS Library file on the film, from Robert M. W. Vogel of M-G-M's foreign department states, "The French government has authorized the Palace of Versailles to be photographed for the first time as a background in a motion picture." The backgrounds were edited into the racetrack footage in the completed film. In mid-Mar 1938, filming was halted on the production for two weeks to edit completed scenes and to decorate sets for scenes that needed to be added. During that time, Van Dyke went on a location scouting trip to British Columbia for Northwest Passage (see below). Marie Antoinette subsequently went back into production for an additional two months. An article in Life magazine in Jul 1938, just after the film's Los Angeles premiere, noted that it cost "only" $1,000,000 to make due to Van Dyke's ecomony. The article also noted, among other things, that M-G-M's recreation of the ballroom at Versailles was actually twice as large as the original.
       SAB records indicate that writers Ernest Vajda and Donald Ogden Stewart protested against not being given screenwriting credit in the film's tentative credits submitted to AMPAS on 5 Apr 1938. Vajda and Stewart are, however, included in the onscreen credits of the released film, along with Claudine West, whose name appeared first. According to news items, the film's lavish premiere was held at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. The event was broadcast on the radio, hosted by masters-of-ceremonies Pete Smith, Don Wilson, Frank Whitbeck, Carey Wilson, Robert Young and Freddie Bartholomew. For its New York opening, M-G-M press representative Howard Dietz arranged for a $100,000 "museum" quality exhibition at New York's Astor Theatre to publicize the picture. Marie Antoinette marked actor John Barrymore's final film for M-G-M after being under contract to that studio throughout the 1930s. Shearer and Morley were both nominated for Academy Awards for their roles in the film. The picture also received nominations in the Art Direction and Music (Scoring) categories. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Sep 38
p. 466.
Daily Variety
11 Jul 38
p. 3.
Film Daily
26 Aug 37
p. 2.
Film Daily
13 Jul 38
p. 5.
Film Daily
26 Oct 38
p. 6.
HF
7 Jul 34
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 33
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
31 May 35
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 35
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Dec 35
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Aug 37
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Sep 37
p. 1, 6
Hollywood Reporter
26 Oct 37
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 37
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Dec 37
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Dec 37
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Dec 37
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Dec 37
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jan 38
p. 3, 14
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 38
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jan 38
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Feb 38
p. 2, 9
Hollywood Reporter
17 Mar 38
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
23 May 38
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jul 38
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Sep 38
p. 1, 3
International Photographer
1 Mar 38
pp. 27-28.
Life
11 Jul 38
p. 41-43.
Motion Picture Daily
11 Jul 38
p. 1.
Motion Picture Daily
18 Aug 38
p. 2.
Motion Picture Herald
26 Mar 38
pp. 16-17.
Motion Picture Herald
16 Jul 38
pp. 49-50, 52
MPSI
May 36
p. 15.
New York Times
Aug 38
p. 23.
Time
Aug 38
p. 41.
Variety
Jul 38
p. 15.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Photog
Mont eff
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir assoc
Art dir assoc
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
Gowns
Men's cost
MUSIC
DANCE
Dances by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Elec eng
Research staff
Research staff
Research staff
Research staff
Research staff
Research staff
Research staff
Press rep
SOURCES
LITERARY
Inspired by the book Marie Antoinette by Stefan Zweig (Leipzig, 1932).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Amour Eternal Amour," music and lyrics by Bob Wright, Chet Forrest and Herbert Stothart.
DETAILS
Release Date:
26 August 1938
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 8 July 1938
Production Date:
30 December 1937--25 May 1938
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
14 August 1938
Copyright Number:
LP8225
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
sepia
Duration(in mins):
157 or 160
Country:
United States
PCA No:
4322
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In the Eighteenth century, Empress Marie Therese of Austria tells her daughter, Marie Antoinette, that a marriage has been arranged between her and the Dauphin Louis XVI, heir to the throne of France. Marie expects a life of grandeur, but is confused by her future husband, an extremely shy and introverted man whose only joy in life seems to be derived from his skill as a locksmith. Abandoned by Louis on their wedding night, Marie follows the malicious advice of the power-hungry Duke d'Orleans to find solace in revels and gambling. One day, she meets Count Axel de Fersen, and is stung when he refuses to indulge her imperious whims. Two years after Marie's marriage, Madame du Barry, the mistress of King Louis XV, the Dauphin's grandfather, sends Marie an empty miniature cradle as an anniversary gift, a pointed reminder that Marie has not yet produced an heir. After a confrontation at a ball to conciliate Madame du Barry and Marie, Louis XV decides that the marriage between his grandson and Marie should be annulled. This proposal drives Louis XVI to anger at last, and he defends his wife, but the king remains adamant. Marie, meanwhile, is cruelly discarded by d'Orleans, who stayed at her side only while she enjoyed favor. Marie is consoled by seeing Axel, who reminds her of their childhood friendship and declares his love for her. Plans for an annulment are cancelled when the King unexpectedly dies, and Marie's hopes for a romance with Axel end when he realizes that he cannot conduct a love affair with a queen. He then leaves after vowing his eternal love. ... +


In the Eighteenth century, Empress Marie Therese of Austria tells her daughter, Marie Antoinette, that a marriage has been arranged between her and the Dauphin Louis XVI, heir to the throne of France. Marie expects a life of grandeur, but is confused by her future husband, an extremely shy and introverted man whose only joy in life seems to be derived from his skill as a locksmith. Abandoned by Louis on their wedding night, Marie follows the malicious advice of the power-hungry Duke d'Orleans to find solace in revels and gambling. One day, she meets Count Axel de Fersen, and is stung when he refuses to indulge her imperious whims. Two years after Marie's marriage, Madame du Barry, the mistress of King Louis XV, the Dauphin's grandfather, sends Marie an empty miniature cradle as an anniversary gift, a pointed reminder that Marie has not yet produced an heir. After a confrontation at a ball to conciliate Madame du Barry and Marie, Louis XV decides that the marriage between his grandson and Marie should be annulled. This proposal drives Louis XVI to anger at last, and he defends his wife, but the king remains adamant. Marie, meanwhile, is cruelly discarded by d'Orleans, who stayed at her side only while she enjoyed favor. Marie is consoled by seeing Axel, who reminds her of their childhood friendship and declares his love for her. Plans for an annulment are cancelled when the King unexpectedly dies, and Marie's hopes for a romance with Axel end when he realizes that he cannot conduct a love affair with a queen. He then leaves after vowing his eternal love. The dauphin, now King Louis XVI, becomes an affectionate husband, and soon fathers a daughter and then a son by Marie. Though he tries to be a just ruler, he is unable to stem the tide of mounting social unrest. Marie's extravagances, especially her unwitting purchase of an expensive diamond necklace, exposes the French peoples' hatred for their Austrian queen, and this, along with oppression and the political machinations of d'Orleans, lead to a revolution. By now, the ineffectual king has lost influence over the military, and after the mob storms the palace, the royal family is imprisoned. Immediately after their imprisonment, their friend and companion, Princesse de Lamballe, is taken from them and executed. Hope briefly comes when Axel, whose love for Marie is known by Louis, arranges for an escape by bribing a guard, but the family is soon recaptured. Condemned by the assembly, including the treacherous d'Orleans, the royal couple and their children share one last dinner. The next day the King is executed, and Marie and her son are separated. The boy is forced to testify against his mother at the assembly and they are both sentenced to death. Axel comes to the now prematurely aged and worn queen one more time before she is led to the guillotine. +

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

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.