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The Merry Widow(1934)

For what would be his last operetta, director Ernst Lubitsch turned in a lavish production so witty and light-hearted it almost seemed to dance off the screen. MGM previously had a huge hit with Franz Lehár’s operetta in a 1925 silent film directed by Erich von Stroheim. They had spent three years wading through legal problems (von Stroheim owned all the changes he had made to the original) to get a script together. Once settled, they pulled out all the stops, with 500 waltzing extras dancing between mirrors to create the illusion of unending grace and style. The plot of a prince (Maurice Chevalier) forced to woo a wealthy widow (Jeanette MacDonald) in order to keep her fortune in their fictional homeland was a perfect vehicle for Lubitsch’s sly approach to sexuality, particularly when MacDonald masquerades as a chorus girl to gauge Chevalier’s intentions. Even though Chevalier and MacDonald didn’t like each other off screen, their on-screen chemistry was infectious. The extravagant musical sequences were a bit much for audiences of the day—who were attuned to the American works of RKO musicals and Busby Berkeley’s work at Warner Bros.—and the film lost money. It has aged very well, however, and continues to delight audiences with its glittering image of a more elegant time. (d. Ernst Lubitsch, 99m, 35 mm)

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