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L'événement culturel de l'été à Bruxelles!    

Merry Widow (The)

Musique: Franz Lehar
Paroles: Christopher Hassall

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The first was a silent film (1925), with a plot that winds up miles away from the original, concentrating on what happens before the original libretto. When showgirl Sally (after seemingly endless wooing) is abandoned at the altar by Prince Danilo, she marries aged Baron Sadoja, the richest man in Monteblanco -- who dies onscreen during the honeymoon. Danilo and Monteblanco's unsavory Crown Prince follow Sally to Paris, where she pretends to fall in love with the Crown Prince to make Danilo jealous. The resulting duel leaves Danilo wounded, but makes him new heir to his country's throne! He marries Sally, and they return to Monteblanco as King & Queen. Former stage star Mae Murray (as Sally) and screen idol John Gilbert (as Danilo) starred, and legendary martinet Erich Von Stroheim directed. Strange as all this may sound, Murray and Gilbert's on-screen waltz proved a sensation, and audiences turned out in droves worldwide to hear Lehar's melodies pour out of movie theatre orchestras, organs and pianos.

Nine years later, when production chief Irving Thalberg set out to establish MGM as Hollywood's ultimate source for screen musicals, he gathered a stellar team to create the 1934 sound version -- Ernst Lubitsch directed, while Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald pursued each other in glorious black and white. Edward Everett Horton (hilarious as a bumbling Ambassador Popoff) and Una Merkel (as Marsovia's man-hungry Queen) enhance the fun. Once again, the plot bears limited resemblance to the original, with many key characters (Camille, Valencienne, etc.) missing. Most of the score is gone too, but the few remaining melodies have delightful lyrics by no less than Broadway master Lorenz Hart. Above all, the "Lubitsch Touch" combines flirtatious humor and continental atmosphere, making this a tastefully sexy comic romp. A major box office hit, this remains the most entertaining big screen version of The Merry Widow.

Television and changing economics were pushing the old studio system into extinction when MGM offered a costly 1952 Technicolor remake. Although Lana Turner looked luscious in the title role, her few singing sequences had to be dubbed. As Danilo, Fernando Lamas provided sex appeal and a surprisingly strong singing voice. These two stars were supposedly having a torrid affair off-screen, but there is no visible evidence of it in this tepid film. Richard Haydn desperately tries to win laughs as a bumbling Ambassador Popoff, but the humorless screenplay gives him nothing to work with. Una Merkel is on hand again, annd inexplicably wasted as the Widow's bland companion. It is easy to see why this Merry Widow did poorly at the box office.

Believe it or not, some sources list a 1956 film version of The Merry Widow in Arabic -- El Armula el tarub, directed by Helmy Rafla. To date, I have been unable to view this rarity. It has also proven impossible to track down a full color 1962 Austrian screen version starring Karen Hubner and Peter Alexander. In the 1980s, plans were announced for a new screen adaptation co-starring Placido Domingo and Julie Andrews, but tantalizing as this sounds, nothing came of it.

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