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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Marie Antoinette (1938)

In Austria, the young Marie Antoinette (Norma Shearer) is told she will marry the dauphin Louis XVI (Robert Morley) and eventually become the Queen of France. At first, she is shunned at court mainly due to the machinations of Louis XIV's (John Barrymore) mistress, the notorious Madame DuBarry (Gladys George). But that will soon change as she rises to the throne of France but her downfall is not far behind. This extravagant (a near 2 million budget) highly fictionalized view at the life of Marie Antoinette is very loosely based on an autobiography by Stefan Zweig. No expense was spared to build Versailles on the sound stages of MGM courtesy of art director Cedric Gibbons nor the detailed authentic period costumes by Adrian. But they forgot a decent script! Reputedly 11 writers (including F. Scott Fitzgerald) worked on the screenplay but I doubt any of the writers would want to take claim for the rancid dialogue! Tyrone Power was borrowed from Fox to provide some romance in what is essentially a supporting role. This is Norma Shearer's show and to give her credit, she actually has some good moments like the scene where she and Morley realize the King is dying and what lies before them and her final moments are quite effective. But for the most of the film, she's fluttery girlish though she looks matronly or unconvincingly imperious. Worst of all, Marie Antoinette is portrayed as an innocent victim of circumstance (she's not even allowed to say "Let them eat cake!") rather than a deluded monarch. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke. With Anita Louise, Joseph Schildkraut, Joseph Calleia, Alma Kruger and Reginald Gardiner loitering among the cast of thousands.

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