Erich von Stroheim

It. tit.: La vedova allegra. Sog.: dal libretto di Victor Leon e Leo Stein dell’operetta Die lustige Witwe di Franz Lehár. Scen.: Erich von Stroheim, Benjamin Glazer. F.: Ben Reynolds, William Daniels, Oliver T. Marsh. M.: Frank E. Hull. Scgf.: Cedric Gibbons, Richard Day. Int.: Mae Murray (Sally O’Hara), John Gilbert (Danilo), Roy D’Arcy (Mirko), Tully Marshall (baron Sadoja), George Fawcett (Nikita I), Josephine Crowell (queen Milena), Dale Fuller (Sally’s maid), Albert Conti (Danilo’s assistant), Wilhelm von Brincken (Danilo’s aide-de-camp), Don Ryan (Mirko’s assistant), Hughie Mack (publican), Ida Moore (publican’s wife), Sidney Bracey (Danilo’s maid), George Nichols (porter). Prod.: MGM. 35mm. L.: 3086 m. D.: 130’ a 22 f/s. Bn

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

The Merry Widow, a huge public success and the “best film made in Hollywood in 1926” according to the critics at the time, came two years after the enormous and spectacular flop of Greed, which had been disfigured and mutilated by the Metro Goldwin Mayer Tycoon, Irving Thalberg. It would always be Thalberg who put forward The Merry Widow (from the Franz Lehár’s opera of the same name) to Eric von Stroheim. Although he had not appreciated the text, Stroheim gave the project his full attention, writing a very personal screenplay, which made it possible to transform the project’s limpid air into a cruel, savage satire, set in Central Europe. Monteblanco is the imaginary place where the story unfolds: there would be no full scale reconstruction, as had been the case for Monte Carlo in Foolish Wives (1921), but rather the accurate decor which alluded to Montenegro (as did the style of the uniforms, also designed by Stroheim). The Merry Widow also contains his excessive tastes in set reconstruction: the film is a limitless showcase of wonderful architecture, shiny floors, sumptuous stairways, majestic columns, ostentatious uniforms and an unrestrained appetite for decorative detail. We must not let these details deceive us. In The Merry Widow (as always with Stroheim) the set design and wardrobe are not born out of a sterile love of luxury, but are the result of the director’s own choice. The costume and set design can be defined as a real habitus: a behavioural and social form; which was being mocked and treated as material for satire. The details in The Merry Widow suggest an alteration, an irregularity, a disproportion becoming an impulse or driving force for the action (Sally’s body, the monumental doors, the huge crosses on the walls, a piece of flypaper). The disproportion is an enlargement and an expansion of the senses – for example, the acute olfactory sensation that emerges in the instant we see Sally’s bed covered in flower petals. From this point of view, Stroheim’s stylistic choices trigger a contrast: the struggle between black and white in the frame, the blurry focus on Sally’s face in the foreground, the smell of perfume from the contact with the sweaty skin of a man in uniform. Think of the whiteness of light emanating from Mae Murray’s face, which is contrasted with the black puppet-like movement of Prince Mirko; or the Chez François salon, the chaos that oscillates between black and white. Stroheim did not forget to include a sharp, ironic vein. Two lovers beneath a romantic moon: the abomination and cruelty are shown here together with the gentle breeze in the moonlight.

Rinaldo Censi


The Musicscore for The Merry Widow

When I first accompanied The Merry Widow years ago, I was totally struck by this highly creative and inventive film adaptation of the operetta, directed by the genius Erich von Stroheim. Immediately I realized that my ‘one’ piano + singer accompaniment wasn’t at all enough to serve this brilliant and intense film. I started a serious quest to develop a suitable score for the film, and at the same time had the great good luck to get official permission from the Lehár Estate to use and rearrange, where necessary, the original operetta music for the film. This musicscore is now partly based on the captivating lyrical music of Lehár and partly on my own music. It gave me the opportunity to bring a bit more Stroheimian darkness and satire into the accompaniment. The decision of exactly where to place the Lehár motifs in the film was a very interesting and challenging puzzle to solve. For me it’s very important that this unique film can be shown more and more in the future and it’s wonderful and a true honor to perform in Bologna!

Maud Nelissen