With this 2011 Warner Archive Release, most of Erich von Stroheim’s “personally directed” films have been released with the inexplicable, frustrating exclusion of his legendary, mutilated Greed (1924). Only von Stroheim could have taken Franz Lehar’s 1905 giddy operetta “The Merry Widow” and turned it into a silent fetishistic melodrama. The Merry Widow stars Mae Murray and John Gilbert. Murray’s screen persona alternated between virgin and vamp . Here, she is the virgin who becomes the much sought after prize. Despite having unique on-screen charisma, Murray, one of early cinema’s true divas, was among those who could not make the transition to sound, and her off-screen life was not afforded a happy ending. She married a real-life Prince who forced her to leave MGM, then divorced her, and took custody of their children. Years later, Murray, homeless, was arrested for sleeping on park bench in NYC. She died, forgotten and in poverty, in a nursing home in 1965. Gilbert’s decline into alcoholism is, of course, far better documented.
Quite surprisingly, The Merry Widow was a critical and box office success for von Stroheim. The film was so successful that it was remade in 1934 by Ernst Lubitsch (as a musical, replete with the Lubitsch touch, starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald) and in a best-forgotten 1952 version starring Lana Turner. Despite a studio mandated, ill-fitting happy ending, von Stroheim’s silent version is, predictably, the most bizarre. The director added much to the story, stamping it with his idiosyncratic touch and causing the film to go considerably over schedule and over budget. The previous Continue reading ERICH VON STROHEIM’S THE MERRY WIDOW (1925)