Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Norman Kerry, Mary Philbin, Dale Fuller, Maude George, Cesare Gravina
Directors: Erich Von Stroheim, Rupert Julian
Genres: Classics, Drama
In Vienna circa World War I, decadent Count Franz Maximillian von Hohenegg (Norman Kerry), posing as a necktie salesman, falls in love with innocent Agnes (Mary Philbin), an organ grinder in the city's pleasure zone. An ed... more »
Von Stroheim Goes for a Spin
Dave Clayton | San Diego, CA USA | 04/17/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Film historians generally-and in my opinion, rightly-consider Erich von Stroheim to have been among the greatest directors in movie history. But none of Stroheim's major works, starting with Foolish Wives, survives today in the form he intended. Of his mutilated masterpieces, The Wedding March probably comes closest to realizing his intentions. The picture was edited by another "von," Josef von Sternberg, who probably understood as well as any outsider could have what its creator had set out to do, and who gave the movie a compulsively vibrant intensity, as if Maurice Ravel's La Valse had been transferred to celluloid. But Stroheim never forgave him this act of lese majesty.
Merry-Go-Round was commenced after Stroheim had finished Foolish Wives at Universal, but Irving Thalberg, appalled by the director's contempt for budgets and refusal to knuckle under to the studio's demands, fired him and handed over the picture to the hack Rupert Julian, who got sole credit for the direction. Nevertheless, at least the first half of the movie shows the influence of Stroheim. Thalberg may have wanted to show Stroheim who was boss, but he by no means had a low opinion of the latter's abilities and would hardly have scrapped the footage that had already been shot out of spite (but see the note below).
Anyone familiar with The Wedding March will have no difficulty in recognizing in Merry-Go-Round a preliminary sketch for the later film. In Vienna just before the outbreak of World War I, an aristocratic but impoverished roué, Franz Maxmillian von Hohenegg (Norman Kerry) meets a poor girl, Agnes Urban (Mary Philbin) who works at a concession in the Prater. The girl herself is being hotly pursued by the brutal Schani (George Siegmann), owner of the concession, but is also the object of affection of the pathetic hunchback Bartholomew Gruber (George Hackathorne), whose pet orangutan eventually metes out Schani's just deserts.
Kerry and Philbin were stars of the period probably best remembered for playing opposite Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera. They give adequate performances, although they pale in comparison to the trio of von Stroheim himself, Zasu Pitts, and Fay Wray in The Wedding March. Cognoscenti will also be able to easily spot such Stroheim regulars as Dale Fuller, who plays Schani's wife, and Cesare Gravina as the father of Agnes, performers whom Stroheim cast in similar roles in The Wedding March. Nor would they be likely to overlook the appearance of a truly legendary name among the technical credits: that of the great cinematographer William Daniels, the co-photographer of Merry-Go-Round, who went on to shoot Greed and The Merry Widow.
Von Stroheim's early works like Foolish Wives and this film were lurid melodramas that hovered between Griffith at his most sensationalistic and what might have resulted had someone let loose R. Crumb amid the ruins of the Hapsburg empire. Merry-Go-Round is emphatically not "Vienna, City of My Dreams"! But Stroheim was not interested in stripping bare the vices of the upper class just for whatever malicious pleasure it might have afforded him. Owing to repression, the vice which avows itself frankly in the lower classes takes on more extravagant, more refined, more perverse-and thus more aesthetically interesting-forms in the upper reaches of society. Here, but far more impressively in The Wedding March and Queen Kelly, Stroheim observes the antics of such etiolated specimens of a once powerful aristocracy with the rapt fascination of a zoologist studying the death throes of a species facing imminent extinction.
It may come as a surprise to younger movie buffs to find out that Stroheim was esteemed in his heyday as a "realist." Certainly from a present day perspective Stroheim's great films come across as the product of a highly idiosyncratic imagination-and seem about as realistic as a gargoyle on a Gothic cathedral. Yet starting with his next production, Greed, Stroheim's pictures not only became more technically audacious-especially in his use of tightly intercut close-ups-but also moved away from caricature into far more probing analyses of human behavior. While only a minor part of the von Stroheim corpus, Merry-Go-Round supplies a link between the earlier and later works, making it indispensable viewing for anyone who wants to study the surviving evidence of this astonishing director's career.
It is always worth keeping in mind that Stroheim had worked under D.W. Griffith, and evidently absorbed Griffith's visionary approach to film art-not to mention his preference for shooting movies on an epic scale. But von Stroheim's unremitting gaze exchanged Griffith's heliotropic apocalypses-Intolerance fittingly bears the subtitle "A Sun Play of the Ages"-for cosmic dramas of entropy. However, Stroheim was no cynic. His fascination with depravity sprang from a sense of outrage at the injustice of the universe and a desire to peel back the excrescence of centuries of civilized hypocrisy in order to show the truth of the human condition as he saw it. Stroheim's preferred terrain was Central Europe in its last throes of decadence, but when he cast his eye on the New World in Greed and Hello, Sister, it didn't look any more promising, just cruder.
David Shepherd has been responsible for a number of valuable restorations of important older films on DVD. Combining-and digitally remastering-two 16mm prints, he has done an impressive job with Merry-Go-Round. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for this outstanding DVD. This version preserves the original tinting and also boasts a stereo musical track based upon the score for the silent film.
New note: The excellent Kino Video DVD of Queen Kelly contains the sequences from Merry-Go-Round thought to have been shot by Stroheim as well as supplementary materials relating to the production of the film.
Half Stroheim, strange film
Jmark2001 | Florida | 04/16/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"We will never know what would have become of this film if Erich von Stroheim hadn't been fired half-way through and been replaced by the merely competent Rupert Julian. The script is pure Stroheim and a complete rip-off of "The Wedding March." A rich Viennese (What else? This is Stroheim) prince is engaged to a royal woman but falls for a poor organ grinder in the local amusement park. An assortment of carnival types (including a hunchback whose hunchback is so small I could never see it - hardly the physical deformity that one might be self-conscious about) populate the film, along with Stroheim's usual repertory company that includes Dale Fuller, Cesar Gravina, etc. The whole film comes across as second rate, but undeniable, Stroheim. It isn't fully developed script-wise nor visually. Some scenes fall flat and do not work well. The huge amusement park is impressive with a real merry go round. The print here is merely okay to good. Scatches are apparent throughout. There are no DVD extras - none. Still, I am thankful to have this film released on DVD. Video copies are hard to find and in much worse condition than this copy. Should you get it? Stroheim fans need to see this. Silent movie fans MAY want to add this to library if they are collecting all the extant features out there - but only after they spend their money on the many other indispensable films out there. This is far from a great film. It IS one more piece in the Stroheim library."
Elusive Film Dilutes the Stroheim Touch
Robert M. Fells | Centreville, VA USA | 07/17/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I'd say the previous reviews covered the various aspects of MERRY-GO-ROUND quite well, but I think there's a few comments worth making on Erich von Stroheim himself that explain why his being fired from this film wasn't as terrible as it sounds. I have tried to read about everything there is on "Von" and especially enlightening are accounts written by people who actually worked on his films. No doubt he was a genius but he's usually depicted as a martyr for his art, crucified by the mercenary Hollywood bosses. The fact is that Hollywood is the only place in the world that could afford Stroheim and virtually every studio gave him a chance to direct. Despite the many years that he lived, worked, and was lionized in Europe during his later life, nobody ever entrusted him with directing a film there.I'm no psychoanalyst, but something seems to have happened to him when he began directing a film. Read Gloria Swanson's account in her autobiography where she discusses the film, Queen Kelly. Von was perfectly reasonable until filming began, then he lost it. Perhaps Louis B. Mayer, of all people, summed it up best when he said in his later years that had Stroheim been just ten percent more reasonable, they would still be making films together. Everybody knew he was a genius, but even geniuses have to be a little reasonable. Personally, I could never understand why he insisted on making films much too long for commercial release. He understood the limitations very well but Hollywood always gets the blame! MERRY-GO-ROUND was an attempt to separate Von Stroheim the director and actor from Von Stroheim the writer and producer. Not surprisingly, the results are mixed and film seems like imitation Stroheim. After he left Universal, he managed to direct films for all the major studios (MGM, Paramount, United Artists, Fox) except Warners, and even they discussed a possible film with him. In 1930, Universal hired him back, the first time he worked there since MERRY-GO-ROUND, to make a talkie remake of his first directing film, BLIND HUSBANDS. Again, he seemed reasonable until filming began. Universal fired him when he refused to use a stock recording of church bells but wanted a special crew to record bells as they sound when heard across a lake! Can you really blame the studio?Viewed most charitably, Stroheim was a genuine film artist born out his time. Today he would be in his element directing controversial mini-series for HBO."
Take A Ride On This MERRY- GO -ROUND.
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 04/15/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Until now MERRY-GO-ROUND has been one of those silent films more talked about than seen. This was the movie that producer Irving Thalberg fired Erich von Stroheim from halfway through the shooting. Director Rupert Julian (PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) replaced him and got sole credit. Thalberg would leave Universal after this and go to MGM where he would later cut von Stroheim's most famous film GREED to a little over 2 hours thereby eliminating two-thirds of the movie. Viewing this film 80 years after the fact, MERRY-GO-ROUND has much to recommend it.
Erich von Stroheim's hand is still very much in evidence from the opulent settings of the Austrian aristocracy to the use of two members of his stock company, Dale Fuller and Cesare Gravina. The real revelation here is Mary Philbin best known for PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Here she demonstrates greater acting ability then in any other of her surviving films. She does tend to go a little over the top near the end of the film which is no doubt the fault of director Julian who according to Lon Chaney encouraged his performers to overact in PHANTOM. Norman Kerry, a dependable leading man from the silent era, gives his usual fine performance but the acting honors go to veteran villian George Siegmann (BIRTH OF A NATION) and especially George Hackathorne as the hunchback Bartholemew.
The story of an Austrian nobleman who falls in love with a woman outside his social class would be remade by von Stroheim in 1928 as THE WEDDING MARCH. This DVD transfer comes from two surviving 16mm prints which feature the original color tints and the elaborately illustrated title cards. The quality of the transfer considering the source is excellent. I've never seen 16mm look this good before. The new musical accompaniment is taken from the original 1923 cue sheets. If you're a fan of Erich von Stroheim or silent films in general then you'll want to take a ride on this MERRY-GO-ROUND."