Her eyes shine as brightly as the diamonds at her slender throat or as the countless candles that turn the Palace of Versailles into a light-drenched fantasy world. She is Marie Antoinette, Queen of France: beautiful, impe... more »rious, headstrong...and doomed. With an opulence exemplifying Hollywood's Golden Era at its most glamorous, the grandeur and revolutionary fervor of 18th-century France sweeps across the screen in this nominee for 4 Academy Awards?.* Elegant Best Actress Oscar? nominee Norma Shearer stars in the decades-spanning title role, Tyrone Power plays her ardent beloved, John Barrymore is crafty Louis XV and debuting Robert Morley portrays timid Louis XVI. From ballroom to boudoir to guillotine, Marie Antoinette is regal romantic adventure. DVD Features:
Other:1938 MGM Shorts: Another Romance of Celluloid Hollywood Goes to Town Vintage Short Another Romance of Celluloid Goes Behind the Scenes on This and Other Studio Productions That Year
I was pleasantly surprised at how good this film was since most of the historical depictions from this era are far from accurate, or even have a bit of corn to them.
Although there were chronological discrepancies, the situations were portrayed accurately
Norma Shearer convincingly plays all aspects of Marie Antoinette's character, from the young eager-to-please Austrian princess, to the rather shallow early years of being queen of France, to the older considerate wife of the king and mother to her children, and her country.
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Top Ten Reasons why "Marie Antoinette" is quite possibly the
The main scriptwriter on this movie is F. Scott Fitzgerald of "Great Gatsby" fame. The love scenes are extremely elaborate and exquisitely structured. They also introduce a few innovations that have since become clichés and the hallmark of "women's pictures" everywhere.
9. The actors
John Barrymore is unforgettable as the supremely elegant and regally cranky Louis XV. Robert Morley gives one of his best interpretations. Joseph Schildkraut plays the best two-faced villain of his entire body of work. As for Tyrone Power... remember the anecdote about the reporter asking romance-writer Barbara Cartland (Lady Di's stepmother) how she could possibly have written so many romance novels before she was even married and while she was still a virgin? Her answer was: 'Oh! We didn't have sex in those days. We had Tyrone Power.'
8. The director
W.S. Van Dyke was an expert at handling and keeping track of large crowds, a myriad details, heavy production calendars, big budgets, big stars, tyrannical producers and acts of God. His directing style was a compromise between time-efficiency and giving the stars leeway as long as they respected the general style of the piece. This 'honour system' seems to have encouraged the actors to do their homework and present a credible, coherent performance every time. Both W.S. Van Dyke and Shearer were fulfilling a legacy to Irving Thalberg and it shows.
7. The sets and costumes (artistic direction)
What can you say about a period film that tackled the challenge of recreating Versailles in the XVIIIth century on the MGM backlot? The production values are staggering. The Gallery of Mirrors is actually longer, higher and wider than the original. The costumes tread a fine line between historical accuracy (covered shoulders and revealed cleavage) and the requirements of the movie code (exposed shoulders were tolerated but bosoms had to be covered) but still manage to convey the era and the fairy-tale quality of Marie's court. The costumes were also specially constructed to shine, glitter and shimmer on black and white film.
6. The story (historical accuracy)
The film's script is based (in part) on Stefan Zweig's groundbreaking biography of the Queen, "Marie Antoinette, Portrait of an Ordinary Woman", which tried to create the first accurate, adult, factual but Freudian-inspired narrative of the Queen's life by using documents and correspondence that had long been overlooked or suppressed. The book was the first to reveal Louis XVI's mechanical sexual problems, which prevented his consummating the marriage during its first seven years (until a slight surgical intervention) and explained in turn the Queen's extravagant spendthrift personality, in Freudian terms, as extreme sexual frustration. This story actually makes it to the screen in a large degree. Compare this to recent bios like "A Beautiful Mind", whose scriptwriters conveniently 'forget' essential but non-mainstream plot elements like the fact that John Nash's paranoia may have been caused or amplified by the McCarthy era persecution of homosexuals. Some historical events have been telescoped into one another in order to accommodate the general American public's limited understanding of French history and the Orléans character was used to maintain tension by representing the turncoat part of the nobility which exploited MA for their own various agendas.
5. The music
Herbert Stothart may not be a household word but he did win an Oscar for his original score to "The Wizard of Oz", based, of course in part on Harold Arlen's melodies. Besides giving Miss Gulch/the Wicked Witch her immortal theme, he is also one half of the composing team that produced the operetta 'Rose Marie'. Stothart shines in two respects: the approximate recreation of XVIIIth century dance music in the court scenes, emphasizing the bored grandeur of the proceedings, and the psychological music that accompanies everything from exciting chase scenes to the love scenes between Shearer and Tyrone. Note especially the use of the harpsichord in a rupture scene between Orléans and MA and the use of the viola d'amour in the garden love scene.
4. The cinematography
MA is in 'glorious black and white', but especially in the escape to Varennes sequence which has the most credible - and suspenseful - 'day for night' sequence ever filmed. And what of the marriage scene which must have inspired Queen Elizabeth II's coronation? The matte paintings? The overwhelming use of cranes to move in on particular characters in a crowd scene? The chiaroscuro of the last meeting with Fersen?
3. Details and scope
Every scene has something special added to it in characterization, movement, rhythm, lighting, art direction, choreography (and not just in the dance scenes). The costumes could have starred in a picture by themselves.
2. The lost art of story-telling
This film was planned with intelligence and skill and was built around the principle stated by Selznick when filming GWTW: 'The secret of adapting a book to the screen is to give the impression that you are adapting a book to the screen.' Which means that many literary devices are used to give the story many interesting arcs and recurring themes. The story is well balanced in terms of spectacular action, recreation of important historical events (giving the impression of the passage of time) and intimate scenes. It is truly 'the intimate epic' that Mankiewicz's 'Cleopatra' was supposed to be. Needless to say I am dreading Sofia Coppola's upcoming infantilized version ...
1. Norma Shearer
Norma Shearer is an unjustly forgotten star of the first magnitude. MA is a permanent testament to her uncanny abilities. In this film she portrays the main character from the age of sixteen to her death as a prematurely aged and debilitated woman of 38, all with perfect verisimilitude, thanks to her magnificent vocal instrument and stage presence. As a fairy-queen, she makes Cate Blanchett as Galadriel (in LOTR) look like Carol Burnett's charwoman. Her virtuosity as the fated widowed Queen is all the more poignant when one realizes that at the time she was Thalberg's widow in her last husband-approved venture and that the Hollywood suits were rapidly closing in on her."
NORMA SHEARER WAS ROBBED OF THE OSCAR!
a viewer | antioch, tn United States | 07/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is a masterpiece in every way. Stunning in all aspects, especially the constumes and makeup.
Norma Shearer in a tour-de-force performance surpasses anything she did before or since. If anyone deserved the Oscar for 1938, she most certainly did. Instead, it went to Bette Davis, who deserved the nomination for Jezebel, but compared to Shearer's portrayal its like comparing a Baloney Sandwich (Davis) to Filet Mignon (Shearer). But, then, in Hollywood, I suppose there were a lot of people who liked baloney. Nevertheless, her Oscar loss notwithstanding, it is Shearer who makes this film and knowing the tragic outcome makes one sit on the edge of their seat all the more, especially the last hour of the film. The film is long but it seems to fly by in half an hour and the production values are MGM at its finest. Do not miss this one.....you will see why Norma Shearer deserved the Oscar of 1938."
LET THEM EAT CAKE...
Lawyeraau | Balmoral Castle | 04/01/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1938 production of the life of Marie Antoinette is lavish and sumptuous with exquisite costumes. Norma Shearer is luminous in the role of Marie Antoinette, while Robert Morley, in his acting debut, is perfectly cast as the hapless and ineffectual Louis XVI. While not historically accurate and a bit of license is taken in detailing the life of Marie Antoinette, it is, nonetheless, an immensely entertaining, opulent and lush, historical drama. It shows how a naive Austrian princess came to power as the Queen of France. It details her hopes and dreams and shows how reality made them come crashing down upon her.
When Marie Antoinette's mother, Austrian Empress Marie Theresa, arranges a marriage with the Dauphin of France, Marie Antoinette is elated. When she arrives in France and meets her betrothed, the unprepossessing Dauphin, Louis XVI, she is disappointed. Still, she tries to make the best of it, only to discover that her husband is unable or unwilling to consummate their marriage. Gulled by her husband's nefarious cousin, Duke Phillipe d'Orleans (John Shildkraut), she becomes a regular party girl, going to glittering balls and behaving in a way unseemly for a future Queen of France. Spending lavishly, she gives no thought to money, antagonizing her future subjects. It is during one of her sojourns that she meets the Count Axel De Fersen (Tyrone Power), the love of her life.
Shortly after, she angers King Louis XV (John Barrymore) by publicly insulting his paramour, the infamous Madame DuBarry (Alice George), and he threatens to have her marriage to the Dauphin annulled. The Dauphin, however, makes it clear to the King, his grandfather, just how much Marie Antoinette means to him, and there is no further talk of annulment. Shortly thereafter, the King dies of smallpox, and Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette become the King and Queen of France.
With the new King's sexual dysfunction apparently cured, the royal couple begin having children, first a daughter and then a son. Their cousin and now enemy, the Duke d'Orleans, a political intriguer of the first order, is busy stirring up the rabble into a mob frenzy, as an economic downturn leaves France vulnerable to political unrest. As the unrest grows into revolution, the Queen's past as a profligate party girl, as well as a scandal over a fraudulently purloined diamond necklace, come back to haunt her, and she finds herself reviled by her subjects. The King, too, comes under the scrutiny of the mob and found wanting by his no longer loyal subjects. Once France is in the throes of revolution all is lost, and the royal family finds themselves under house arrest. Still, a daring escape is attempted, only to end tragically. The rest is history.
Norma Shearer makes an exquisite Marie Antoinette and portrays her sympathetically. Robert Morley makes a remarkable acting debut as Louis XVI, the King who would rather have been a locksmith. Joseph Shildkraut is divine as the unctiously sinister Duke d'Orleans, and John Barrymore is excellent as Louis XV, the King who is clearly exasperated with his grandson, the Dauphin. Alice George gives a crisp performance as the miffed Madame DuBarry. Last, but certainly not least, the gloriously handsome Tyrone Power gives a tender performance as the faithful and loving Count Axel De Fersen. Of all the roles, his, along with that of the Duke d'Orleans, are the roles that deviate the most historically. While the film does take some license, it is not so inaccurate, however, as to have reinvented history. The viewer should remember that this is not a documentary but, rather, a bit of entertainment based upon historical characters and actual events. Keeping this in mind, the viewer will, no doubt, enjoy this movie."
THE TRAGIC QUEEN OF FRANCE
scotsladdie | 07/31/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Hollywood no longer turns out such lush, opulent productions such as MARIE ANTOINETTE. The high level of quality of this long (160 minute) historical pageant is astonishing (it's extreme length is probably why it's rather underrated and rarely shown on televison.) It cost MGM nearly 2 million dollars to film this in 1938 and every cent shows in the magnificent ballrooms, royal chambers,courtrooms and palace halls as well as speaking roles for 152 actors plus thousands of "extras". The property department built an incredible 98 sets including a replica of the Grand Ballroom at Versailles - which was several feet longer than the original. Adrian designed 1250 splendiferous gowns and the make-up department sewed genuine human hair into 5,000 wigs! In the title role, Norma Shearer at 38, gave what many to believe her finest performance; her portrayal of Marie, based on the biography by Stefan Zweig, is the perhaps the most sympathetic one since that lovely lady was be-headed over 200 years ago! John Barrymore was personally declining but he still was a powerful actor with presence; he's the dying old Louis XV. Robert Morley is effective as the ineffectual, dim-witted Louis XVI and Joseph Schildkraut is hammy though good as the duplicitous Duke of Orleans. Perhaps Gladys George's interpretation of DuBarry is somewhat lacking - but she's appropriately sharp-tongued! Nominations for the film included: Cedric Gibbons,(art direction), Robert Morley for Best Supporting Actor and Shearer (She lost the Best Actress AA to Bette Davis for her near-legendary Julie Marsden in JEZEBEL."
Stunning MGM masterpiece
Simon Davis | 10/18/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The 1938 film version of "Marie Antoinette" starring Norman Shearer and Tyrone Power is a film I feel that is not appreciated enough by modern audiences. Critics have tended to pass it off as opulent hokum which has not passed the test of time. In my humble opinion however it is a masterpiece and one of my absolute favourite films of all time. It is a stunning example of MGM expertise and atention to detail in every department of filmmaking.Norma Shearer, an MGM movie queen of the 1930's is not really well remembered nowadays but here she gives what I believe is her finest performance. It certainly was her own personal favourite of all her work and was the only film she actually kept a personal copy of in later life. Despite being really too old for the role by 1938 (the film had actually been in
preproduction by her husband, the boy genius Irving Thalberg, since the early 30's and had been slated for Shearer as a starring vechicle since at least 1933) Norma carries off the role of the last tragic Queen of France to perfection. She is in particular excellent in the last half of the story as France starts to move into revolution and Marie Antoinette finds herself toppled from the throne to become a prisoner. She displays the right elements of childish playfullness in the youthful sequences, and progresses beautifully into the more mature tragic years of the character. The final sequences of Marie Antoinette where she is in prison and is finally carted off in a rough old wagon to her execution on the guillotine are very stirring and contain some of the finest work by Norma Shearer on film. It was a brave move by an actress who was normally the epitome of MGM glamour and elegance to allow herself to appear, for the sake of historical accuracy , so dishevelled and haggard looking and she looks amazingly like the images either sketched or painted that we have of Marie Antoinette at the end of her life. Being a real student of Marie Antoinette I can't help but admire everything about Norman Shearer's performance. Certainly the film delivers a largely sympathetic portrayal of Marie Antoinette's character as a young woman thrown into a hopelessly outdated and back biting court circle but I feel, from my reading on this topic that it honestly portrays the issues of the time and the complicated situation that Louis 16th and Marie Antoinette found themselves in. Personally I am amazed that she didn't win the 1938 best Actress Oscar for this wonderful performance."Marie Antoinette" also is blessed with a supporting cast that only MGM could have assembled for one production in its prime. Tyrone Power portrays Marie Antoinette's supposed Lover Count Axel Fersen and he works beautifully with Shearer in their scenes together. Of course in this instance despite being a hugely popular star in his own right, he is outclassed by Shearer's performance and the splashy production so much so that Darryl Zanuck after this film refused to ever loan him out to another studio. Robert Morley makes a stunning film debut as Louis 16th and is amazingly accurate in his appearance and performance as the husband of Marie Antoinette. John Barrymore, already in decline also has the small but important role of Louis 15th and his own world weariness is just perfect for the role of the declining old king. Other standouts in the cast are the superb Joseph Schildkraut who delivers some of his best work in the role of the conniving and traitorous Duke d' Orleans. Gladys George also is wonderfully memorable in the role of Madame Du Barry, Louis 15th's mistress. Her scenes with Norma Shearer create a real electricity and despite their confrontation at the grand ball being fictitious, her delivery makes for superb entertainment and gives a good idea of the type of back biting and flattery that went on at the French court.
Obviously when dealing with such a sweeping story as the life of the last Queen of France a great deal of detail goes into preparing such a production. The production planning schedule for "Marie Antoinette" is staggering in its intricacy, attention to detail, in its research and preparation in everything from sets, costumes, furniture, historical detail and budgeting. Cedric Gibbons, MGM's famed art director, who designed most of the wonderful sets for countless MGM productions over several decades outdid himself on "Marie Antoinette" designing a staggering 98 magnificent interiors which recreated , if not accurately at least in character,the interiors of the Palace of Versailles and other assorted locations involved in the story. Edwin B. Willis head of the MGM prop department spent 3 months in France accumulating a huge collection of valuable antique french furniture,tapestries, statues and jewellery to use in the production. A great deal of this would be reused again and again in later productions such as "Ninotchka" and "Blossoms In The Dust". Max Factor designed 900 wigs for the principal actors alone and Norma Shearer herself had the services of MGM hair stylist Sydney Guilaroff to design her elaborate head dresses so typical of Marie Antoinette's period. The legendary Adrian was employed to work his special magic in the designing of Norma's breathtakingly magnificent gowns , some of which were based on paintings by Marie Antoinette's favourite court painter Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun. They are sensational in their opulence and detail and one can hardly imagine the real Marie Antoinette enjoying such clothes! The wedding gown used in the film alone was made with over 500 yards of white satin especially obtained from Lyon in France."Marie Antoinette" is an amazing viewing experience and really illustrates film making as it was in the golden years of Hollywood's heyday. I feel that only MGM could have really done justice to this massive story and have produced here a masterpiece that could never be reproduced today . As a testimony to a bygone era I strongly recommend "Marie Antoinette" to you. The VHS print is beautiful and despite being in black and white the look and feel of this production is unsurpassed."