MARIE ANTOINETTE (1938) B/W 160m dir: W.S. Van Dyke II
w/Norma Shearer, Tyrone Power, John Barrymore, Gladys George, Robert Morley, Anita Louise, Joseph Schildkraut, Henry Stephenson, Reginald Gardiner, Peter Bull
This lavish and well-acted spectacle about the woman who said "Let them eat cake" is visually resplendent.
From The Movie Guide: "Although it has its admirers, this lengthy but consistently gripping film remains an underrated biopic done in the grand Hollywood manner. It's also an eerily apt showcase for Norma Shearer, and along with PRIVATE LIVES, SMILIN' THROUGH and THE WOMEN, stands as one of the best things she ever did. Shearer, long MGM's queen, was on the verge of a decline, like Marie's, linked to her husband's death. True, Marie Antoinette was executed and Shearer lost interest in her career and retired a wealthy woman, but the parallels between the lives of the two women permeate the film. Planned as early as 1933 by Shearer's husband, 'boy genius' Irving Thalberg, but halted in 1936 when he died, it's amazing just how well the project turned out. ...
"After Thalberg's death, MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer tried to make a flat settlement with his estate. Shearer, however, held the studio to an agreement giving Thalberg's estate a percentage of all profits MGM had made since its 1924 consolidation. The handling of MARIE ANTOINETTE ended up being not only an attempt to control costs on one of the studio's priciest pictures ever, but also perhaps a subtle revenge on the victorious Shearer. Mayer replaced original director Sidney Franklin with Woody Van Dyke [nicknamed "One-Take Woody"], a no-nonsense helmsman who didn't cotton to La Norma's requests for more takes.
"Gibbons's magnificent sets, crammed with authentic French antiques, outdid Versailles, and costumers Adrian and [Gile] Steele used 500 yards of silk on one of Shearer's gowns alone. [William] Daniels's camerawork is exceptional, and Van Dyke makes this long film move like a short one. The flash of Barrymore and Schildkraut (with a great makeup job) steals many scenes, but top supporting honors go to the gifted Morley, who somehow lost an Oscar to Walter Brennan in KENTUCKY. Above all, though, the film showcases the regal qualities fans loved in La Norma. While some scenes show her fluttering or hamming it up a bit much, there's a lot of excellent stuff here, especially as Marie awaits death. The overall result is ornate and satisfying, typical of MGM at its production zenith."
The film was nominated for the following Oscars: Best Actress (Shearer), Supporting Actor (Morley), Score (Herbert Stothart), and Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons).