- Marie Antoinette (1938 film)
Directed by W. S. Van Dyke Produced by Hunt Stromberg Written by Donald Ogden Stewart
Stefan Zweig (biography)
F. Scott Fitzgerald (uncredited)
Talbot Jennings (uncredited dialogue)
Starring Norma Shearer
Music by Herbert Stothart Cinematography William H. Daniels Editing by Robert Kern Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Release date(s) July 8, 1938 Running time 149 minutes Country United States Language English
Marie Antoinette is a 1938 film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was directed by W. S. Van Dyke and starred Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette, Tyrone Power, John Barrymore, Robert Morley, Anita Louise, Joseph Schildkraut, Gladys George, and Henry Stephenson. Based upon the 1933 biography of the ill-fated Queen of France by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, it had its Los Angeles premiere at the legendary Carthay Circle Theatre, where the landscaping was specially decorated for the event.
The film was the last project of Irving Thalberg who died in 1936 while it was in the planning stage. His widow Norma Shearer remained committed to the project even while her enthusiasm for her film career in general was waning following his death.
With a budget close to two million dollars, it was one of the most expensive films of the 1930s, but also one of the biggest successes. Apart from the opulent Hollywood sets, it featured scenes filmed on location at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris; this was reported to have been the first time a film crew was allowed to film in the grounds of the palace.
In Vienna, 15-year-old Marie-Antoinette was informed by her mother that she is to marry the future king of France. The young princess has to learn to navigate the treacherous environment of the court at Versailles. As queen, she is transformed into a charitable but somewhat out-of-touch humanitarian. The final part of the movie follows Zweig's theory that Marie Antoinette "achieved greatness" in the final years of her life, with an emotional scene showing the final supper of the royal family before King Louis's execution, the separation of the queen from her young son and the savage murder of her closest friend. The final scene shows Marie Antoinette going to the guillotine, where the audience hears the voice of the sweet-natured young princess who was so excited to be going to France. Shearer refused any complimentary make-up for this scene, and chose to look as haggard and exhausted as the real queen in her final moments.
- Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette
- Tyrone Power as Count Axel von Fersen
- John Barrymore as King Louis XV
- Robert Morley as King Louis XVI
- Anita Louise as Princesse de Lamballe
- Joseph Schildkraut as Duc de Orleans
- Gladys George as Madame du Barry
- Henry Stephenson as Count Mercey
- Cora Witherspoon as Countess De Noailles
- Barnett Parker as Prince de Rohan
- Reginald Gardiner as Comte d'Artois
- Henry Daniell as La Motte
- Joseph Calleia as Drouet
- George Meeker as Robespierre
- Scotty Beckett as The Dauphin
- Ruth Hussey as Duchess de Polignac
- Barry Fitzgerald as a peddler
William Randolph Hearst originally planned this film as a vehicle for Marion Davies as early as 1933. However, a clash with Louis B. Mayer after the failure of her film Operator 13 led to the couple switching to neighboring Warner Brothers.
Norma Shearer was the wife of MGM studio head Irving Thalberg when this project was greenlighted sometime before his death in 1936. This was reportedly Shearer's favorite role.
Originally to be directed by Sidney Franklin, the job was given to W.S. Van Dyke. Irving Thalberg originally planned for Charles Laughton to play the role of Louis XVI, but Laughton, after lengthy deliberations, finally declined.
Costumes and set designs
The movie had thousands of costumes and lavish set designs. Gilbert Adrian visited France and Austria in 1937 researching the period. He stated that the 18th century was the most opulent in history and the costumes would reflect this. He studied the paintings of Marie Antoinette, even using a microscope on them so that the embroidery and fabric could be identical. Fabrics were specially woven and embroidered with stitches sometimes too fine to be seen with the naked eye. The attention to detail was extreme, from the framework to hair. Some gowns became extremely heavy due to the amount of embroidery, flounces and precious stones used. Some gowns still survive, such as the rocket dress, now privately owned, which features star bursts done in sequins. Ms. Shearer's gowns alone had the combined weight of over 1,768 pounds, the heaviest being the wedding dress. Originally slated to be shot in color, many of the gowns were specially dyed. The fur trim on one of Ms. Shearer's capes was therefore sent out to be dyed the exact shade of her eyes..Some of the costumes used in the film were auctioned from the Debbie Reynolds collection on June 18, 2011 at profiles in history auctioneers.
The ballroom at Versailles was built to be twice as large as the original. The budget was a then-enormous 2.9 million dollars, and plans to render it in color were scrapped because of concerns it would cost even more to add Technicolor. One set of Ms. Shearer's dress and wigs was later worn by Jean Hagen during Singin' in the Rain, in the scene when she complains about how heavy they were.
Sofia Coppola released her 2006 film version of the life of the queen at Versailles, causing Warner Brothers to release its 1938 vault version of Marie Antoinette on DVD. Extras are sparse, with only two vintage shorts included on the disc. "Hollywood Goes to Town" provides a glimpse of the elaborate premiere for the movie, while a trailer is also included.
Academy Award nominations
- Best Actress - Norma Shearer (lost to Bette Davis in Jezebel)
- Best Supporting Actor - Robert Morley
- Best Art Direction - Cedric Gibbons
- Best Music, Original Score - Herbert Stothart
- Marie Antoinette at the Internet Movie Database
- Marie Antoinette at the TCM Movie Database
- Marie Antoinette at AllRovi
Films directed by W. S. Van Dyke 1910sThe Hawk's Trail (1919) 1920s 1930sTrader Horn (1931) · Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) · Penthouse (1933) · Eskimo (1933) · Manhattan Melodrama (1934) · The Thin Man (1934) · Hide-Out (1934) · Forsaking All Others (1934) · I Live My Life (1935) · Rose Marie (1936) · San Francisco (1936) · The Devil is a Sissy (1936) · Love on the Run (1936) · After the Thin Man (1936) · They Gave Him a Gun (1937) · Personal Property (1937) · Marie Antoinette (1938) · Sweethearts (1938) · Stand Up and Fight (1939) · It's a Wonderful World (1939) · Another Thin Man (1939) 1940s
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