(director/writer: Erich von Stroheim; screenwriters: Benjamin Glazer/Marion Ainslee/adapted from Franz Lehar’s operetta/based on the Operetta Der Lustige Witwe by Victor Leon, Leo Stein and Franz Lehar; cinematographer: Oliver T. Marsh; editor: Frank E. Hull; music: William Axt/David Mendoza; cast: Mae Murray (Sally O’Hara), John Gilbert (Prince Danilo Petrovich), Roy D’Arcy (Crown Prince Mirko), Tully Marshall (Baron Sixtus Sadoja), George Fawcett (King Nikita I), Josephine Crowell (Queen Milena), Hughie Mack (Innkeeper); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Irving Thalberg/Erich von Stroheim; Warner Bros. Archive; 1925-silent)
Though seemingly a typical Hollywood escapist film it still evokes something more poetical.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

MGM made this lavish silent adaptation of Franz Lehar’s famous 1905 operetta with no songs and most of the original story jettisoned, and with the studio forcing the artistic demanding temperamental director to have fading silent star Mae Murray in the leading role against his wishes (critics think this is her best performance). The flamboyant filmmaker Erich von Stroheim(“Greed”/”Foolish Wives”/”Kelly’s Queen”) directs his most conventional and least obsessive film, and it’s also his biggest commercial hit. Von Stroheim, Benjamin Glazer and Marion Ainslee write the screenplay. It was remade in 1934 by Ernst Lubitsch as a musical and again in 1952, a forgettable version that was plain awful.

Perky Manhattan Follies dancer, Sally O’Hara (Mae Murray), while on tour is forced to stopover at night at the mythical Kingdom of Monteblanco and the American showgirl attracts the attention of both the scheming monocle wearing crown prince, Mirko (Roy D’Arcy), and the womanizing prince, Danilo (John Gilbert). The dancer favors smoothy Danilo. They get caught during a dinner date in a compromising position by Mirko, and thereby Danilo asks for her hand in marriage thinking he really loves her. But the king, Nikita I ( George Fawcett), and the queen, Milena (Josephine Crowell), forbid the marriage of a noble to a showgirl commoner, and Sally feels dissed when her Man jilts her. On the rebound Sally marries the foot fetish creepy elderly Baron Sadoja (Tully Marshall), the richest man in town and the power behind the throne. On his wedding night, the Baron becomes too excited in bed and conveniently dies. Sally flees to Paris and becomes billed on the circuit as “The Merry Widow.” Both Mirko and Danilo follow her to Paris and try to woo her. Still hurt by Danilo’s rejection, Sally agrees to marry Mirko. Danilo then challenges his rival to a duel, and while wounded Danilo discovers Sally still loves him. Events take place whereby Danilo is crowned king and Sally becomes his queen.

The romantic film, on decadence among royalty, is a high-end production and loaded down with close-ups of ankles, and though seemingly a typical Hollywood escapist film it still evokes something more poetical. Von Stroheim, always the demanding artist who is fighting those above him holding the money bags, does his part to make Hollywood more enlivened by culture.

John Gilbert and Mae Murray in The Merry Widow (1925)