Norma Shearer, Tyrone Power, Robert Morley, John Freakin’ Barrymore. Dir: W.S. Van Dyke
Yes, that’s really John Barrymore’s middle name.
Allow me to explain the plot to you in as few words but with as many spoilers as possible. It’s about Marie Antoinette.
So now that I have given the whole movie away, I will continue writing, telling you why you should watch it.
Marie Antoinette is visually hypnotic. From the costumes to the sets, to the on-location-in-historic-French-places shooting, if no words were spoken and no story were advanced, you should still sit through all 157 (don’t be discouraged) minutes of it. The good news is, they do say words, and there is a story, which covers all relevant parts of Marie Antoinette’s life and (spoiler alert!) death.
Gentle reader, I tried to find some trivia that I did not already know about this film, but all I could find were fairly well-known things like it was Irving Thalberg’s last project – of which he only got as far as the planning stages before he died, that Shearer (and everyone else on the planet) considers it her best role, that William Randolph Hearst tried to get them to put Marion Davies in as the lead, that it was Robert Morley’s first movie, that both Shearer and Morley were nominated for Academy Awards for it, you know, the same old stuff. A note about Marion Davies- she was underrated as a comic actress to some degree because she was Hearst’s main squeeze, superseding his wife, of course, and people just wouldn’t take her seriously. Ah, but I did say “comic” right? Well this movie isn’t a comedy. It starts off fairly light but then moves into the category called “Gut-wrenching” at the end. I really don’t think Davies could have done it. And neither did anyone else but Hearst.
Norma Shearer is beautful in her gowns and wigs and they do not distract one from her acting which is truly a thing of wonder. She is caring, light-hearted, haughty, romantic, and heartbreaking in all the proper moments. She did not win that Oscar, however, some Jezebel took it home.
Robert Morley was a treat. I very much enjoyed his portrayal of a simple man with royalty and responsibility thrust upon him. A man with hobbies. A man with issues.
Now, with regard to Tyrone Power, I have to tell you that this is the role that I enjoyed him most in (with a close second in Lloyds of London). Maybe because it was the one he was best looking in? Could I be that shallow? Maybe. If I say he was a very talented actor and I couldn’t imagine anyone else in his part, does that give me more credibility? Doubtful, but I still believe that nobody else should have even been considered. Because he was that good (and that good looking).
And now we are back at one of my very simple and straight-forward Movie Rules: If John Barrymore is in a movie, watch it. It is a rare character for him. He plays King Louis XV (that’s 15 in dog years) who is so whipped by Madame DuBarry that, though he exerts his power, he does not exert many opinions that are his own. So you see you really have no choice, you wouldn’t want to break the rules would you??
I honestly don’t know what else I have to say to persuade you to watch this movie. It will make you laugh (a little), it will make you squeal with delight, it will make you angry, it will make you cry, but it won’t make you rich. And perhaps that is its only failing.