Last night I got to see the great 1938 version of Marie Antoinette. This is a truly sumptuous film – Norma Shearer flounces across the screen in more gorgeous gowns than you can count. I started doing a few screenshots and ended up with a ton of them. Feast your eyes!
They promoted her as Madame Devil-May-Care in the trailer, but this version of Marie Antoinette is almost saintly, initially in her wide-eyed innocence and her sincere desire to please her painfully shy and simple hubby, Prince Louis. Later, she becomes the doting and protective mother. There is a tiny bit of naughtiness somewhere in the middle there, the kind of stuff that any modern teenager might try in the course of finding herself. As for her indifference to the plight of the common folk, MGM decided to sidestep this particular aspect of her personality.
But this is not the History channel. This is an elaborate costume melodrama, a gem of the genre.
Anita Louise, who was Marie Antoinette four years earlier in the film Madame duBarry, plays the role of the Princesse de Lamballe. Here she gets scolded for daydreaming on Marie’s wedding day.
The Princesse eventually becomes Marie’s only friend in the backbiting court of Louis XV.
You’d think some of these fatheads would want to kiss up to the future King and Queen of France. That’s politics for you.
Gladys George plays Marie’s foe, Mme. du Barry, wife of King Louis. Her most memorable line: “I was never a laundress! I was a milliner!”
In the 17th century, ostrich plumes were used extensively for dusting hard to reach ceiling fixtures in Versailles.
In these kinds of movies it gets harder and harder to top your last ensemble. Here our heroine wears a birdcage with a singing mechanical bird inside.
Marie goes wild. She’s wild!
At the peak of her glittery period, she meets Count Axel (Tyrone Powers). Count Axel is the love interest, since Prince Louis is such a pathetic character.
Alas, Count Axel is from Sweden and he is not amused by all this opulence and glitter.
Count Axel spurns her, and she loses her fabulous necklace in a parlor game, but Marie keeps her powder dry.
She dreads another meeting with Madame duBarry, but she should really watch out for the fop on her left.
Joseph Schildkraut plays the conniving Duke Phillipe d’Orleans, who has designs on the throne and plenty of mascara.
After a scene with Madame duBarry, King Louis wants to annul Marie’s marriage, expelling her from the royal family. When the chips are down, you find out who your real friends are, and Duke Phillipe assures Marie that he is not one of them.
Count Axel, however, approves of Marie’s misery and proclaims his love for her.
Luckily, Louis XV kicks the bucket before he annuls his son’s marriage. Prince Louis ascends, and Marie becomes Queen of France. Luckily, there are some very glamorous mourning dresses available.
Count Axel cannot deal with Marie’s turn of fortune. He loves her more than life itself, but he leaves for America anyway. Swedes are funny that way. Marie becomes a virtuous wife and loving mother, but she is accused of stealing a diamond necklace worth more than everything else on earth. French peasants are starving, and somehow the Queen is to blame for their crop failure.
Like rats deserting a sinking ship, the court of Versailles drift off in their separate directions …
Princesse de Lamballe refuses to desert her Queen. In time, no one can leave the palace. The people are revolting! (so to speak)
The general malaise and misery attracts Count Axel again. He works out a brilliant plan to rescue Marie and her family from Versailles, which she screws up royally by forgetting where she left her clothes and running around in her petticoat like a chicken with … well, that comes later.
The problem with having ten thousand gowns is you can never find the one you want.
The French revolutionaries are not portrayed in an especially sensitive manner here. They’re out for blood, and they know there’s some inside these fancy nobles. Princess L tries to impersonate the mother of these innocent tykes but her cover is blown.
I think you know the rest of the story. When they coined the phrase “heads will roll,” they were thinking about the French revolution.
In summary, you got to see this. A bunch of screenshots and my droll commentary does not do justice to this fabulous film. So get the dvd and revel in it.