Her eyes shine as brightly as the diamonds at her slender throat or as the countless candles that turn the Palace of Versailles into a light-drenched fantasy world. She is Marie Antoinette, Queen of France: beautiful, imperious, headstrong...and doomed. With an opulence exemplifying Hollywood's Golden Era at its most glamorous, the grandeur and revolutionary fervor of 18th-century France sweeps across the screen in this nominee for 4 Academy Awards?.* Elegant Best Actress Oscar? nominee Norma Shearer stars in the decades-spanning title role, Tyrone Power plays her ardent beloved, John Barrymore is crafty Louis XV and debuting Robert Morley portrays timid Louis XVI. From ballroom to boudoir to guillotine, Marie Antoinette is regal romantic adventure.
Other:1938 MGM Shorts: Another Romance of Celluloid Hollywood Goes to Town Vintage Short Another Romance of Celluloid Goes Behind the Scenes on This and Other Studio Productions That Year
The lavish, overstuffed house style of MGM in the 1930s gets a fluffy showcase in Marie Antoinette, a preposterous epic about the pampered Queen. One of MGM's longtime queens, Norma Shearer (who had been married to head of production/wonder boy Irving Thalberg until his death in 1936), plays the young Austrian girl imported to marry the man who would become Louis XVI of France. The film covers Marie's girly youth at court, through an affair with suave Tyrone Power (then in his early, dewy prime) and finally to the dark days of the Revolution. Like Sofia Coppola's 2006 version of the Queen's life, this film emphasizes glitz, and leaves the Royals mostly innocent of blame for what happens to the starving peasants. Unlike the Coppola picture, this one takes Marie and diffident husband Louis (Robert Morley, his film debut) through their imprisonment and all the way to the guillotine. The parade of enormous sets and opulent gowns contributes to the general sense of stodginess, even if one might pause to note the rather continental attitude toward Marie's extramarital needs. John Barrymore plays the declining Louis XV, but it's the childlike Morley that steals the show. Shearer's glamorous star turn might leave some viewers puzzled as to her appeal, although the very ordinariness of her personality actually works in concert with Marie's out-of-her-depth character. The project had been a pet of Thalberg's, and MGM went ahead with the film after his death, but it marked the end of Shearer's period of major stardom. The opposite of this film's highbrow literary approach can be found in Josef von Sternberg's The Scarlet Empress, with Marlene Dietrich, a delirious and cinematic treatment of a Queen abroad. (This DVD includes overture and entr'acte music.) --Robert Horton