Cast & Crew
On 31 December 1899, the Marshovian ambassador to the United States receives word from his impoverished nation's king that Marshovian immigrant Charles Radek has died and left $80 million to his widow, Crystal. The ambassador quickly goes to New York to meet her and is surprised to find that she is young and attractive. After saying that Marshovia is erecting a statue in her late husband's honor, the ambassador convinces Crystal to travel there. Some time later, in Marshovia, the womanizing Count Danilo, who is the king's nephew, leads his troops to the train station to greet the widow Radek. Because Crystal's train is delayed, however, Danilo soon heads for a nearby café, and when Crystal and her secretary, Kitty Riley, finally do arrive, the station is deserted. While Kitty makes arrangements for a carriage, Crystal hears music and wanders toward the café, where Danilo is singing a passionate song to a gypsy girl. Crystal is tempted to approach the handsome count, but Kitty quickly returns and the women travel to the palace. The practical Kitty is unimpressed by Marshovia, but Crystal thinks the country is like something from a storybook. Later that night, after the king discovers that Danilo did not meet Crystal, he berates Danilo and insists that he do his duty and romance her so that she will supply Marshovia with money needed to prevent annexation by Austria. The reluctant Danilo does his duty by singing a romantic song beneath Crystal's window. Although Crystal's interest in Danilo is renewed, he cannot see her in the shadows and when he climbs to her balcony, he is frightened off by a curler-laden Kitty. The next day, the king writes down a list of things for Danilo to consider as part of a romantic day for the widow. Because the palace maids all have crushes on Danilo, they want to sabotage any marriage plans and so switch the card he has written to accompany a rose bouquet with the king's list. After the roses are delivered, Danilo goes to Crystal's quarters and greets Kitty, whom he assumes is Crystal. It is only after he leaves, that Kitty deduces his mistake and gives the roses to Crystal. She is thrilled until she reads the switched card and realizes that the Marshovians did not want to honor her late husband, but are only interested in her money. Despite her infatuation with Danilo, Crystal decides to leave Marshovia and travel to Paris. She and Kitty soon become bored with the sights, but Crystal is worried that if she begins to go out at night, fortune hunters will pursue her. As a ruse, she decides to change identities with Kitty, who is happy to pretend to be the widow Radek, while Crystal, as a lowly secretary, is now pursued for her beauty. One night, while the impoverished Marquis De Crillon is asking "Kitty" to intercede for him with the widow, Danilo checks into their hotel. Crystal immediately rushes upstairs to tell Kitty that she now wants to leave, but when she looks out her window and sees Danilo dressing to go out, her infatuation returns and she decides to follow him. Danilo's carriage stops at Maxim's, the notorious Parisian restaurant, and Crystal follows him in, even though she is told that only a certain kind of woman can enter unescorted. Inside, several women flutter around Danilo, but he is attracted to Crystal, who asks him to light her cigarette, then feigns disinterest and walks away. When Danilo follows her, she says that her name is "Fifi" and she has recently arrived from America. Danilo then invites her to one of the restaurant's private dining rooms. Although nervous to be alone with Danilo, Crystal tells him that she is an out-of-work chorus girl, and he says that he wishes he had money so that he could help her. They then dance a waltz and begin to fall in love. When Danilo says that he will love her forever, she runs out of the restaurant and into a carriage, leaving the perplexed Danilo behind. Back at her hotel, when Crystal is approached by the marquis, she tells him that "Mrs. Radek" has decided to marry Count Danilo. When the depressed Danilo returns to the hotel, Baron Popoff, the Marshovian ambassador to France, confronts him, saying that he must remember his duty. In the morning, a happy Crystal tells Kitty about the previous night and decides to shop for clothes that "Fifi" might wear. When she accidentally encounters Danilo in the hotel lobby, he is ecstatic, repeats his vow of love and says that he wants to take care of her. When Popoff approaches Danilo, interrupting their conversation, Crysal happily agrees to meet him later for lunch. Danilo and Popoff then go to Crystal's suite and, still assuming that Kitty is Crystal, Danilo proposes. A few minutes later, as Crystal returns to her suite, she secretly observes them and is stunned when Kitty reveals the proposal. Kitty tells her that she agreed to give Danilo her answer at a ball at the Marshovian embassy the next night. Although Kitty suggests that they leave Paris immediately, Crystal wants revenge. At the ball, Danilo nervously tells the newly arrived Marshovian ambassador to the United States that he is in love with another woman and cannot marry the widow, even when the ambassador reveals that the situation with Austria is now critical. A few moments later, when Danilo, Crystal, Kitty and the ambassador all meet face to face, Danilo finally discovers Crystal's true identity. Despite his anger over Crystal's deception, Danilo agrees to open the dancing with her and, while they share a romantic waltz, each remembers what they had said at Maxim's. When the music stops, their anger returns, and on the balcony, Danilo points out that it is Crystal, not himself, who places too much importance on money. She then angrily leaves Danilo, who is forced to tell Popoff and the ambassador that she turned him down. On the way out, she and Kitty encounter an elderly man who barks "heads will roll." Although they do not initially realize that the man is the king, when Crystal and Kitty see the royal portrait they begin to worry about Danilo and the others. Meanwhile, Popoff, the American ambassador, Danilo and his aide Nitki contemplate their fate when the king has a box containing a pistol and four bullets delivered to them. A few moments later, the king comes to them and happily reports that Crystal has given up her fortune in order to pay Marshovia's debt. Danilo rushes out so quickly that he does not hear the ambassador say that the debt was actually only a small fraction of her fortune. When Danilo finds Crystal, he says that because she has relinquished all of her money, he is no longer a fortune hunter. She does not correct his misimpression as the happy couple starts to waltz.
Roger Etienne Everaest
Carli D. Elinor
William B. Lee
A. Arnold Gillespie
Conrad A. Nervig
Paul Francis Webster
Edwin B. Willis
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
The Merry Widow (1952)
In a Directors Guild of America Oral History interview, director Curtis Bernhardt remarked that he "had in the lead an actress who couldn't sing, Miss Lana Turner," adding that he "went for the beauty of the period -- that's all I could do." His interviewer, Mary Kiersch, responded: "There are moments where the combination of the brilliant color and the music is absolutely overwhelming. I'm thinking especially of the entrance of all the women at Maxim's as they slide down the banister and the screen is filled with the billows of their multicolored petticoats." To be fair to Turner, whose one vocal selection is dubbed by Trudy Erwin, she did receive some favorable notices for her "poise, assurance and great beauty," as well as her authoritative use of the elaborate turn-of-the-century costumes.
Previous film incarnations of The Merry Widow include a 1912 silent two-reeler with Alma Rubens and Wallace Reid; a 1925 full-length silent film with Mae Murray and John Gilbert; and a highly celebrated 1934 version directed by Ernst Lubitsch with Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier. Bernhardt, a great admirer of Lubitsch, found the 1934 version, which was shot in black and white, a particularly daunting act to follow: "It had wit and charm and ideas. But you cannot copy Lubitsch, it's pointless." So Bernhardt, given the advantage of color and the lavish resources of MGM under the supervision of producer Joe Pasternak, "relied very much" on cinematographer Robert Surtees and the splendid sets to give his film distinction. "Part of the movie was shot on the MGM backlot, but all of it was shot at the studio," Bernhardt recalled. "That gives it such a fairy-tale quality."
The Merry Widow marked a particularly turbulent period in the life of the always-tempestuous Turner, who had attempted suicide by slashing her wrist with a razor a few days before filming began. She wrote in her autobiography that, to hide her wound, "all during the picture I wore long gloves or a very wide bracelet, or I carried a fur piece on my wrist." Turner and Lamas fell in love during the making of the film, and their onscreen chemistry was so palpable that MGM lined up another costarring vehicle for the duo. Before filming on that one began, however, the pair had a violent fight and went their separate ways - Turner into a marriage with Lex Barker and Lamas into one with Arlene Dahl, Barker's ex-wife! So MGM cast another Latin lover, Ricardo Montalban, opposite Turner in Latin Lovers (1953).
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Screenplay: Sonya Levien and William Ludwig, from the operetta by Victor Leon and Leo Stein
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Music: Franz Lehar, from the operetta
Costume Design: Helen Rose, Gile Steele
Editing: Conrad A. Nervig
Principal Cast: Lana Turner (Crystal Radek), Fernando Lamas (Count Danilo), Una Merkel (Kitty Riley), Richard Haydn (Baron Popoff), Thomas Gomez (King of Marshovia), Marcel Dalio (Police Sergeant), King Donovan (Nitki), Gwen Verdon (Specialty dancer).
C-106m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe
The Merry Widow (1952)
When Lana Turner's millionaire husband Bob Topping left her in 1951, she slashed her wrist and had to wear a bracelet during this shoot to cover the scar.
In the opening credits, Lana Turner is listed as "The Merry Widow," while in the end credits, her character name is given as "Crystal Radek." Cameo-like pictures of Turner and Fernando Lamas appear in the opening cast credits. A June 27, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Nicholas Brodszky and Sammy Cahn were to write a score for the film, but none of their songs were in the released film. According to a November 12, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, Busby Berkeley was to direct the "Girls, Girls, Girls!" number, but no other contemporary or modern source indicates that Berkeley worked on the film. News items and an early Hollywood Reporter production chart add comedian Jack Carter to the cast, but he was not in the released film. News items also include Monique Chantal in the cast, but her appearance has not been verified. In an oral history, director Andrew Marton stated that he worked as the second unit director on the film.
The Merry Widow received two Academy Award nominations, for Best Art Direction and Set Decoration (Color) and Best Costumes (Color). Although many of the songs and characters from the original operetta were retained for the film, some of the songs and much of the storyline was changed. Una Merkel, who portrayed "Kitty Riley" in the film, appeared in the 1934 adaptation of the operetta as "Queen Dolores," a role not in the 1952 film. For other adaptations of the operetta, please consult the entry for the 1934 The Merry Widow (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40).