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Film / The Merry Widow (1934)

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Maurice Chevalier, popular with the ladies.

The Merry Widow is a 1934 musical comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. MacDonald is Sonia, the eponymous widow, who inherited her husband's vast fortune. Her husband was by far the richest man in the tiny principality of Marshovia, and Sonia now pays 52% of the country's taxes. Having completed her period of mourning, Sonia leaves for Paris. This presents a grave threat to Marshovia, which would go bankrupt if Sonia and Sonia's money leave the country. The desperate king sends Captain Danilo, a handsome and charming army officer (Chevalier) to go to Paris, romance Sonia, and get her and her money to move back to Marshovia. Romantic and comic hijinks ensue.

The Merry Widow is loosely based on a 1905 opera by Franz Lehár. This film, like the 1925 version that proceeded it, retains little of the opera's plot other than some of the names and the general idea of a rich widow and her money leaving a dinky little country. This was the fourth and last pairing of MacDonald and Chevalier.


  • The Casanova: Captain Danilo is rejected by Sonia, in the early going when she's still wearing a widow's veil, but he seems to have had sex with every other woman in Europe. All of Sonia's servants know his street address. In Maxim's, the fancy Paris nightclub, all the women literally flock to him like sheep. In fact, Danilo is quite rattled when "Fifi" (actually Sonia) resists his advances.
  • Dances and Balls: The Marshovian embassy in Paris holds a grand ball. This is where Danilo discovers that Sonia, the rich widow he's supposed to pursue, is "Fifi", the girl at the nightclub.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: "Danilo on trial, widow withdrawing money, king denies heart attack."
  • Footsie Under the Table: Not shown onscreen, but apparently Capt. Danilo is playing it with Sonia in the nightclub.
    Sonia: Now you're acting like a gentleman...[Beat]...Please give me back my shoe.

  • Head-Turning Beauty: A male example with Capt. Danilo. All the peasant women attending his court-martial gasp with admiration when he's led into the courtroom.
  • High-Class Glass: Hilariously, the Marshovian ambassador in Paris has one, but only puts it on when he wants to be formal and intimidating. Like when he says "I am the Marshovian ambassador!" to a bellboy who thinks that he's a jealous husband after Capt. Danilo.
  • How's Your British Accent?: After deciding to send Danilo to Paris to romance Sonia, the king says "How's your French?". Danilo then rattles off some French dialogue. Maurice Chevalier was, of course, a Frenchman.
  • The Musical: Lots of songs from MacDonald and Chevalier, and an elaborate dance number to the "Merry Widow" waltz.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: MacDonald is shows in a corset when Sonia's changing clothes.
  • Ruritania: "Marshovia" in this version. The opening scene shows a map, and a tiny little blob somewhere in Eastern Europe—then a magnifying glass whips into frame to show Marshovia.
  • Stocking Filler: Jeannette MacDonald usually played innocent heroines, which is what makes it all the more exciting when Lubitsch has Sonia fixing her garter in one scene.
  • Widow's Weeds: At the beginning of the movie, Sonia is wearing the standard black dress and veil. This doesn't stop Danilo from wooing her, but it is the reason why he doesn't recognize "Fifi" when he meets her in Paris.