Vienna, summer 1914 (in other words, right before the start of The Great War). Prince Nickolas von Wildeliebe-Rauffenburg, aka "Nicki" (von Stroheim) is a cavalry officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, and a prince, the scion of a noble family that has seen better days. In fact, the von Rauffenburgs are pretty much broke. His money-hungry parents wind up arranging a marriage between Nicki and Cecelia Schweisser (played by ZaSu Pitts from von Stroheim's Greed), daughter of a nouveau riche magnate who has made a lot of money selling corn plasters.
While his parents are making this happen, however, Nicki the dissipated wastrel finds true love for the first time, in the person of Mitzi, a commoner (Wray). Mitzi has been promised in marriage as well, to a crude, boorish, brutish butcher named Schani. Mitzi and Nicki pledge eternal love to each other, but their families are determined to separate them.
Like every other film in von Stroheim's career, The Wedding March was a Troubled Production. Shooting lasted from June 1926 until January 1927 and cost over a million dollars, a huge investment in both time and money for the 1920s. Editing lasted another year, at which point von Stroheim had managed to cut his mountain of footage to six hours. Paramount Pictures took the footage from von Stroheim and gave it to Josef von Sternberg, who edited it down further. The footage was cut into two films, The Wedding March and a sequel, The Honeymoon. Unfortunately The Honeymoon is a lost film, the only known copy having burned up in a Paris fire not long after von Stroheim's death.
- Abhorrent Admirer: Schani, Mitzi's mean, crude, boorish admirer. He spits constantly. Mitzi is repulsed by him, but her mother, herself an awful monster, wants Mitzi married off.
- Arranged Marriage: Nicki's parents push him into marrying Cecelia sight unseen.
- Attempted Rape: Schani is about to rape Mitzi when his father, who is much gentler, enters the room and saves her.
- Awful Wedded Life: Maria and Ottokar hate each other's guts. Ottokar can only laugh when Nicki brings up the idea of marrying for love.
- Cavalry Officer: Nicki is every inch the proud cavalry officer while on duty, but he likes wine, women, and song when he isn't.
- Cut Short: Well, it wasn't supposed to be, but the loss of The Honeymoon leaves the story like this. The Wedding March ends with Mitzi agreeing to marry Schani in order to stop him from murdering Nicki, but with a heavy sense of foreboding, like when the hands of the organ player dissolve to a skeleton's hands.
- Eating the Eye Candy: Mitzi is very obviously taken when she first sees Nicki on horseback in his full dress uniform. The camera follows her eyes as she takes him in, from his polished boots to his buzzcut head.
- Empathic Environment: The rain pours down in buckets for Nicki and Cecelia's melancholy wedding day.
- Establishing Character Moment: In his first scene Nicki is sleeping late, and fully dressed. He wakes up with a case of Hangover Sensitivity. Women's clothing is scattered around his room. The maid picks up a woman's stocking, only for Nicki to pull her in for a kiss which she willingly returns. Nicki is fully established as a hard-partying libertine.
- Have a Gay Old Time: "If you think you can touch me, forget it," says Ottokar to his son. No, they don't have some weird gay incest thing going. In those times "touch" or "put the touch on" was slang for asking to borrow money.
- High-Class Glass: Von Stroheim always wore one, because he was almost always playing some Germanic officer, as he is here.
- Impoverished Patrician: The von Rauffenburgs are low on cash, which is why the marriage to Cecelia is arranged.
- Lohengrin and Mendelssohn: Appropriately enough, in the restored soundtrack, Mendelssohn's "The Wedding March" is a motif throughout.
- Nouveau Riche: Cecelia's father the corn plaster salesman is gauche and crass in the typical manner. He brusquely offers Ottokar a dowry of a million kronen, which Ottokar is only too thrilled to accept.
- A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Nicki's and Cecelia's fathers seal the deal during a party at a fancy whorehouse that devolves into an orgy. This scene, with half-naked prostitutes rolling around on the floor, is typical of how von Stroheim pushed the boundaries of censorship.
- Rom Com Job: It isn't a comedy, but nevertheless—Nicki is a dashing cavalry officer while Mitzi plays the harp at a Vienna pub.
- Sideboob: Seen from a scantily clad prostitute in the brothel scene, emblematic of the Fanservice often found in von Stroheim films.
- Sleeping Single: Nicki's parents Maria and Ottokar, mainly because they loathe each other.
- Splash of Color: The royal procession is presented in early Technicolor. This lavish scene, which included a golden carriage that actually belonged to the real Emperor Franz Joseph, was typical of the spare-no-expense style that always got von Stroheim in trouble with his producers.
- Title Drop: When Maria first raises the idea of Nicki marrying Cecelia Nicki says that she can march him down the aisle "to the Wedding March—tomorrow." This is before he meets Mitzi.