9 May 2019 | HotToastyRag
Surprisingly well-acted and crafted
Here at The Rag, we've learned our lesson: No matter what, give a movie a chance. Just give a movie ten minutes, and if you still hate it as much as you thought you would, feel free to turn it off. If the movie stars an actress you despise, contains a supporting cast you don't normally like, and centers on a subject of which you have no interest, you just might find yourself riveted and impressed. What movie made us learn our lesson? Marie Antoinette, starring Norma Shearer, someone whose movies we'd previously avoided.
The first fifteen minutes of this movie are incredible. Adrian's costumes belong in a museum, as gown after gown after gown are breathtaking, and surprisingly did not bring home an Oscar for the remarkable designer. The Academy Awards didn't have an Oscar for costume design until 1948, which, when you think of all the incredible costumes present in the 1930s and 1940s, is shocking. The art direction, while awarded with a nomination, was passed over in favor of The Adventures of Robin Hood. The incredible sets laden with paintings, chandeliers, rugs, beautiful dishes, jewels, ballroom decorations, draperies, bedroom pieces, and other furniture, was passed over for a forest. When you watch this movie, you'll realize how silly that is. Another silliness is the lack of nominations for Best Picture and Best Director for W.S. Van Dyke. This is a large-scale, expensive, lush epic, and it's ridiculous to look back at Frank Capra's wins for You Can't Take It With You when Marie Antoinette wasn't even nominated.
This heavy epic chronicles Marie's time from age fourteen until her death. Norma Shearer is given an enormous amount to do, and she does it very well. She has to be giddy and young, excited for her marriage, disappointed, afraid, frivolous, betrayed, in love, a mother, and finally, destroyed. As a young girl, she gets betrothed to the soon-to-be King of France, and her wedding night with Robert Morley is an especially emotional scene. They both give excellent performances, and since I normally can't stand either, it's quite a compliment from me. Robert is simple and an introvert who doesn't want to expose himself to potential ridicule, and Norma just wants to be a good wife. When she realizes her marriage will be different than promised, she turns to material pleasures and surface relationships to make her happy.
With a supporting cast of Joseph Schildkraut as an enormously slimy villain, Gladys George as the famous du Barry, John Barrymore as an ailing king, Tyrone Power as the pretty but poorly acted love interest, and Henry Stephenson as a sympathetic ear, there are plenty of varied scenes in this long movie to keep you interested. As one of the earliest films to have an intermission, overture, and entr'acte, this takes a bit of the epic factor out of the following year's Gone With the Wind, which boasted of being the grandest epic of all time. Marie Antoinette is one of the great classics that is dramatic without being grotesque and manages to win you over even if you don't expect to be. Well done, Norma.