Lost in the Movies: Marie Antoinette from 1938 (LOST IN THE MOVIES podcast #48)

Marie Antoinette from 1938 (LOST IN THE MOVIES podcast #48)

The 1938 Marie Antoinette is a fascinating portrait of its time and sensibility: a Golden Age Hollywood production that luxuriates in the opulent life at Versailles while mocking the pretensions of European royalty, its American skepticism of an entitled ruling class co-existing with an even deeper hostility to the radicalized rabble overthrowing it. Unlike Sofia Coppola's 2006 biopic of the French queen (which next month's episode will cover), this Marie does not stop short of the Revolution. Nor does it brush past Marie's (Norma Shearer's) relationship to her husband, here played both pathetically and sympathetically by Robert Morley. John Barrymore is also a notable presence as the previous king, while Tyrone Power appears a significant lover, a foreigner in the French court. Digging into the contemporary context, director Woody Van Dyke's approach to shooting, and reactions over the years, I conclude my appreciation with a counterpoint to the film's perspective by quoting Mark Twain's scathing critique of the loud Terror vs. the silent one that continued for centuries. This episode not only concludes - on a dark note - my "Classic Hollywood" season that began in July with the frothy Swing Time, it also forms the middle in a trilogy of episodes on wayward rulers, with my upcoming discussing of the other Marie Antoinette on one side and last month's omnibus "The Vulnerable Throne" (highlighted by Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen) on the other.

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(my article on the Christopher Nolan film's dodgy take on populism)

(the cited chapter of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court)


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