Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
Written by Claudine West, Donald Ogden Stewart, and Ernest Vajda based in part on the book by Stefan Zweig
Marie: I cannot wear a crown upon my heart.
I am not big on 2 1/2 hour-plus costume dramas … especially if Norma Shearer is going to play a teenager in any part of them.
Marie (Shearer) is thrilled when her mother, the Empress of Austria, arranges with Louis XV (John Barrymore) for her to wed the Dauphin (Robert Morley). Her enthusiasm wanes when she discovers on her wedding night that the future Louis XVI is a socially inept fellow who has no interest in her or in producing heirs to the throne.
After a couple of years of boredom, the scheming Duke d’Orleans (Joseph Schildkraut) convinces Marie to enter the social whirl of decadent court life in Paris. At one of her soirees, Marie meets and falls in love with the Swedish Count Fersen (Tyrone Power). They scarcely consummate their passion when Louis XV orders Marie’s exile for failure to produce an heir and for insulting his mistress Madame du Barry (Gladys George).
Marie is saved by the bell when Louis XV dies. She and the Count agree that they cannot continue their affair and Marie, who has formed a close friendship with the Dauphin, becomes Queen. INTERMISSION.
Marie and Louis produce a couple of children. They have great compassion for the poor of France but Count d’Orleans conspires to frame Marie for the purchase of a priceless necklace while the people are starving. Marie and Louis are eventually imprisoned. Count Festen comes to Marie’s aid, but to no avail.
This film is not without its good points. Robert Morley, in his film debut, is fantastic as Louis XV1 and Joseph Schildkraut is suitably evil in his role and looks great in wig and powder. The production is lavish and all aspects from costume design to art direction to score are first-rate.
That said, this film is way too long for its story and the story itself is trite. I don’t know whether there actually was a Count Fersen or not, but his story line felt very contrived. I like Norma Shearer’s pre-Code work as sophisticated ladies. I find her pretty dreadful whenever she attempts to play naive virgins or lovelorn romantic heroines. She spends most of her time doing the later here.
Marie Antoinette was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actress (Norma Shearer), Best Supporting Actor (Robert Morley), Best Art Direction, and Best Original Score. This was Irving Thalberg’s last project while head of production at MGM and Shearer, his widow, stuck with it through completion in 1938.