Marie Antoinette (1938) - full review!
Directed by W. S. Van Dyke, with a screenplay written by Donald Ogden Stewart (The Philadelphia Story (1940)), Ernest Vajda, and Claudine West (Mrs. Miniver (1942)), this average historical drama earned Norma Shearer her last (Best Actress) and Robert Morley (in his film debut) his only (Supporting Actor) Oscar nomination(s). Cedric Gibbons’s Art Direction, and Herbert Stothart’s (The Wizard of Oz (1939)) Score were also nominated (this was Stothart’s first of 10 nominations). Said to have been Shearer's husband Irving Thalberg’s last project, in the planning stages at the time of his death in 1936, the film suffers more from its length and plodding pace than anything else. Perhaps (an always anonymous) producer Thalberg would have cut the weak Count Axel de Fersen subplot which seems to be the reason the film runs nearly 2 ½ hours, and seems even longer.
Antoinette (Shearer), an Austrian princess from Vienna, is excited to find out she's to be married, as part of an alliance with France. She is thrilled to see the older, dashing Louis XV (John Barrymore) before she realizes he is not to be her betrothed. Though she's less excited about Louis XVI (Morley), the Dauphin's appearance, she learned from her mother that it's the wife that makes a marriage and she's determined to succeed. On their wedding night, she learns that, not only is "her" Louis not interested in being the King and all that it entails (e.g. public speaking) but, he's not interested in consummating their vows or her having children (an heir). A social misfit, his interests lie in mechanical things and working with his hands. For a time, she wilts and stays "in" while Madame du Barry (played gloriously by Gladys George), Louis XV’s mistress (whose background was on the streets of Paris!) "rules" Versailles through manipulating him. That all changes when Duke Philippe d’Orleans (Joseph Schildkraut), with designs on the throne himself, encourages her to get out more and start running the social events. Eventually this leads to an incident whereby Marie invites the King and his mistress to court. Though she initially had agreed not to embarrass du Barry, she can't help herself which, when combined with her lack of heir "production", jeopardizes her four year marriage to the King's son. But I've gotten ahead of myself.
When the Duke d’Orleans convinces Marie to join the social scene, she meets Count Axel de Fersen (Tyrone Power) of Sweden. She embarrasses him, and he her, but they later meet and reconcile their relationship, discovering love for one another, in her time of need after du Barry must have convinced the King to annul her marriage per the embarrassment in court. But, of course, the King dies before his plans can be carried out such that the Dauphin becomes the new King, and Marie his Queen. Henry Stephenson plays the ambassador from Austria and an adviser to the Queen. The lovely Anita Louise plays Princess de Lamballe, Marie's lady in waiting and trusted friend who helps the Queen later, when all the other servants have run per the pending revolution. The people were overtaxed and had become increasingly fed up with the aristocracy's extravagant lifestyle and other wanton behavior, e.g. Louis XV’s relationship with du Barry. With the Duke d’Orleans treasonous words of encouragement, and a jewelry conspiracy involving La Motte (Henry Daniell in a brief cameo) as fodder, the peasants eventually decide to storm the Royal residence, meeting minimal resistance from the "guarding" troops. It is then that the Count de Fersen reappears (for a second time) to help save them. Joseph Calleia appears as the countryman who helps thwart their escape; Ian Wolfe appears, uncredited, as their cruel jailer.
Of course, most should know how this story ends. But this one has an added shot of Tyrone Power examining a ring his character was given by the titled character that reads "Everything Leads Me to Thee". Cora Witherspoon, Reginald Gardiner, Albert Dekker, George Meeker, and little Scotty Beckett (as Louis XVI’s son, the little Dauphin) also appear. Howard da Silva, Harry Davenport, Barry Fitzgerald, and Ruth Hussey are also said to appear, uncredited.