Produced on a scale of incomparable splendor and extravagance, Marie Antoinette approaches real greatness as cinematic historical literature.
What is related on the screen is a brilliant, historic tragedy # the crushing of the French monarchy by revolution and terror. Stefan Zweig’s biography of Marie Antoinette is the source from which the screenwriters have drawn most of their material.
First part is concerned with the vicious intrigues of the Versailles court and the power exerted by Mme du Barry and the traitorous Orleans. The ensembles, arranged by Albertina Rasch, suggest beautiful paintings. Second portion opens with the expose of the fraudulent sale of a diamond necklace, which precipitated the enmity of the nobility. With an aroused nation and the queen as the point of attack, the action moves swiftly to the pillage of the castle, the royal arrest, the unsuccessful escape to the border, the trials and execution of the rulers.
Norma Shearer’s performance is lifted by skillful portrayal of physical and mental transitions through the period of a score of years. Her moments of ardor with Ferson (Tyrone Power) are tender and believable.
Outstanding in the acting, however, is Robert Morley, who plays the vacillating King Louis XVI. He creates sympathy and understanding for the kingly character, a dullard and human misfit.
John Barrymore as the aged Louis XV leaves a deep impress. Joseph Schildkraut is the conniving Duc d’Orleans and scores as a fastidious and scheming menace. Gladys George makes much from a few opportunities as Mme du Barry.
When illness prevented Sidney Franklin from assuming the direction of the film after arduous preparation, W.S. Van Dyke was assigned the task.
1938: Nominations: Best Actress (Norma Shearer), Supp. Actor (Robert Morley), Art Direction, Original Score