The Merry Widow ★★★½

Von Stroheim populates his version of this then-popular story with a number of fun and grotty little touches, like Baron Sadoja's foot fetish (he stares at feet in the same way that his practical double, Count Orlok, stares at necks in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu), and the seedy private club that Danilo uses as his stage for seduction — where half-naked minstrels perform blindfolded from the master bed while lovers woo — seems boldly racy even in pre-Code Hollywood. I'm not sure whether Gilbert and Murray give good performances; Gilbert oozes charm and Murray gamely commits to a series of limited facial expressions (more than once she looks like she needs to sneeze), but the weird dynamic of old-timey sexual predation between their characters is fascinating and engaging. The more obviously villainous characters in The Merry Widow are practically mannequins, wearing their grotesque smirks with such persistence that they surely needed extensive facial therapy after filming wrapped.

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