Merry-Go-Round (1923)

Norman Kerry, Mary Philbin, Cesare Gravina, Edith Yorke,
A nobleman, posing as a necktie salesman, falls in love with the daughter of a circus puppeteer, even though he is already married to the daughter of his country's war minister.
  • 6.5 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Finis Fox, Harvey Gates, Mary O'Hara, Writer:
  • Rupert Julian, Erich von Stroheim, Director:
  • Irving Thalberg, Producer:
8 / 10

A lovely film...

The film is set in pre-WWI Vienna. A Count (Norman Kerry) is expected by the Emperor to marry a certain Countess . However, he doesn't love her and would much rather act like a playboy. However, he meets up with a poor organ grinder and falls for her (Mary Philbin). This lady and her family lead a rather sad life at the Prater amusement park, as their boss is a total sadist and treats them more like slaves than employees. This mistreatment comes to a head when the boss pushes too far. He not only won't let Philbin and her father off work when the mother is dying, but soon afterwords he beats Philbin so badly that the father stabs the evil boss to stop this. Unfortunately, the police catch the father and jailed--though he was acting to save his daughter.

Later, Philbin just happens to meet Kerry once again. She tells him what has befallen her father and he decides to use is influence to help them. Unfortunately, in the process he falls head over heels for her and must have her...but what about the marriage?! In the meantime, Kerry marries and the old boss returns for revenge and nearly kills the father in a staged accident. This chance occurrence brings Kerry back in to their lives--and now it's obvious that he's the Count. Philben and her father had thought he was a regular fellow, as he'd told them he was a salesman...and not a married man! At around the same time, WWI begins and the world is royally...screwed. Kerry returns to Philbin to beg her forgiveness for deceiving her, but she'll have none of it...and he then goes to war. Is there any hope for this couple or is it too late?!

There are a couple things to note. First, the merry-go-round from the title is a metaphor for how life manipulates us all. In this case, periodically, a devilish being stands with a small merry-go-round spinning about him to symbolize this. It's pretty weird...but also kinda cool--especially as this guy really, really likes how he's screwing with people! Second, at one point one of the characters in the film who works with animals at the Prater announces that they have an "orang-utan straight from the jungles of Africa"?! Orangutans are about as African as Koalas--as they come from Borneo and Indonesia! And what the animal does in the film is possible but very hard to believe.

So is the film worth seeing? Absolutely. While the plot is a bit hard to believe (it has a lot of wild story elements), the story of love unrequited is quite lovely. Also, while no one will ever know how the Von Stroheim version might have been had it been finished, this less costly version was incredibly pretty and appeared like what you'd think Vienna must have looked like. I have been there, but following two world wars (with WWII causing huge damage), I am sure practically all of the city has changed dramatically. Overall, it's a very nice film--and it's lovely to see Miss Philbin in something other than her famous role in "Phantom of the Opera".

One final note--while I noticed one review refer to this as "Von Stroheim's masterpiece", according to IMDb hardly any of this film uses any of the crazed and perfectionistic director's work he'd done on the film before being replaced. And, considering that much of the budget was apparently wasted by Von Stroheim, the new director (Rupert Julian) did an amazing job--as the film is quite beautiful and his version of Emperor Franz Joseph looked an awful lot like the one taken from newsreels used at the very beginning of the film (one of the few Von Stroheim touches that made it to the film--and a very expensive scene according to IMDb).

9 / 10

Great emotions in von Stroheim's partial direction

Erich von Stroheim started directing the movie Merry-Go-Round (1923) but got the sack by the producer Irving Thalberg and it was finished by Rupert Julian.Norman Kerry plays Viennese Count Franz Maximilian von Hohenegg.He's supposed to marry Countess Gisella von Steinbruck (Dorothy Wallace).That's one thing he doesn't want to do after he meets the beautiful, but poor Agnes Urban (Mary Philbin) at the amusement park.Merry-Go-Round is a good silent film.Norman Kerry is great in the lead and Mary Philbin is just charming.Cesare Gravina does a terrific performance as her father Sylvester.George Siegmann plays the villain of the movie, Schani Huber.He's the leader of the amusement park and a real sadistic person.In one dramatic scene he uses the whip on Agnes.This movie is could I say a forgotten gem.

7 / 10

Stroheim Gets Cut From His Own Production

After the struggles Universal Pictures had with director/actor/screenwriter Erich von Stroheim in making the budget-busting 1922 'Foolish Wives,' its president Carl Laemmle surprisingly gave the Austrian another chance. This time, though, during the production of September 1923's "Merry-Go-Round," he was closely overseen by Universal's young but talented primary producer, Irving Thalberg.

Stroheim agreed to formulate a script based on his memory of his native country to illustrate how The Great War changed it. He illustrated that change by focusing on an Austrian count, Franz Maxmillian (Norman Kerry), who occasionally goes about dressed as a commoner. Aimlessly walking around a Vienna amusement park, he comes upon a pretty organ-grinder, Agnes (Mary Philbin), toiling away providing the music for a merry-go-round. Falling in love at first sight, he tells a white lie to her he's a tie salesman, all the while he's preparing for a forced marriage because of his royal heritage. The war intercedes the relationship between the count and Agnes. When he returns stripped of his rank, privilege and the loss of his unloved wife, things turn interesting between the two when she discovers who he really is.

Thalberg loved the outline, and stipulated Stroheim could continue with completing the script and working on the details in pre-production, with the caveat he could only direct the picture and not act in it. That way if things went south the talented but undependable eccentric could be replaced without having to reshoot his parts. Predictably, Stroheim submitted an overblown script filled with unnecessary scenes, which Thalberg took a scalpel to.

Filming took place under Stroheim's direction. Shooting in sequence, he was ultimately compromised by his excessive demands for authenticity. He demanded a real Viennese streetcar for a simple street scene. He arranged the actual carriage the real-life Austrian Emperor used before the war to be shipped to the states, seen in the movie's opening sequences. And Stroheim delayed filming as his scouts looked for his ideal orangutan, not just any orangutan, to be part of a murder scene.

After six weeks into the plodding production where a streetcar derailed, an overloaded studio electrical circuit blew and a rebellion by scores of extras, Thalberg had seen enough and fired his director. He was replaced by Rupert Julian, who delivered "Merry-Go-Round" on time and more importantly for Universal on budget. But is it the same film that Stroheim was forming in that six weeks before he got canned? Film critic Evan Kindley argues it is not. The first 15 minutes of the movie bear Stroheim's imprint, where he sets a relaxed but lively pace showing the count beginning the day mistreating his attendant. A bit of an Ernst Lubitsch touch can be gleaned in these opening sequences as well as a Stroheim-directed scene showing a rowdy banquet with the count and his pals.

Once Julian was hired, the newly-arrived director rewrote Stroheim's script and reshot several of his scenes. "Where von Stroheim, even in the brief and relatively uneventful scenes that open the movie, manages to pace things perfectly," wrote critic Kindly, "Julian's version merely plods along."Movie goers, well aware of the studio intrigue, went to the theater to see for themselves how much influence Stroheim had on the final cut. Because of the controversy, "Merry-Go-Round" was the eighth highest box office attraction for 1923. Director Julian and actress Philbin, the organ grinder and love interest of the count, went on to become instrumental in the production of Lon Chaney's 1925 'The Phantom of the Opera.'