#514) The Wedding March (1928)

#514) The Wedding March (1928)

OR “The Honeymoon Is Over”

Directed by Erich von Stroheim

Written by von Stroheim and Harry Carr

Class of 2003 

The Plot: In Vienna on the verge of the Great War, Prince Nickolas (Erich von Stroheim) is encouraged by his parents (George Fawcett & Maude George) to marry for money instead of love. During a cavalry procession on Corpus Christi, Nickolas meets Mitzi (Fay Wray), a beautiful disabled woman who is engaged to abusive butcher Schani Eberle (Matthew Betz). While Nicki and Mitzi have a secret courtship, Nicki’s parents arrange for him to marry Cecelia Schweisser (ZaSu Pitts), the daughter of a wealthy factory owner. All of this comes to a head at –

Much like “The Wedding March”, the second half of this plot synopsis is missing, presumably lost forever.

Why It Matters: While the NFR write-up is a straightforward account of plot and production, the essay by film archivist Crystal Kui is a much more appreciative dissection of the movie.

But Does It Really?: My take on “The Wedding March” is about the same as my previous posts on von Stroheim’s films; a lavish production with an intriguing behind-the-scenes story, but ultimately a viewing experience reserved solely for film buffs. It doesn’t help that “Wedding March” is, in a sense, an incomplete film (more on that later). While Erich von Stroheim is an important filmmaker in the history of the movies, anything on this list other than “Greed” is, much like von Stroheim’s films, a bit excessive.

Everybody Gets One: Harry Carr was primarily a newspaper reporter, best known for his coverage of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. His subsequent film and theater criticism were also well received, and Erich von Stroheim was one of many filmmakers who called on Carr to co-write and “humanize” their screenplays.

Title Track: If you’re watching the 1998 restored version, you do indeed get to hear Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus“, aka “The Wedding March”. No one is certain when exactly we got the “Here Comes the Bride” lyrics, nor the line about “the bluest sky you’ve ever seen, in Seattle“.

Other notes 

  • The main thing to know about “The Wedding March” is that what you’re watching is the surviving first half of a much longer movie. The second half of the original film followed Nicki and Cecelia on their honeymoon, with its own melodramatic, tragic results. We’ll discuss what became of “The Honeymoon” in the Legacy section.
  • After parting ways with MGM in 1925, Erich von Stroheim persuaded independent producer Pat Powers to co-finance his next film. Powers was aware of von Stroheim’s difficult reputation, but was convinced he could reign von Stroheim in, and arranged for Paramount to distribute “The Wedding March”. Production of “The Wedding March” began in June 1926, and ended in January 1927; not because the film was done, but because Paramount shut down production after the budget quadrupled from $300,000 to $1,250,ooo.
  • This movie answers the question “Name a second Fay Wray movie“. Speaking of, who do you think Fay Wray would rather work with again: von Stroheim or King Kong?
  • Having now seen all three of von Stroheim’s NFR films, it’s interesting that they are all about money and how it motivates and/or corrupts people. It’s almost like von Stroheim had previous experience being financially irresponsible. I’m just glad he didn’t go into accounting.
  • The Corpus Christi procession sequence is all of von Stroheim’s excess in one sequence: a full battalion with authentic outfits and weaponry, hundreds of extras, an exact replica of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and to top it all off, the whole sequence is in two-strip Technicolor!
  • An example of von Stroheim’s authentic attention to detail: a recreation of an entire apple orchid with thousands of individual blossoms tied to each tree. As von Stroheim was quoted as saying about his critics, “They say I give them sewers – and dead cats! This time I am giving them Beauty. Beauty – and apple blossoms! More than they can stand!”
  • So, everyone in Mitzi’s life is the absolute worst. Physical abuse, verbal abuse: I’m rooting for Mitzi and Nicki to get together just so she can escape from these awful people.
  • Even by von Stroheim’s standards, every scene in this movie is torturously drawn out. Though to be fair, all of these scenes were supposed to be the set-up in a longer movie’s first half.
  • The only people of color in this movie are the prostitutes in the brief orgy scene, and the demonic “Iron Man” at the end. Great, Erich, just great.
  • Ah, drunken intertitles: a lost art-form. “Wedding March” opts for drunken title cards that double as stuttering. “y-you h-have – a n-nice son.”
  • ZaSu Pitts really doesn’t get a lot to do in this movie. Maybe she had a bigger role in “The Honeymoon”?
  • While trying to convince Nicki to marry Cecelia, Nicki’s mother Princess Maria sits on his lap. What is this, “Hamlet”?
  • Von Stroheim takes the distressing wedding sequence from “Greed” and gives the climactic wedding ceremony here even more doom and gloom, including skeleton hands playing the organ! Seeing as how von Stroheim was on marriage #3 during production, I understand his expert knowledge/judgmental trepidation in regards to wedding ceremonies.
  • The ending is definitely an unintentional letdown. Without the follow-up film, “The Wedding March” ends on a cliffhanger with no resolution that doubles as a very dour standalone conclusion.

Legacy 

  • As we’ve come to expect from von Stroheim at this point, the first cut of “The Wedding March” was eight hours! Like “Greed”, von Stroheim intended to release “Wedding March” as two four-hour films, but Paramount called upon director Josef von Sternberg to cut the two films down to one film of manageable length. After an unsuccessful sneak preview, Paramount relented and released the film as two parts: “The Wedding March” and “The Honeymoon”.
  • “The Wedding March” was released in October 1928. In the almost two years that the film spent in post-production, “talkies” became the new industry standard, with silent movies an outdated relic. “The Wedding March” was a box office failure, which caused Paramount to cancel the release of “The Honeymoon” (though it did end up being released in Europe and South America).
  • After being fired from his next two films, Erich von Stroheim moved away from directing and pivoted towards acting. Highlights include Jean Renoir’s “La Grande Illusion” and Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard“.
  • In the early 1950s, von Stroheim was given an opportunity by the Cinémathèque Française to recut “The Wedding March” and “The Honeymoon”, possibly the first known director’s cut of a film. Unfortunately, this cut, as well as the last known print of “The Honeymoon”, was destroyed in a fire at the Cinémathèque Française in 1959, making “The Honeymoon” a lost film.

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