Bastille Day is celebrated this weekend. One Bastille Day years ago back in New York City, I went to my favorite video rental shop -- Alan's Alley in the Chelsea section of Manhattan -- and rented a DVD of the lavish 1938 MGM Hollywood spectacle, Marie Antoinette. The studio spared no expense mounting this vehicle for its top star near the end of her glory days on the lot -- Norma Shearer.
A frantic Marie Antoinette says in her state of confusion, "Oh, where is my head?!?"
Three credited writers on this screenplay and they came up with a line like that. For Marie Antoinette. I giggle every time I see this scene. You know how the story ends. The angry French find her and throw her in prison without her pretty clothes and her wigs. She's sentenced to the guillotine. Her hair's a mess. Marie looks raggedy near the end. But guess who shows up? Tyrone Power obviously finished shooting an Alice Faye musical over at Fox, so he drove back over to MGM for one last love scene. Broken down Marie looks like Carol Burnett as the charwoman. He looks just as good as he did in the first act. Only a little gray at the temples. Let's face it, he was basically loan-out eye candy in this picture. Norma's Oscar nomination came for the last 20 minutes of Marie Antoinette. She did some of her best screen acting in that section, especially in the prison scenes leading up to the queen's horrible fate. We hear an audio montage of things Marie Antoinette said in happier times as she's transported to her execution site.
Here's some Hollywood trivia for you: If it wasn't for Norman Shearer, Janet Leigh would never have received an Oscar nomination for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. When Shearer was happily in retirement in the 1940s and no longer a Hollywood movie queen, she met a young woman whom, she felt, had screen charisma.