Call Me Madam (1953)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1953Screenplay by , based on the musical by , Cinematography by Produced by Music by .   Production Design by , Costume Design by .   Film Editing by

Irving Berlin’s hit Broadway musical, sort of an Americanized Merry Widow, is adapted to the big screen with colourful results.  is superb as a wealthy Oklahoma widow who is assigned as U.S. ambassador to the fictional country of Lichtenberg, a tiny European principality that is wealthy with tradition and not much else. The old-school generals who run the place are hoping that she’ll make them a huge loan to help keep their country running, but the one man who captures her fancy (George Sanders) is not in agreement with this, believing that he can create programs that will help the country save itself from its own financial woes. Merman’s press attache falls in love with Lichtenberg’s princess (), but her marriage has been arranged to a nobleman who clearly hasn’t seen how well she dances with the newly arrived American. The star-crossed lovers have some hope of getting together, however, because without an American loan, the country won’t need Vera-Ellen to honour an arranged marriage when her royal status is moot; when Merman decides to go against Sanders’ wishes and asks President Truman to send a massive amount of money to Lichtenberg, it then puts the other couple’s romance in jeopardy while driving a wedge between her and the man who is so charmed by her. There’s a sly criticism of American involvement in the well-being of other countries happening here, the sort of thing you’d expect more in the Nixon years than the post-war prosperity Eisenhower era, but Berlin pumps wonderful energy into the musical numbers and the dazzling cinematography helps keep cynicism at a bare minimum. Merman’s magnificent energy powers the entire thing and O’Connor’s verve backs her up beautifully, both of them making up for lesser partners who do have talent to contribute (acting in Sanders’ case, dancing in Vera-Ellen’s), but otherwise don’t equal the multiple threats of their counterparts.

Academy Award:  Best Scoring of a Musical Picture
Nomination:  Best Costume Design-Colour

Cannes Film Festival:  In Competition

Golden Globe Award:  Best Actress-Musical/Comedy (Ethel Merman)

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