Mayerling (1936)

Drama / Romance / History


Mayerling photo
In the late 1880s, Archduke Rudolph is the crown prince of Austria, a rebellious young man who prefers the company of ordinary folk to that of the nobility. In an attempt to curb his son's wayward spirit, the Emperor Frantz Joseph forces him into an arranged marriage and has him constantly tailed by his spies. The young prince is undeterred and, skilfully evading his father's spies, he visits a fair incognito. Here, he meets a young woman, Marie, who, in contrast to the women of his father's court, exudes warmth and kindness. With Marie at first oblivious to the prince's identity, the young couple embark on an idyllic romance. Nothing, it seems, can spoil their perfect happiness...
© 2012

Film Review

Film poster
It is not hard to see why Anatole Litvak's Mayerling  is widely considered one of the greatest of cinematic love stories. It is a tear-jerker of exceptional quality, played and directed with such delicacy that it avoids the histrionic artifice and heavyhanded emotional legerdemain to which most romantic melodramas are prone. Captivating performances from the leads, Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux, and some inspired camerawork combine to make this a beautifully crafted hymne à l'amour.

For a film of this era, Mayerling is visually stunning. Lavish sets and costumes provide an authentic recreation of the court of the Hapsburgs in 19th century Vienna, whilst the moody chiaroscuro cinematography convey a chilling sense of oppression and transience that lends the tragic denouement an exquisite poignancy and poetry. You can almost feel the cruel hand of fate that is guiding the star-crossed lovers to their miserable ill-deserved destiny, so palpable is the aura of doom that pervades this film, even from the opening shot.

Mayerling is a faithful adaptation of Claude Anet's novel Idyll's End, which is based on a true story concerning the death of the Austrian prince Archduke Rudolph. With little in the way of historical fact to go on, the novel constructs a plausible (but by no means proven) explanation of known events, speculating that Rudolph's demise was the tragic outcome of a scandalous extra-marital romance. (Other theories include the possibility that the Archduke was the victim of a political assassination.)

Widely acclaimed when it was released in 1936, Litvak's Mayerling quickly proved to be an international success. It granted passage to Hollywood for its lead actor, Charles Boyer, and director Anatole Litvak, who both achieved immense success in America. The film's lead actress, Danielle Darrieux was just 17 when she worked on this film, yet her performance shows remarkable charm and maturity and is simply spellbinding. Darrieux went on to become one of France's most respected film stars, an icon of French cinema in the 1940s and 1950s.

This film makes a striking contrast with its more lavish 1968 remake, which was directed by Terence Young and starred Catherine Deneuve and Omar Sharif. Remakes are seldom as good as the original, but the 1968 version of Mayerling is especially disappointing - a cold, stilted work that has none of the passion, humanity and lyricism which make Litvak's film a timeless masterpiece.
© James Travers 2003-2010
The above article was written for and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.


The director Anatole Litvak also worked with the actor Charles Boyer on the film Tovarich (1937).

Film Credits

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