During the brief period The Great DISH Austerity Program was in effect here at Rancho Yesteryear, I was kind of bummed missing out on one particular “Summer Under the Stars” presentation on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™. Their August 4 daylong tribute to Fay Wray was going to yield a pair of rarely screened movie goodies, one of which was 1929’s Thunderbolt—the first talkie directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring his leading man from The Docks of New York, George Bancroft. (I really wanted to see Thunderbolt…but I know a guy who can sell me a copy.)
The film’s setting is Vienna—“the home of waltzes, laughter, and pure, sweet love,” per a title card—and since the year is 1914, The Wedding March is going to have to get to its plot soon before the war breaks out. Prince Ottokar von Wildeliebe-Rauffenburg (George Fawcett) and his wife Maria (Maude George) are the type of aristocracy that is long on pomp and short on circumstance, and their son Nicholas (Von Stroheim) is a philandering wastrel and inveterate gambler in need of funds to shore up his miserable financial situation. His parents advise him to “marry money,” and his ma is eyeing Cecelia Schweisser (ZaSu Pitts), the daughter of wealthy industrialist Fortunat Schweisser (George Nichols). Granted, Cece is a little on the gimpy side…but when your prospective bride-to-be has a fortune worth twenty million kronen, beggars can’t be choosers.
The Wedding March was a box office dud, and received good notices from only a handful of critics. It was not until 1950 that both March and The Honeymoon resurfaced, when Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque Française allowed Stroheim to reassemble his work from the prints in Langlois’ collection. A fire at the Cinémathèque in 1959 destroyed the last known copy of Honeymoon (Langlois later observed the movie “died voluntarily”), but the critical reputation of March began to grow after Stroheim’s death, and in 2003 it was selected to be on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.