Even though stars John Gilbert and Mae Murray were foisted on director Erich von Stroheim by MGM, The Merry Widow was released essentially as von Stroheim conceived it, and it became the year-old studio's first major critical and popular hit (and von Stroheim's last MGM film). Freely adapting Franz Lehar's Viennese operetta, von Stroheim spent a great deal of screen time on Murray's less-than-merry life as a showgirl and desired object of a baron/fetishist, a lecherous prince, and Gilbert's noble Danilo of "Monteblanco." Through lavishly depicted show numbers, orgies, boudoir assignations, and finally Sally's marriage and swift widowhood by the physically impaired baron, von Stroheim turned The Merry Widow into an examination of the decadence beneath the polished surface of the European nobility. Numerous cuts to feet (over the objections of production head Irving Thalberg) particularly reveal the nature of the baron's fetish; MGM cut a few scenes deemed too racy. Danilo and Sally still unite in the famed "Merry Widow Waltz," allowing love to triumph over sordidness and lead to a grand Technicolor finale.