Magnificent Doll (1946) starring Ginger Rogers, David Niven, Burgess Meredith, Peggy Wood, Stephen McNally, Robert Barrat directed by Frank Borzage Movie Review

Magnificent Doll (1946)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Burgess Meredith and Ginger Rogers in Magnificent Doll (1946)

Caught on a Burr

Being a movie fan the attraction of watching "Magnificent Doll" is in its cast which features Ginger Rogers, David Niven and Burgess Meredith. That is not the soul reason for people to watch "Magnificent Doll" as it is also the story of Dolley Madison, called Dolly in this version, who married James Madison, the fourth US President. Now I am no historian, in fact being a Brit my knowledge of American history is even more limited but having done a quick bit of research on Dolley it quickly became apparent that this was a biopic which altered the facts which I am sure will be disappointing for those who watch it due to its historical storyline. But despite this and a flaw or two "Magnificent Doll" is strangely entertaining.

Having been forced to marry John Todd (Stephen McNally) after her father promised her to the son of a friend, Dolly Payne Todd (Ginger Rogers - Once Upon a Honeymoon) became a widow when yellow fever took her husband and child as it swept across Philadelphia. Having returned home and helped her mother set up a boarding house she meets politicians Aaron Burr (David Niven - A Matter of Life and Death) and James Madison (Burgess Meredith - Rocky V) leading to her having to make a decision as both men vie for her heart. Whilst marrying James, Aaron is never far from her thoughts despite it becoming apparent that he is a schemer who will do whatever he can to get what he wants especially becoming the next President by means fair or foul.

David Niven as Aaron Burr in Magnificent Doll (1946)

In truth "Magnificent Doll" is a movie about three characters; James Madison, Aaron Burr and Dolly in the middle. The story mainly follows Dolly's life from her first marriage to John Todd which ended when he died during the outbreak of yellow fever to her marriage to James Madison and his role in the senate. But it is the politics and the opposing viewpoints of Madison and Burr with Burr using under hand tricks to try and get what he wants from becoming President to getting Dolly which dominate the movie. All of which is entertaining especially thanks to David Niven's wonderful performance as the manipulative Burr.

But here is the problem "Magnificent Dolly" should really be about Dolly herself, her character and what made her a good and popular person. But it never really paints her other than as a beautiful, good hearted hostess who having been torn between two men chose the one who she felt shared the same beliefs as hers. It means that Ginger Rogers whilst making Dolly startlingly beautiful never really brings the character to life; you never really feel like you know why she was so special.

But despite the character never feeling fleshed out Ginger Rogers is watchable and works well with both David Niven and Burgess Meredith. In fact both Niven and Meredith have the better characters to play with the already mentioned Niven doing a good job of making Burr a ruthless schemer. But Burgess Meredith as James Madison is just as good and makes Madison an upright citizen, a quiet, pragmatic man with a good heart.

What this all boils down to is that "Magnificent Doll" is an entertaining drama but less so for its account of Dolly Madison but more for the characterisations of James Madison and Aaron Burr.