Call Me Madam (film)

Call Me Madam is a 1953 American Technicolor musical film directed by Walter Lang, with songs by Irving Berlin, based on the 1950 stage musical of the same name.

Call Me Madam
Original film poster
Directed byWalter Lang
Screenplay byArthur Sheekman
Based onCall Me Madam
1950 musical
by Howard Lindsay
Russel Crouse
Produced bySol C. Siegel
StarringEthel Merman
Donald O'Connor
George Sanders
CinematographyLeon Shamroy
Edited byRobert L. Simpson
Music byIrving Berlin (music and lyrics)
Alfred Newman (music score)
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • March 4, 1953 (1953-03-04) (Los Angeles)[1]
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.46 million[2]
Box office$2.85 million (US rental)[3]

The film, with a screenplay by Arthur Sheekman, starred Ethel Merman, Donald O'Connor, Vera-Ellen, Billy DeWolfe, George Sanders, and Walter Slezak. The film replaced "Washington Square Dance" with the older "International Rag", and interpolated "What Chance Have I With Love?" from Berlin's Louisiana Purchase (sung and danced by Donald O'Connor). A soundtrack album was released by Decca both as a 10-inch LP and as a set of three 7-inch EPs, and was released on CD in 2004 by Hallmark. The numbers "The Hostess with the Mostest'" and "You're Just in Love" are included on the Rhino Records CD set Irving Berlin in Hollywood. The film was out of circulation for many years but was issued on DVD in 2004.

Merman won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. Alfred Newman won the Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and Irene Sharaff was nominated for her costume design. Lang was nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures by the Directors Guild of America and the Grand Prize at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival,[4] and Sheekman's screenplay was nominated Best Written American Musical by the Writers Guild of America.


A wealthy Washington, D.C., socialite, Sally Adams (Ethel Merman), has political connections and is appointed U.S. ambassador to the tiny country of Lichtenburg, even though nothing in her background qualifies her for the job. A young journalist, Kenneth Gibson (Donald O'Connor), persuades her to let him tag along as her press attaché.

In the duchy of Lichtenburg, the arrival of Ambassador Adams does not sit well with some, particularly chargé d'affaires Pemberton Maxwell (Billy De Wolfe), who is annoyed by many things, including her insistence on being addressed by him as "Madam." A pressing issue in Lichtenburg is that Princess Maria (Vera-Ellen), niece of Grand Duke Otto (Ludwig Stössel) and Grand Duchess Sophie (Lilia Skala), is about to have an arranged marriage to a neighboring land's Prince Hugo (Helmut Dantine), but lacks a sufficient dowry to make their union a fair bargain for both parties.

Knowing her republic's penchant for foreign aid, Sally is approached by Prime Minister Sebastian (Steven Geray) about asking her friend President Truman for a loan of $100 million, to the consternation of Lichtenburg's foreign minister, General Constantine (George Sanders), who wants his country to be independent and self-reliant. Sally finds herself attracted to Constantine, while after a chance meeting in a department store, Kenneth has developed a very impractical romantic interest in Princess Maria, who finds him charming as well.

In time, Sally returns home to Washington, where she belongs. At one of her social events, she is pleased to hear Constantine is among the guests, then disheartened at learning he has brought along a female companion. A happy ending for all ensues, however, when his date turns out to be Maria, who is willing to marry Kenneth and abdicate her royal title. Sally's future with Constantine seems assured, too.



O'Connor later said the film contained his best dancing.

We did some beautiful numbers. The one with the castle all broken down, and around the water, was beautiful music beautifully choreographed. Working with Vera Ellen was such a joy. And there’s one they cut out [when the movie is shown] on television. It had everything: a very fast two-person number, tap dancing. If you see the picture in its entirety, you’ll see it. That was, for me, my best dancing.[5]


Contemporary reviews were mostly positive. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film "an admirable duplication of the show as presented on the stage. And in it, the wonderful Miss Merman is better than ever—in spades!"[6] Variety praised the film as a "literate musical" with Merman "at her robust best with a tune," though "in a few spots the editing could have been tighter."[7] Harrison's Reports called it "as entertaining a musical comedy as has been seen on the screen in many seasons."[8] John McCarten of The New Yorker was mostly favorable, writing: "There is no point at this late date in commenting on any performance of Miss Merman's. On this occasion, as usual, her voice is as big as all outdoors, her manner confidently low-down, and her sense of comedy remarkable. I'm not so sure, though, that the book of 'Call Me Madam' is varied enough to harness all her energy."[9] Orval Hopkins of The Washington Post wrote: "This is one you ought to see. There may have been better musicals, with better dancing, better books and better songs (there are a couple of Irving Berlin scores that beat this one, in my opinion). But they didn't have Ethel Merman."[10] The Monthly Film Bulletin called the film "a disappointment," writing that Berlin's tunes were "not among his best" and that Merman "lacks variety. Probably she was better on the stage, for her fairly inflexible theatrical technique emphasizes, in a film, her limitations."[11]

Awards and nominationsEdit

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[12] Best Costume Design – Color Irene Sharaff Nominated
Best Scoring of a Musical Picture Alfred Newman Won
Cannes Film Festival[4] Grand Prix Walter Lang Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards[13] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[14] Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Ethel Merman Won
Laurel Awards Top Male Musical Performance Donald O'Connor Won
Writers Guild of America Awards[15] Best Written American Musical Arthur Sheekman Nominated


All written by Irving Berlin:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Call Me Madam". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  2. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p248
  3. ^ "The Top Box Office Hits of 1953", Variety, January 13, 1954
  4. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: Call Me Madam". Retrieved January 17, 2009.
  5. ^ "Donald O'Connor interview - Mindy Aloff". Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley (March 26, 1953). "Ethel Merman (Just 'Call Me Madam') Rocks the Roxy in Premiere of Movie". The New York Times: 37.
  7. ^ "Call Me Madam". Variety: 6. March 4, 1953.
  8. ^ "'Call Me Madam' with Ethel Merman, Donald O' Connor and Vera-Ellen". Harrison's Reports: 38. March 7, 1953.
  9. ^ McCarten, John (March 28, 1953). "The Current Cinema": 74. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ Hopkins, Orval (April 3, 1953). "You Have to See Ethel To Really Believe Her". The Washington Post. p. 45.
  11. ^ "Call Me Madam". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 20 (233): 83. June 1953.
  12. ^ "The 26th Academy Awards (1954) Nominees and Winners". (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
  13. ^ "6th Annual DGA Awards: Winners and Nominees". Directors Guild of America. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  14. ^ "Call Me Madam". Golden Globe Awards. Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
  15. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2010.

External linksEdit