die verliebte firma.
High amid the snowy peaks, a couple in evening clothes sing of Venice, it’s a movie being shot, “anyone for tennis?”
Back at the villa, the songwriters are arguing. “Sonnenschein hat aber kein sex appeal!”
Production meeting, Venice must be like a dream, a breath of magic, a fairy tale, St. Mark’s Square, with pigeons, romantic, the Doge’s Palace, optical, acoustic, not too dear, “this isn’t a production meeting, it’s a madhouse!”
Ken Russell takes great stock of this, especially in The Boy Friend (George Cukor in Two-Faced Woman), and of course François Truffaut...
The Company in Love. At RKO, standing in for Four Star Studios, David Butler takes it in hand as That’s Right—You’re Wrong.
Wheeler and Woolsey for the soon harmonious tunesmiths (they are contagious).
Who is the real auteur of a film? Everybody but the assistant director. Talented, quite talented, very talented, too talented, “tomorrow we’ll see if she’s talented or not.”
George Marshall in The Goldwyn Follies, Vittorio De Sica in Le Streghe for the dream.
The dream of stardom, the reality of film production. “Meshugge!” Michelangelo Antonioni in La Signora senza camilie, David Butler in It’s a Great Feeling. One beautiful shot of Berlin, a pan left across traffic at the Bahnhof Zoo.
Die verkaufte Braut
The Bartered Bride, treated with the utmost brilliance in the manner of a film musical, perfected at every turn.
One of those films deeply observed by directors such as Bergman, Fellini and Eastwood, or surmised by them, with that traveling circus so notable in many productions. The inspiration may have come from a simple wish to find an adequate staging cinematically expressed. Like Chaplin’s A Woman of Paris, it omits all the inessential machinery of a film and is consequently very short, an hour and a quarter, all speed, hysterically funny comedy, aplomb, terseness and suggestion.
The Leutnant and the Baronin, the lieutenant and the cellist’s daughter, the equation is worked out over The Abduction from the Seraglio.
An affair of honor, the occasion is past, the Baron will have satisfaction.
“I think he meant us.” A commonplace incident that ends very badly, like Madame de... (the Leutnant has a second named Lensky) and nearly Le Plaisir. Hitchcock remembers it in Notorious, “he’s looking all the time, he’s watching us,” Bergman in Smiles of a Summer Night, Menzel in Closely Watched Trains, Nichols in The Graduate, Bresson in Une Femme douce, Russell in The Devils.
“In view of political conditions,” but Truffaut has the story. “His most famous film and the one he himself preferred... when Ophuls fled Germany at the advent of the Nazis, his name disappeared from the credits of Liebelei. When he went back a year and a half ago, he had the opportunity to see the film again, after twenty-five years. Before the showing, a local celebrity rose to explain that there was nothing to be proud of in the doctored list of credits. There was a moment of silence, then the film was shown and applauded at length.”
“Das hungrigsten Mädchen der Gegenwart.” The Baron’s mien is aped by Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl, and there is the duel in The Three Sisters. Truffaut says the ending of Madame de... “is a remake pure and simple.”
“...und ihr Mann hat ihm umgebracht.”
“Every shot that isn’t fired in self-defense is murder,” exclaims the other second, with a vehemence remembered by Kubrick in Paths of Glory.
Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times, “so mellow, radiant and tender a picture.” Variety, “the picture might be almost without flaw, except for a sequence quite unnecessarily melodramatic involving one of the leading characters, just for the sake of introducing an anti-duel argument.” Time Out, “the film may be a little slow and ragged at times, but its final emotional power is undeniably immense.” Leonard Maltin, “haunting, exquisitely filmed”. Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader), “one of the most original directors ever to guide a camera.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “semi-classic romantic novelette.”
Thrice a mensch, the late vintner Bockelmann, “finest champagne on the Rhine.” The family want mineral water.
The advertising and sales manager inherits if he can stay off the stuff for a month, also the rival’s daughter is an interest.
Mordaunt Hall (New York Times), “a highly entertaining comedy... the actors are all excellent, the photography and sound reproduction are clear, the music and jokes are pleasing and the views of the Rhine and the vineyards are delightful.”
There is a motive for the teetotaling onkel with the tipsy frau to ply the young man with drink.
Blake Edwards inherits the style, from the nephew’s entrance with the family dog, slowly crossing a room full of disagreeable relations, Laughing Heirs it’s called in English (Hitchcock has a variant of this scene in The Birds).
The recorded will, “if God wants to punish someone, He gives him the likes of you for relatives.”
“Incredible,” says Uncle Justus. “Even now, when he’s dead, he has to annoy us.”
By steamer on the Rhine to Waldesruh Sanatorium to sleep out the stipulation, with the competition in pursuit, and that’s where the daughter of rival Stumm pours out sekt to Justus.
According to the Deutsches Filminstitut, “eine turbulente Komödie...”
La Signora di tutti
Life of the film star (“tutta la sua vita”) recounted on the operating table (“nel sonno della narcosi”) after an attempt at suicide (“in una vertigine di sogno”).
She went to school, a professore died for love of her, “a dangerous girl”, her bald autocrat father took her in hand, there is an ailing Countess of years and a gadabout Count, homme d’affaires, they have a son, a beard in the business.
Ophuls in Rome, first-rate on childhood “assemblies”, the rest deadpan as you please, in advance of the postwar Italian cinema and akin to Polanski’s Che? amongst other films.
Welles that great student of the cinema surely knew it, Woody Allen certainly reveals a knowledge of it, on the other hand Ophuls comprehends John Ford on printing the legend, Gaby Doriot’s Paris agent tells the world in a microphone not this story (“a novel or a film”) but cheerful nonsense of a mother in Montmartre, giovinezza e fortuna... furthermore Ophuls clarifies the strand of thought from Jean Renoir (La Chienne) to Vincent Sherman (Mr. Skeffington) and Fritz Lang (Scarlet Street) and William Wyler (Carrie).
Truffaut has her “aging”, the suicide note comes up on the screen just before the end, placing the work with Letter from an Unknown Woman and Madame de... The structure suggests Joyce’s “Cave of the Winds” (Ulysses).
H.T.S. of the New York Times, “this commonplace lesson.” Jack Riley (The Independent), “Ophuls’ tragic melodrama of when lovely woman stoops to folly remains as elegant today as it was on its release in 1934.” Time Out, “commerce, industry and high finance are viewed with sharp irony throughout, but the melodrama centres on a seductive ambiguity: is Gaby a victim of those around her, or their willing accomplice?” Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader), “large-scale, operatic effects and aggressively experimental style.” TV Guide, “a moving and beautifully made melodrama.” Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “modern audiences may have trouble keeping a straight face”.
“Once in a while the Cinémathèque Française shows us the very lovely film which followed Liebelei, La Signora di Tutti, shot in 1934 in Italy, and based on a serial novel that oddly anticipates Lola Montès.” (François Truffaut)
The town mouse and the country mouse on the Paris stage.
The housecleaning is an effect emulated by Lang in Clash by Night.
“Of the half dozen films that Ophuls made in France before the war, Divine is perhaps the best... he offers us his first inside portrait of the backstage world. If we are already made to think about Lola Montès, it’s...” (Truffaut)
Plenty of virtuosity, the first look backstage is a circular pan right arranged with the action to give the effect of a tracking shot, which duly follows from the stage in rehearsal to the harried director in the stalls.
« le premier scénario écrit directement pour l’écran et dialogué par Colette »
From the literal plow to the stars, anyway the chorus.
“That, an artiste? It never goes out, never receives even a cat. For me, that’s no artiste.” This is observed by, as Mel Brooks would say, the conci-urge.
A snowstorm of cocaine, the police are called in. “We’re blasé, but the girl and the snake, that was art.” Various sexes behind the scenes (cf. Winner’s The Sentinel). The gag borrowed by Russell for The Insatiable Mrs. Kirsch is a baby in the baggage (he also remembers his Herod in Salome’s Last Dance from Ophuls). The Baudelairean image of a starry coronet and a bottle cascading down the stairs, amidst a sterling apperception of stage fright pudoris causa, a scene oddly remembered in Buñuel’s Susana from another angle.
How a dancer gets her dinner, sometimes. Paris primroses, elsewhere cowslips.
The “catastrophe” pronounced by the producer (a model for Huston’s S.S. Nyanga skipper) is a reminder of Nosseck’s Le Roi des Champs-Élysées with Buster Keaton the previous year, and eventually works its way into Wyler’s Funny Girl.
The title is simply the nom de guerre instantaneously bestowed upon the country mouse with the round-the-corner name.
The pure Ophuls as the opium tray tumbles and the camera tracks far this way and that for an escape from the police, “us again.” Blackmail, smuggling, “all for 40 francs a day.” The cure for that when it rains in Paris is “a walk in the country,” a fire at the Empyrean-Montmartre. “A dictatorship is when police are in the dressing rooms and artistes are in the hall.” Divine? “Very nice and decent. You don’t think that’s odd? You don’t know the music hall...”
Farm girl most assuredly gets farm boy (he brings the milk from his own dairy, The Winged Cow), an Eden production...
Paris before the war, Alexander Brailowsky and the “blocks of sound” Nabokov cites somewhere.
La Tendre Ennemie
The woman who can neither be lived with nor without, the secret of her success, remedy and cure.
Three ghosts at the engagement of her daughter, the husband she ought not to have married, the lover she took in despite, the beloved she forsook.
Better still, a straightforward surrealism before Welles, manifesting all the permutations one by one in order.
komedie om geld
Bank messengers and company directors have the same lesson to learn, money comes home like the dog sold off on a fine sunny day to a placid couple at a café table outdoors, fishing is altogether better sport, take it all in all.
Exquisitely constructed with Ophüls’ showman prominent, a prime Dutch comedy akin to Frank Capra (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, It’s a Wonderful Life) and René Clair (À Nous la liberté) and Zoltan Korda (Cash, If I Were Rich, For Love or Money).
“En 1860 à l’époque où les ports du Japon commençaient à peine à s’ouvrir aux navires venus de l’étranger, le Yoshiwara était le quartier des courtisanes et des maisons de thé.”
To restore the family fortunes, repair a father’s dishonor, and let the young brother wear a sword.
The coolie and push-push man, a Fragonard with a brush, who holds her in adoration. The title is her name, a virgin geisha in the place usually given for it, by Truffaut for example, who tells us Ophuls “didn’t much like” Yoshiwara with its Mizoguchi or Kurosawa settings and costumes photographed by Schufftan at Joinville-le-Pont (Studios Pathé). The Russian navy...
If one had money, from a cockfight or a commission, a desperate wretch or an accustomed officer. A secret mission in the European quarter.
Ophuls on the epoch preceding the Russo-Japanese War, at the very start of the Second World War, a squabble over a doxy.
A kind of tragedie om geld, Michiko Tanaka, Pierre Richard-Willm, Sessue Hayakawa.
Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema), “even when he is most bitter, he never descends to caricature. His humor is never malicious, his irony never destructive. Like Renoir, he was one of the first genuinely international directors, the kind of artist who did not slur over national differences in the name of a spurious universality, but who defined national differences as functions of a larger unity.”
Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide), “bit of elegant esoterica”.
The poet who became a referendary because “justice is as hard to obtain as a publisher.”
Rousseau in the tyrannical hinterlands, best kept under lock and key for safety’s sake.
A song from the Thirty Years War, composed by a Swede. “What he sought—tempo and sweep—was so fragile and yet so precise that it had to be sheltered in a disproportionately huge wrapping, like a precious jewel enclosed in fifteen cases, each one large enough to contain the preceding one.” (Truffaut)
And so die ferne Geliebte (not “too late” but “too soon”, he avers) marries the Palais de Justice and he wishes himself dead in various ways (the bell-tower gag goes into Welles’ The Stranger).
Truffaut has someone else who won’t leave his room until...
The very theme of Letter From An Unknown Woman.
Certainly there’s no future in it, as the title says, shortly before the fall of France.
A curious resemblance to Curtiz’ Casablanca is to be noted.
From an American perspective (Canadian), la femme has been lost to a hoodlum, sunk in social status, and only makes her lot worse by endeavoring to keep up appearances.
Her young son is taken into safety, anyway.
After La Tendre Ennemie, “Ophuls made Yoshiwara, which he didn’t much like, Le Roman de Werther (Werther) which he thought OK, Sans Lendemain (Without Tomorrow) which he liked a little more, and in 1939, De Mayerling à Sarajevo (Mayerling), which he finished in uniform, having been mobilized into the Algerian infantry” (François Truffaut).
The ending is quite like that of Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, an international call, a certain something disappearing.
De Mayerling à Sarajevo
During and after the war various analyses were made of the national character, Ophuls understands the suicide and extinction in quite another light, not “historical” but “well-studied”. There are certain countries where one can be happy and free, “France, for instance.” A left-handed marriage, for the good of the State.
The Czech countess and the Crown Prince “d’une actualité saisissante.” Furthermore, “Project for a United States of Austria.” At the start of the Second World War, the incident that provoked the First, a “pretext”. Ophuls acknowledges the Second Thirty Years War (1914-1945) as having a halt and a resumption, this time to be definitively concluded “in peace and liberty.”
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times was not prepared to follow the argument, not at all, “no sense of fulfillment or poetic exaltation”, as Mayerling to Sarajevo at the end of October, 1940.
Opuls in Hollywood like Charles II in Holland, Roundheads pursuing, script and production by his star, Fairbanks, Jr. A sound stage for a seaport, a camera and a crane, “why, I remember in Paris some years ago there—there were two girls...”
“By all the Scottish saints! ...oh, it’s the way the world wags, it’s a long story.”
A tour de force of this magnitude and eloquence draws on such things as Olivier’s Henry V and has implications ten, twenty or thirty years later, in Richard Lester’s Musketeers, for example.
A seaport, a canal, a farm, an inn... Dieterle’s Scarlet Dawn (also with Fairbanks) is a notable structural precedent, Harold Young’s The Scarlet Pimpernel another.
A.W. of the New York Times, “an ambling tale.” Leonard Maltin, “OK swashbuckler”. TV Guide, “despite a strong supporting cast and an interesting concept, the film is dull.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “curious, talkative”.
The countess in her bath is remembered by Roger Vadim for Barbarella.
“An excellent film” (Truffaut).
A tulip farm, windmill in the distance.
“The roast beef of old England! Or—or is it some commoner smell?” One Dick Pinner, itinerant actor. “Is your sight so distorted that in this poor craven clown you see a king?” Cf. Ford’s My Darling Clementine.
Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman! A pan right round the landscape, the windmill to hide in, cf. Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent. The issue, “God made men free, to live as they please!” Admiring the flowers, “oh, how beautiful!”
“But have you seen how beautiful the fleet is at anchor?” The Specter of the Rose, the return of the king.
Letter From An Unknown Woman
Pound has the mummy’s soul lament his immurement, Ophuls takes the part of a musician and poltroon who wastes his life in the vain exercise of his talent on the reproduction of masterpieces such as Liszt’s “Un Sospiro”, the fame and glory accruing to him fail, he reads a letter late at night before a duel he plans to avoid, the writer tells of her admiration over many years, reminds him of their affair, informs him of their son and now lies dying of typhus. At dawn he goes to duel with the man she married, a postscript to the letter further informs its reader that the author has died. Before entering a carriage for the dueling ground, the musician has a vision of the girl as he knew her, peeking around a door.
Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident predates this letter. St. Paul’s unknown god of Athens is first suggested and later named. The emanation of the soul is from Blake. Pound’s lines (“The Tomb at Akr Çaar”) are set in quotation marks and begin,
I am thy soul, Nikoptis. I have watched
These five millenia and thy dead eyes
Moved not, nor ever answer my desire,
And thy light limbs, wherethrough I leapt aflame,
Burn not with me nor any saffron thing.
See, the light grass sprang up to pillow thee,
And kissed thee with a myriad grassy tongues:
But not thou me.
I have read out the gold upon the wall,
And wearied out my thought upon the signs,
And there is no new thing in all this place.
I have been kind. See, I have left the jars unsealed,
Lest thou shouldst wake and whimper for thy wine.
And all thy robes I have kept smooth on thee.
“Incredibly beautiful” (Truffaut).
Opuls in Hollywood. “Wally sign his contract with Metro yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“Come along, darling, better have the old one glazed.”
The formal partnership describes the structure, “he’s an obstetrician, I’m a pediatrician. He brings children into the world, I try to keep them here.”
Cf. Kazan’s The Last Tycoon. The title is easily explained, from Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. A certain charm school in Los Angeles, a New York millionaire, a certain homage to Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) showing the progression to Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby).
Jean-Luc Godard, “Max’s best American film... as for the technique, it is already Le Plaisir.”
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “a silly film”. Variety, “an out-and-out soap opera on film”. Ottawa Citizen, “another of Hollywood’s feeble attempts at psychology”. Time Out Film Guide, “a key American melodrama”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “pretentious film noir”.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s reviewer considered “the ‘moral’” overdrawn. Pauline Kael at The New Yorker reflected that it might really have happened.
The Reckless Moment
“Everyone has a mother like me, you probably had one, too.”
They’re either too young or too old on the home front, and a “beast” to be dealt with.
“Berlin?... they’ve done without that bridge over there for four years, I should think they could do without it for two weeks.” The Irish blackmailer, a nonsmoker with a vengeance, oddly echoed in Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon and magnified in Goldstone’s Rollercoaster.
The basis of this is evidently Hitchcock’s Blackmail, and as ever Hitchcock repays, in “Wet Saturday” for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, making rather a hash of the critics from a certain angle (cf. Wyler’s Mrs. Miniver), to say nothing of The Birds.
Again a portion of debt to Welles (The Stranger) by way of homage or acknowledgement. “We’re all involved with each other, one way or another. You have your family, I have my Nagel.” J. Lee Thompson takes up the note in Cape Fear, Terence Young in Wait Until Dark.
The surrealist mystery of Balboa. “You know this lady’s not in your class, Martin.” Household accounts, a bite out of the budget (cf. Blystone’s Great Guy).
“Donnelly might have been willing to make some kind of deal with you, but not me. I don’t care about your daughter, your son, your husband, or anybody else... this is a business proposition with me, and I don’t leave this place until I have that money in my hand.”
The elusive key to this great work is given in Casque d’Or (dir. Jacques Becker).
Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema), “a perceptive vision of... the obsessive absorption with family at the expense of society”.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “a feeble and listless drama with a shamelessly callous attitude”. Variety, “a tense melodrama”. Geoff Andrew (Time Out Film Guide), “a subtle, subversive critique of American ambitions and class-structures”. Halliwell’s Film Guide, “uninteresting melodrama”.
Picasso’s merry-go-round, the full panoply of experience, “Max Ophuls’ first European chore in 15 years,” Variety says, “the plethora of situations making the pic ponderous in its present state.”
Variety would have less of it, though Resnais more than doubled its length for Smoking/No smoking. “It goes on and on, but that is the basic format of the yarn.”
Godard à vingt ans had no use for it either (Le Plaisir heads his list of the Best French Films since the Liberation).
A succession of images, say rather a modulation.
The old coot who wears a mask of youth at the dance.
The whores who close up shop for the day to attend the madam’s niece’s first communion.
The painter who wins a model and keeps her after all.
Crowther was especially struck by the middle piece, which he saw last (Ustinov as Maupassant). The first was “talkative”, the third “sketchy”.
It begins with an ineffable mystery, continues in the grand suite of French art, and ends in sublimity, talked about.
There should be an influence discernible on other directors, perhaps Rohmer, certainly Polanski (The Tenant).
The sparkling primogeniture of the written moment gives this key, “coincidence is extraordinary because it’s natural,” merely to say the extraordinary coincidences of plot have a straightforward understanding.
The simplest sort of tallying allows a direct alignment of the film with Renoir’s Le Carrosse d’or, following on De Sica’s somewhat more general Miracolo a Milano, the point being a certain division of interest between the church and the state. This rational surd goes so far as to find an effective remake in Michael Anderson’s The Shoes of the Fisherman.
There is much the same line of logic as in La Ronde, a sequence of thought that begins before the film with the Count’s mistress. He is a General, the Countess receives from a him a gift of earrings. In the famous opening scene, the camera looks over her shoulder as she surveys her boudoir for something to sell, not her furs nor her wedding jewelry, something she doesn’t like, the earrings.
The jeweler who sold them to the Count buys them from the Countess and brings them to the Count, who buys them again. The Countess feigns to lose them at the Opera, Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice is heard. Ophuls is the poet of squeaking doors as the Count discreetly comes and goes in vain search, staircases are not his only forte. The newspaper reports a robbery, then the jeweler arrives.
The Count sees his mistress off to Constantinople, letting her go is as good as leaving her, she remarks. The earrings are a parting souvenir, she sells them to a shop where Fabrizio Donati, a diplomat, buys them on a whim.
At Basel, Donati meets the Countess, an affair begins, she treasures the earrings he gives her. It all ends in a duel and an echo of Liebelei, Donati presumably killed, the Countess’s weak heart failing nearby, the earrings in a glass case devoted to her patron saint for Donati’s protection.
The elements of the triangle are Charles Boyer’s disastrous mastery, Danielle Darrieux’s thoughtful distraction, and Vittorio de Sica’s helpless calm.
“No one noticed that Max Ophuls had adapted Louise de Vilmorin’s short story to make it Liebelei’s mate” (Truffaut).
This derives from the circumstance described by Mallarmé in “The Future Phenomenon”, namely “an age that outlives beauty”.
But there is the Showman of Things Past (Mammoth Circus) in his house of canvas.
“A poem worth an untold fortune” (Truffaut).