Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
France/West Germany, 1955. Gamma Film, Florida Films, Union-Film. Scenario by Max Ophuls, Adaptation by Annette Wademant, Max Ophuls, Dialogue by Jacques Natanson, based on the novel La Vie Extraordinaire de Lola Montes by Cecil Saint-Laurent. Cinematography by Christian Matras. Produced by Albert Caraco. Music by Georges Auric. Production Design by Jean d’Eaubonne. Costume Design by Georges Annenkov. Film Editing by Madeleine Gug.
At the time of its release, this was the most expensive film ever made in France, making its disastrous debut (which included audiences storming out and critics tearing it apart) a very notable chapter in French cinema history. It tells the story of a once famous femme fatale who goes from an abusive marriage to being the celebrated lover of various crowned heads of Europe, before being reduced to re-enacting her scandalous life in a three-ring circus. Told in flashbacks, the film is a surprising mix of elements that work and ones that don’t: Lola Montes is herself a very bland character, nothing like the world-weary charm of Arletty in Children Of Paradise or the defiant sexiness of Marlene Dietrich in a half-dozen similar roles. On the other hand, director Max Ophuls infuses the camerawork with so much vivid life that you can’t help but be swept away by its beauty and energy. Originally debuting at 140 minutes, nervous producers re-edited the film down to 110 and re-arranged its scenes; the missing footage has at press time never been found, but a restoration done after Ophuls’ death put the film back in as close to the director’s original intention as possible, and that is the version that survives today.