Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
United Kingdom, 1952. Romulus Films. Screenplay by Anthony Veiller, John Huston, based on the novel by Pierre La Mure. Cinematography by Oswald Morris. Produced by John Huston, James Woolf, John Woolf. Music by Georges Auric. Production Design by Marcel Vertes. Costume Design by Julia Squire. Film Editing by Ralph Kemplen. Academy Awards 1952. Golden Globe Awards 1952.
Gorgeous romance focusing on the (fictionalized) love life of painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (Jose Ferrer), whose images forever became the symbol of Paris during the Belle Epoque. Toulouse-Lautrec stood at barely more than four and a half feet thanks to stunted growth following an accident that broke his legs in his youth, his bones unable to heal properly because of genetic issues (his aristocratic parents were first cousins). By the time we catch up with him, doodling on the tablecloth of the titular nightclub in a stunning opening sequence, he is a bitter, alcoholic artist who has rejected the privilege of his past but has trouble believing in happiness in the future, first throwing his affection away on a harsh street walker (Colette Marchand) before allowing his insecurities to ruin the potential of happiness with a beautiful dress model (Suzanne Flon). Zsa Zsa Gabor also appears and gives humorous life to her few moments as a singer, delightfully delivering her chattery dialogue while doing some poor lip-synching to someone else’s voice, while deeply beautiful cinematography by Oswald Morris brings the colour palette of the subject’s paintings to glorious life. John Huston’s strong direction sees the romance and tragedy sinking in deep, his stoic attitude from the behind the camera never permitting sentimentality to take reign, and while Marchand gets all the attention (and an Oscar nomination) for her firebrand performance, it is Flon (who was Huston’s mistress for a very long time) who delivers the most devastating and memorable performance in the whole thing. Ferrer doesn’t fare too poorly either, enduring painstaking theatrical tricks to make him appear diminutive while doing double duty in the role of Henri’s unaffectionate father. The sequences that cut to montages of Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings are the crowning touch on a wonderful experience.