Madame de… (1952)
A talky rich-person drama with lots of fainting – not usually my thing. Of course it’s sumptuously shot, and I got caught up in the drama by the end.
The earrings of Madame:
Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux, costars of Mayerling seventeen years earlier, are an upper-class married couple (she also played a married cheater in La Ronde, and I know Boyer from Stavisky twenty years later and Liliom twenty years earlier). He’s a general and a count, and she’s a socialite, secretly running up debts, so she sells a pair of diamond earrings, a gift from her husband.
Boyer in bed:
After she claims to have lost her earrings there’s a blow-up about possible theft at the theater, so the jeweler (Jean Debucourt of The Eagle Has Two Heads) contacts the general, tells him the story, and Boyer buys them back, gives them as a parting gift to his affair Lola. She immediately gambles them away and they’re bought by Baron Vittorio De Sica (the year after he shot Umberto D, six years before Il Generale della Rovere), who sees Madame Darrieux then stalks her at every party until she falls in love with him.
He eventually gives her the earrings, and she claims to have found the lost earrings – a sign to her husband of her extramarital affair, and a reminder of his. Feelings are hurt, honor is challenged, a duel is arranged – she gives away the earrings to a church before fainting to death as her husband shoots Baron Vittorio off-camera.
[Madame de…], beginning in the lilting superficiality of a frivolous woman looking to pawn her jewels and ending in death and the ironic sanctification of those jewels, is Ophuls at his bleakest and most beautiful. The very opulence and swirl of the world from which Madame de is ostracizing herself — the opera, the gowns, the balls, the jewels, the servants — will be stripped away as love burns through the outer layers of life. A woman is rescued from shallowness and inauthenticity, but at what a price!
The Reckless Moment (1949)
The last of his quartet of Hollywood films (nobody ever talks about the Douglas Fairbanks period drama The Exile). Ophuls’ attempts at style and elegance are mostly lost here, trampled by the silly thriller plot of this cheapie noir.
Best part is Joan Bennett (star of four Fritz Lang films in the 40’s) who goes to ever-lower depths to protect her foolish young daughter who’s been going out with a sleazeball (Shepperd Strudwick, who’d once starred as Edgar Allen Poe). Joan drives from her idyllic small lake town into the big scary city to tell the guy to piss off, but he comes by the house that night, falling to his death onto an anchor after the girl whacks him on the head with a flashlight. Great, wordless scene follows as Joan discovers the body the next morning then dumps it in the lake.
So the cops have found the body and suddenly irish-accented James Mason (returning from Ophuls’s Caught six months earlier) shows up to blackmail Joan over the dead guy. She tries to raise the cash, but with her husband out of town can’t manage it. Fortunately, unbelievably, Mason falls for her and tries to protect her from his partner who still wants the money (Mason is a terrible blackmailer). They nearly kill each other and Mason stages a car crash to get Joan off the hook.
Mason in the shadows:
Since it’s a 1940’s movie the family has a black housekeeper, Cybil, who once says an entire line fully on-camera that got erased by the music score. Wonder what it was. Joan’s daughter mostly pouts in her room while Joan’s insufferably hollywood-youth-talkin’ son putters with his jalopy.
Based on a story for Ladies Home Journal, naturally. Remade with Tilda Swinton in 2001.