Schnitzler's erotic roundelay LA RONDE (January 26) seems like ideal subject matter for Ophüls, and you can't imagine a more dazzling cast: Simone Signoret, Danielle Darrieux, Anton Walbrook, Fernand Gravet, Jean-Louis Barrault, Gérard Philipe, Simone Simon, Isa Miranda, and, in their youth, Serge Reggiani and Daniel Gélin. But it's arch and dreary. So is his swan song, LOLA MONTES (January 25), a notorious box-office disaster that has, since the '70s, acquired an undeserved reputation as a misunderstood masterpiece. It's his only Technicolor movie, however, and the embossed images keep you engrossed for a time, until the thinness of the screenplay and the uncharacteristically lousy acting kick in. Lola Montes and La ronde share a theatrical conceit: a narrator who addresses the camera. In La ronde, played by Walbrook, he's akin to the Stage Manager in Our Town, weaving in and out of the drama; in Lola Montes he's a circus ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) who introduces episodes of Lola's life as feats of spectacle and daring for the delectation of an audience. But LE PLAISIR (January 24) is worth a look. It dramatizes three Maupassant stories, and though the first has only one terrific sequence, at a dancehall, and the third is unmemorable, the middle episode, which takes up more than half of the film's running time, is sublime. "The House of Madame Tellier" is about a madam (Madeleine Renaud) who takes her little band of whores into the countryside for her niece's first communion. It represents the finest work Ophüls did on his return to Europe in the '50s until Madame de . . . the following year — a film that boasts three of the most astonishing performances in movie history (by Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, and Vittorio de Sica) and remains the most glittering achievement in his extraordinary career.
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