Thursday, May 06, 2010

1952, Year in Review: Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge
Directed by John Huston
Starring: Jose Ferrer, Collette Marchand, Suzanne Flon, Zsa Zsa Gabor
Grade: C -

In his 1950 Oscar-winning turn as Cyrano De Bergerac Jose Ferrer must sport a nose that even Pinocchio would balk at, and yet that didn't deter him from returning two years later to an even bigger physical handicap in John Huston's Moulin Rouge. He waddles along with tiny legs that "stopped growing" for reasons never fully explained, and as tortured artist Henri Tolouse-Lautrec he bears the burden of this handicap for stretches of the film's lengthy running time.

Was Ferrer going for Oscar numero deux? C'est possible. More likely he felt that the period prestige suited his well-spoken sensibilites, and I'll concede that he'd largely be justified in that assumption. He's much more impressive in Cyrano, but oddly charming here, even as the film becomes increasingly repetitive in the to-and-fro of his desperate relationship with local whore Marie Charlet.

Marlene Dietrich showed in Josef Von Sternberg's The Devil is a Woman that as a devious Spanish temptress she could pout and allure better than anyone else in the Thirties (save for maybe Greta Garbo). Collette Marchand's efforts -- while admittedly marooned in a lesser vehicle -- amount to whining and flailing, understandably unsure of whether Marie is supposed to hold any flicker of a torch for Lautrec, and therefore reluctant to commit to any course of action regarding the character. Much of the early narrative is saturated with this thoroughly disinteresting relationship, and offers little real insight into the motivations of Tolouse-Lautrec, failing to detail why either Charlet or the period instilled the man with such a prolific degree of inspiration.

There's a hint of a character study jumbled somewhere inside Moulin Rouge; the desire to chronicle a man trying to find himself inside his work. Late moments concerning his romance with Suzanne Flon offer mild recompense to a strangely throttled middle portion, but otherwise the plotline trundles arduously along, worsened considerably by the occasional introduction of needless, clunkily-directed montages of colourful etchings to demonstrate a severe passing of time. Despite all of the lavish cosmetics afforded to Huston's picture it never manages to get a handle on the particular brand of plastered Paris in which Lautrec reigned, a crime which finally renders Moulin Rouge a crashing failure.

Academy Awards

Best Art Direction, Colour
Best Costume Design, Colour

Best Picture
Best Director: John Huston
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Jose Ferrer
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Collette Marchand
Best Film Editing

1 comment:

Runs Like A Gay said...

I often find this rally hard to reconcile with the rest of Huston's work.

It's clearly not a passion piece, much of the direction seems muted and dull - far from his better crime pics. Neither is it a one for the studio (at least I hope not).

Either was it's a poor cousin to the rest of his output.