Lola Montès (1955)

Lola Montès (1955)
  • 4965
  • Not Rated
  • Genre: Biography
  • Release year: 1955 ()
  • Running time: 116 min
  • Original Title: Lola Montès
  • Voted: 4965

The film tells the tragic story of Lola Montès, a great adventurer who becomes the main attraction of a circus after being the lover of various important European men.

1Martine CarolLola Montes
2Peter UstinovCircus Master
3Anton WalbrookLudwig I, King of Bavaria
4Henri GuisolHorseman Maurice
  • the most flawed masterpiece by 10

    Of all movies that appear here and there in lists of greatest movies of all-time Lola Montès is the most criticized. Ranked by some as one of the 10 greatest, the movie suffers from some slow scenes and a wooden-acted protagonist played by Martine Carol. But the overall effect is mesmerizing. Cinema′s history isn′t made only of perfect movies.

    It is the only color movie that Max Ophüls directed and the last of his career. You could only imagine the genius he would be in color films. The circus that links all the facts is a example of decadence in its greens and reds that many advertising-style filmmakers would kill for to get the same effect to show beauty. Ophüls is subtle and the most elegant director that has ever lived. He is one of the fundamental cinema masters (in the same category of Griffith, Chaplin, Eisenstein, Bu?uel, Renoir, Welles, Bergman, Ford, Hitchcock, Wilder, Visconti, Mizoguchi, Truffaut, etc) and probably the less seen of them.

    Lola Montès received poor critics at the time of its release but was recognized as great art and a summing up of Ophüls′ themes by the French nouvelle vague critics. You find in it some interesting comments about the way the society created by men destroy women and their paths to happiness. Ophüls was an author not a historian. He wasn′t interested in Lola as a historic figure but as a celebrity humiliated by her public just because she tried to be free. Ophüls has decided to make the movie after noticing how press used to treat the crisis of Judy Garland and Zsa Zsa Gabor affairs.

    If you want to see other incredible films of the director watch to Libelei, Letter from an Unknown Woman and La Ronde.

  • great as spectacle and technical wonder, but also a heartbreaking tale of a lost woman by 10

    It is not entirely fair to recommend Lola Montes so highly, or admire it so, since even the version that screened recently at the Film Forum in NYC, purported to be the definitive restoration, is *still* a truncated version. The original director's cut that premiered in France in 1955, and then to immediate withdrawal after its "disaster" of a reception at 140 minutes, is no longer available. At the least, it's a saving grace that so much has been saved in this 115 minute cut, considering how many version there are and how they vary with the running time.

    And, for Pete sake, if by some chance you can see it on the big-screen (it's soon to leave the Film Forum for its *second* run following the re-release last October and its re-premiere at the NYFF), do so. The filmmaker, Max Ophuls, in what was his unintentional swan song- he died at 55- shot the hell out of this picture, with director of photography Christian Matras taking the 2:35:1 frame with new Eastmancolor by the horns and shaking it for all it could be worth within the context of a "vibrant" 19th century costume melodrama bio-pic. The colors all jump off so splendidly, with such a force that compels one to not have too long of a blink, as to do so would be to miss on little surprises, little things that Ophuls uses in his frame which he careens and swivels and moves around with the freedom of a curious, pleasantly intoxicated fowl. It's one of the first masterpieces of the widescreen color film.

    But it's not just a great film in technical terms. That would be too easy perhaps for Ophuls, who uses this backdrop of the sweeping and sensational to pierce through other deeper things going on with the characters. In Lola Montes his character is someone who re-lives what has happened in her relatively short life (relatively since she's not really "old" in the sense of being tucked away from the public's gaze) as a main attraction in a French circus.

    She's an object first and person second in this context, which as one can imagine bustles and throbs with excitement and fun as only something of a cousin to Fellini could be. And yet as a person she's had quite a journey to where she's at: from aristocratic daughter given away to a marriage she has to run away from (unfaithful husband, figures with a wife who is about as beautiful a being as could be in the immediate vicinity), then becomes a ballerina (her childhood dream), and then... well, a topic of gossip and scandal, such as romancing a conductor, all ending in Bavaria with her hopes of possibly settling down squandered for good. Hence the circus gig.

    It's a story that's given that same kaleidoscopic view as in Citizen Kane, but this time with the twist that the protagonist isn't given the sort of "luxury" of already being dead as the story of a life is sifted through and given a LARGER-than-LIFE context. Lola's story is a spectacle, sometimes farce, sometimes legend, sometimes one of those too-much-to-believe sagas that keeps those glued to their seats while Lola also entertains with trapeze work! And yet under the blue lights, under the costume changes and other mock-ups and even the Q&A sessions that the ringmaster holds with the audience and Lola, the soul of this woman is about as "there" as a near-empty gas tank. She may still be alive, but it's a kind of limbo that would be too insane if it weren't true and played out to full spectacle and extravaganza.

    As said, this is a work of true technical mastery, and there's one amazing camera move or one amazing little direction (I just smiled ear to ear seeing in the opening how the circus performers rolled out, and it stayed for a solid five minutes). But, too, Ophuls has an engaging, wonderful actress on top of having a complete knockout visually: Martine Carol, who I'm not sure I've seen outside of this film, pulls out a performance that wavers between weepy, flustered, driven, elegant, tortured, calm and hiding back hysteria. It's half diva and half substantially undermined human soul, and she pulls it off like it's the performance of a life. Good marks also go to Peter Ustinov as the Ringmaster, chugging along through a script that he knows almost too well (we get very amusing asides with one of the "little" people in the red costumes trying to get their change back from him mid-act), and the actor who played the Bavarian king. In Ophuls hands, they're not just other pieces of the set, but actors who work so diligently to make this all one cohesive piece.

    And, really, that's what makes Lola Montes ultimately so remarkable. Ophuls has moments of melodrama, maybe so much so that one will have to really love costume-period-melodrama flicks to really appreciate it (I actually don't usually, this is an exception), and at the same time they all work as part of this story about what lies behind the pomp and circumstance. You can get lost from time to time in this movie, and it's thrilling to get wrapped up in it. And as well as an artistic achievement of considerable proportions, it's a really fun movie to boot.

  • The Most Scandalous Woman of the Nineteenth Century by 7

    In the Nineteenth Century, the Irish born dancer Lola Montès (Martine Carol) was the lover of many famous men, including Franz Liszt and the King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who made her Countess of Landsfeld. With a revolutionary movement, she flees from Munich and travels to the United States of America. She is hired by the Circus Master (Peter Ustinov) that tells her scandalous love affairs in every show and she becomes the lead attraction of the circus.

    "Lola Montès" is not my favorite Max Ophüls film, but it is certainly his best work of cinematography, costumes and art decoration. The restored DVD highlights these aspects and it recalls Luchino Visconti style. However, the narrative of the life of the most scandalous European woman of the Nineteenth Century is tiresome in many moments. My vote is seven.

    Title (Brazil): "Lola Montèz"

  • An intriguing film, of many facets. by 10

    The 140 min version intended for international release (UK and USA) was never shown; one can only guess of the enormous power it had, considering that even the production cut released in Paris for the world premiere caused public riots and the police intervention.

    Max Ophüls considered the German version the director's cut, and we are fortunate that mecenas and technical people worked together to restore to its best color and sound the 110 min version. The director presents the story in a logic, not chronological order, using the voice of an American Ring Master (Peter Ustinov in one of his best characters) to describe the life of Maria Dolores Elisa Regina Gilbert (an actual person, who lived from 1818 to 1861), who brought herself up from a poor childhood, through torrid passions with musicians, painters, revolutionaries and nobility (she was titled Countess of Lansfeld by Ludwig I, King of Bavaria.

    I saw once the English dubbed version, cut to 90m long (or rather 87...), and though the acting and drama were there, they were clobbered by enormous technical defaults, poor sound and scratched picture. Now I've seen the restored version, and I was riveted to the film during each of its 110 min. Martine Carol speaking German when needed, but falling back to her French language when passion or anger naturally lead her to, is so nice to hear. Peter Ustinov is at his best in the scene where he tries to convince the daring but reluctant ruined Countess to go with him to North America, to play in a Circus; she refuses the huge amounts he is offering, but he leaves her a cheque anyway, and remarks dryly: "In America all scandals can be sold - Lola!" Later, when he gives the order that will eventually put an end to her career, and life (33 year old, with a tired heart, the doctor says), there rings of death in his trembling voice, as we see, like the gallant Lola up there in the trapeze, the black void.

    "Gentlemen and boys over 16, come in now... You can see it all now, all that has not been ever seen in a circus show, inside the tent. It's only one dollar... only one dollar... only one dollar..." And the voice goes on and one, and the crowd gets thicker and thicker; men in black tie, and jobless chums, shoulder to shoulder for only one dollar; and the voice goes on, as the show must go on. Forever there must be more bright colors, blaring trumpets, funny animals, scandalous lives to expose. Was THAT the end?

  • Cirque de Celebrity by 4

    Watching "Lola Montes" often feels like rollerskating up and down hilly streets lined with sumptuously designed department store windows. At other times you would swear that Josef von Sternberg made a 50s comeback in color, so packed are the frames and so obstructed are the sightlines; the only thing missing is the Sternbergian close-ups. Then you might wonder if Bertolt Brecht had a hand in the screenplay, so alienated are we from the emotional core of this woman's life.

    The film seesaws between a circus act starring the middle-aged title character (Martine Carol) and flashbacks to her past. In the circus setting, ringmaster Peter Ustinov presents a series of impossibly lavish tableaux which depict points in Montes's scandalous life. The flashbacks include her first marriage, her dalliance with King Ludwig I of Bavaria (Anton Walbrook), and her relationship with a Bavarian student (Oskar Werner). In reality, Montes never appeared as the star of such a circus act, but this film's creators have chosen to present her life in these terms in order to cast her as a metaphor of the celebrity freak, no different in essence from a circus animal who jumps through hoops or a daredevil who engages in public spectacle. She is almost always seen from a distance, as if to emphasize her actual insignificance. The parallels to our contemporary celebrity culture are obvious.

    But beyond this commentary on celebrity and the technical virtuosity of the busy sets and panning camera, there is nothing much here. There is certainly no compelling drama. The central character is so distanced from the viewer that she can only be grasped as a concept, not as a human being.

    And I have to agree with others that Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" comes to mind, but even that endless Carnival Cruise Ship commercial had a clear central love story.

1Max Ophülsdirector
2Albert Caracoproducer
3Cécil Saint-Laurentwriter
4Annette Wademantwriter
5Jacques Natansonwriter
6Franz Geigerwriter