A Scandal in Paris 1946 A loose biography of Napoleonic era career criminal Eugène François Vidocq who later became Paris’ prefect of police. Directed by Douglas Sirk. Born in prison, our hero (George Sanders) placidly returns there often as a young man. His cell mate, genial murderer Emile Vernet (Akim Tamiroff), receives a cake with a file in it (no kidding) and the two break out. They’re found sleeping on church steps and hired to pose as St. George and the Dragon, but just before the painter adds finishing touches, ride off on his horse in full armor and scales.
The army seems a safe place to hide. Upon return two years later, while embracing vocalist Loretta (Carole Landis), the protagonist steals her ruby garter. She lies about his appearance to police. Modestly bankrolled, the escapees are heading for Paris when they encounter elderly Marquise De Pierremont (Alma Kruger) wearing a multitude of diamonds. Being gentlemen, they help her corral a pet monkey and are invited to tea (chocolate). Our rogue chooses his name off a grave.
That the old lady’s son-in-law, is the commissioner of police (Alan Napier) hardly gives Eugène pause. He accepts an invitation to stay over in order to steal the jewels. Pious Therese (Signe Hasso), one of the official’s daughters, fell in love with the thief’s face as St. George in her local church. She intrigues him, but not yet enough to jettison the plan. The rest of the clever tale does not unfold as expected. None of it. A lark. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Les Enfants du Paradis- Children of Paradise (1945) by Marcel Carné: One of the GREAT works of cinema. Nineteenth century Paris’ theater community, its “Boulevard du Crime,” the famous and infamous, many based on real people. Filmed during WWII, it features most top tier actors of the time. Baptiste Debureau (Jean Louis Barrault introducing his iconic Pierrot mime), the actor Frédérick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur) the thief Pierre François Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), and the aristocrat Édouard de Montray (Louis Salou) – are in love with Garance (Arletty). The period comes alive. Characterizations are rich. An immensely satisfying example of poetic realism. Moving. Buy Blu-Ray on Amazon Prime. In subtitled French.
An American in Paris 1951 Inspired by George Gershwin’s music with songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. The lyrically romantic love story of World War II veteran/aspiring painter Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) and young Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron in her film debut) with whom he’s smitten at a nightclub. Jerry deals with patroness Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) who wants more from him than art. Lise has committed to entertainer Henri “Hank” Baurel (Georges Guetary) out of gratitude for his protection during the war. Jerry’s best friend Adam Cook (the reliably wry Oscar Levant) is a classical nod. Sheer pleasure.
Kelly’s wonderful choreography includes fine tap and a 17 minute ballet with evocative Impressionist sets costing half a million dollars to shoot. Some of the backdrops for the sequence measured 300 feet wide and 40 feet high. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Le Plaisir 1953 French with English subtitles. The adaptation of three fin de siècle stories by Guy de Maupassant: “Le Masque,” “La Maison Tellier,” “Le Modele.” Directed by Max Ophuls. With, among others, Clause Dauphin, Danielle Darrieux, Madeleine Renaud, and Jean Gabin, Pierre Brasseur and Simone Simon. A masked dancer who dazzles The Moulin Rouge faints one night revealing his incredible secret. The well-respected madam of a small-town brothel takes her girls on an outing to her brother’s village surprising everyone first with elegance, then with heartfelt emotion. The star-crossed relationship of a painter and his model ends abruptly. Careful what you wish for. Charm with gravitas. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Last Time I Saw Paris 1954 Loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story “Babylon Revisited.” Directed by Richard Brooks. Stars and Stripes journalist Charles Wills (Van Johnson) finds himself in Paris on VE Day. He’s kissed in passing by Helen Ellswirth (Elizabeth Taylor), who promptly gets swallowed up by the crowd, then circumstantially meets her sister Marion (Donna Reed) in a bar. Marion invites the attractive soldier to a party thrown by her sybaritic father James (Walter Pidgeon) who, as usual living beyond his means, managed to acquire a serious amount of Champagne.
At the party, Charles encounters and is drawn to Helen, much to Marion’s chagrin. He falls in love with and marries Helen, gets a job on a Paris newspaper and works on a novel. Marion marries solid French suitor Claude Matine (George Dolenz). When a family oil well thought to be dry suddenly erupts, income is no longer an issue. Charles quits the paper. Helen has a child. Accustomed to high life and busting out after the war, she draws him into a constant whirl of nightlife/parties.
They both drink too much, but she can stop, while struggling with rejection letters, Charles descends into alcoholism. The veteran’s drinking causes a death, he returns to the states, gets clean, and remorsefully returns to try to salvage his life. Walter Pidgeon is marvelous, other actors less so partly due to formulaic characters. Still, the film as a whole is appealing. Taylor is gorgeous. Also with Eva Gabor and Kurt Kasznar. Rent on Amazon Prime.
French Can-Can French with English subtitles. Directed by Jean Renoir. A glorious homage to French café life in the 19th century. THIS is the most accurate depiction of original can-can you’re likely to see. Mlle. Fraidora the celebrated French specialty dancer leads. Immensely evocative and all together a treat. Scenes often mirror the art of Toulouse Lautrec, Edgar Degas, and the director’s father Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Henri Danglard (the marvelous Jean Gabin) owns a café/music hall that features his mistress, dancer Lola (María Félix). Finding himself in Montmartre one night, he discovers the once outlawed can-can is still being performed and decides to invest everything (and more) in a new club (The Moulin Rouge). Pretty, young laundress Nini (Francoise Arnoul) catches his eye and the producer decides to teach her to lead the can-can.
Unlike clichés, Danglard is a gentleman, which is not to say he doesn’t appreciate women, but rather that he keeps his hands to himself and an eye on the welfare of appreciative employees. Lola is jealous and almost succeeds in sabotaging the new club, but all exuberantly comes out well in the end. Watch on Criterion.
Gigi 1958 musical. Based on the novella by Colette. Songs by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Turn of the Century Paris. Leslie Caron as the perfect Gigi, though she’d lost much of her French accent in London and had to rediscover it. (Audrey Hepburn turned down the role.)
Roué, Honoré Lachaille (Maurice Chevalier) and his nephew Gaston (Louis Jourdan) feel differently about their lives of style, privilege and leisure. The older man relishes it, while Gaston is bored by glossy surfaces with nothing beneath. He finds respite with old friend Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold – pitch perfect) and her delightfully unguarded niece, Gigi (Caron). Under the aegis of her former courtesan aunt, Gigi is being trained to attract a wealthy lover (or several). She barely understands why and what the fuss is about.
On a vacation in Trouville, Gaston suddenly begins to see Gigi differently. She is, after all, the only woman who keeps things fresh. (Honoré and Madame Alvarez run into each other. It seems they were once lovers.) He invites Gigi to Maxim’s. She looks and acts wonderfully, but the correctness confuses him…until he realizes her value. Happy ending. An absolute delight. Rent on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Can-Can 1960 Loosely based on the musical play by Abe Burrows; music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Directed by Walter Lang. Simone Pistache (Shirley MacLaine) owns and is lead dancer at the Bal du Paradis. She pays off police in order to be able to perform the (lewd) can-can, a popular draw. One night sympathetic Chief Magistrate Paul Barrière (Maurice Chevalier) brings colleague Philippe Forrestier (Louis Jordan) to the club as a treat. Instead, the outraged Philippe raids the place.
Simone’s errant boyfriend, lawyer François Durnais (Frank Sinatra) arranges to bail out the ladies, but not without unaccustomed effort. The club narrowly survives. Philippe is first intrigued then enchanted by Simone. He proposes marriage. When François doesn’t step up, she agrees but faces the judge’s upper class friends. Almost everyone changes his mind. Also with Juliet Prowse. Fin de siècle Paris and Cole Porter! Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top Bigstock photo: Moulin Rouge at night. It is a world famous cabaret in Paris. Today its a tourist attraction offering musical dance entertainment for visitors from around the world.