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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Moulin Rouge (1952)

It's Paris in 1890 and the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Jose Ferrer) spends his nights drowning himself in Cognac and drawing the dancers at the slightly disreputable but exciting Moulin Rouge nightclub. A childhood accident prevented his legs from healing properly leaving him with the torso of an adult but the legs of a small child, so he is very self conscious about his misshapen appearance. John Huston's film of Toulouse-Lautrec's life is one of the highpoints in the use of color in cinema. Beautifully shot in three strip Technicolor by Oswald Morris (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF), the Moulin Rouge sequences with its eye popping color design and costumes, the exciting smoky atmosphere and superb dance sequences (equaled only by Jean Renoir's FRENCH CAN-CAN) make the film worthwhile. Sadly, the highly fictionalized narrative is pretty conventional and uninteresting focusing more on Toulouse-Lautrec's alleged love life than on his Art. Ferrer's dour performance doesn't help either. The film's acting honors go to Colette Marchand (a dancer/choreographer who made only three feature films) as a duplicitous prostitute who uses him, a performance impressive enough to have gotten her a supporting actress Oscar nomination. Shockingly, not one of its seven Oscar nominations were for Morris's striking cinematography. With Zsa Zsa Gabor, who's not bad though her dubbed singing voice seems all wrong emanating from her, Suzanne Flon, Theodore Bikel, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Jill Bennett, Muriel Smith and Katharine Kath as La Goulue.

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