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USA 1952
Directed by
John Huston
119 minutes
Rated M

3.5 stars

Moulin Rouge (1952)

Whatever its shortcoming as history (for example no mention is made of singer/comedian Aristide Bruant, famous from Toulouse-Lautrec's posters as the man dressed in black with the red scarf) this account of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's life is surprisingly effective, particularly given the kind of heavily sanitized biopics that were characteristic of Hollywood at the time such as Michael Curtiz's 1946 Cole Porter film, Night And Day.

Huston opens with a lengthy sequence featuring the song and dance style that made Paris's Moulin Rouge infamous in the 1890's. It then settles down to tell the story of the man who made it an icon of the time. Lautrec (José Ferrer) is introduced as a dourly cynical, defensive man given to uttering Wildean bon mots between knocking back glasses of cognac. Aside from an explanation of his family background and the congenital disorder that stunted his growth, the main focus of the film is his unhappiness in love, first with a cheap hussy (Colette Marchand) , then a society model (Maureen Swanson).

The film provides an excellent showcase of Lautrec's painting, with a couple of effective montages of them set to music in the latter part of the film, and an impressive recreation of his world with wonderful costume and set design. Huston's direction is impressive, the opening dance numbers standing out in particular whilst the use of colour is tellingly linked to Lautrec's mood swings. Following his Oscar win for Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), Ferrer is convincing (he also plays the artist's father, Le Comte de Toulouse-Lautrec), Huston cleverly getting around the painter's infirmity by using sharp camera angles, concealed pits and I assume, trolleys, and body doubles, the outcome only looking odd in the couple of front-on shots. The film's only noticeable misfire are Zsa Zsa Gabor's two lip-synched songs as Jane Avril.




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