Lola Montès (1955)

The vicissitudes of my film viewing lead at times to some amusing contrasts from one film to the next, and here’s a splendid example; this film couldn’t be less similar to Gun Crazy if it tried—French, colour, Cinemascope, huge expense and production values, all of that. Still somewhat controversial for the hack job done on the film after its initial release was a failure (though obviously I’ve watched the recent restoration with footage thought lost since the 1950s added back in), but also for its star, Martine Carol, who seems to get a lot of flak for simply not being a good enough actress. I can’t really comment on that, cos I’m frankly not much good at judging acting in languages other than English, though I am baffled by a comment in the Madman DVD booklet, whose author, David Lugowski, thinks Carol was too young for the role. The problem with that is that when she made the film Carol was, in fact, several years older than the historical Lola was when the latter was living out these adventures, so… No, I think it’s not so much Carol as the character, who remains somewhat elusive. Ophüls keeps us at a literal distance with the camera, but Lola remains distant as a person. There’s the idea that the film is really about popular fascination with celebrity, and she was nothing if not a celebrity; here she’s a very literal circus exhibit, her quite extraordinary life reduced to a mass consumption spectacle with clowns, trapeze acts, all of that, and all at quite some remove from the actuality. She’s more of a thing than a person, and in that celebrity culture hasn’t changed much over the decades. But Lola remains as distant from us as she does from the gawkers at the big top; Adrian Martin’s commentary notes that the film never really shows her dancing, which was what she was at least partly famous for. But as the ringmaster rather bluntly notes, the historical Lola apparently wasn’t possessed of much actual ability as a performer and we may assume she was famous in at least some part just for being Lola Montez. For my money, alas, Ophüls never quite lets us see exactly what it was people saw in Lola in the first place. An obvious triumph of visuals, this, but a disappointment otherwise.


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