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Simone Simon doesn't take the title role in Mademoiselle Fifi that dubious honour goes to Kurt Krueger but it's still her best role outside of the Cat People films. A rare non-horror credit for Val Lewton, it's a well-mounted and surprisingly effective combination of two of Guy De Maupassant's stories about passive resistance in the Franco-Prussian war that works as an effective WW2 propaganda piece. Simon's character may have been changed from a plump prostitute to a petite laundress (this was the 1940s, after all), but the first half, based on the story that inspired Stagecoach, is still a remarkably effective adaptation that segues comfortably into the second story, linking them both by a battle of wills with the titular bored Prussian officer who wants the population to submit to his whims purely as a mark of obsequiousness. Nicely directed by Robert Wise, it deserves to be much better known and it's a shame that Warners couldn't find a place for it on their Val Lewton boxed set, though Editions Montparnasse's French DVD is an acceptable transfer.
There is a good film waiting to be made out of de Maupassant's story, but
this isn't it. (Stagecoach isn't either). We can understand it isn't Lewton
and Wise's fault, it's just that the censorship wouldn't allow it to be done
Thus, the central character gets turned into a laundress, and the climax comes when she... HAS DINNER with the sadistic Prussian officer!! (in the story, she was shunned by her fellow passengers for being a hooker, then she saves the day by going to bed with him)).
Modern directors like Agnieszka Holland or M.L. Bemberg could make a really great movie out of this, but 1940's America was just not the place.
A minor movie set at the end of the 19th century in France, during the
Prusian occupation. It's an adaptation from a Guy de Maupassant that
deals with the lack of ideals in the upper classes and how the poor are
the ones who end up making sacrifices for their country (and for those
rich people who has no ideals).
What's more attractive about "Madamemoiselle Fifi" is the presence of the so beautiful and sexy Simone Simon. Apart from that it's just a pleasant product, one of the first that filmed the prestigious director Robert Wise.
*My rate: 5/10
This is a very interesting film directed by a very famous Hollywood Director, Robert Wise,"The Sound of Music","West Side Story" and many other famous films. This is a gem of a 1944 film starring Simone Simon, (Elizabeth Bousset),"The Curse of the Cat People" who plays the role of a young French Laundress who shares a coach ride during the Franco-Prussian War with some very important social superiors. These so called social superiors thought themselves better than Elizabeth, however, when they forgot to bring any food supplies on their journey, she furnished them with chicken she had prepared for herself and things changed. Kurt Kreuger, (Lt. Von Eyrick) is a Prussian soldier who tries to hit on Elizabeth and stops all the travelers from going on their journey until poor Elizabeth complies with his wishes. Jason Roboards,Sr., (Wholesaler in Wines) gave a great supporting role along with John Emery, (Jean Cornudet) who comes to the aid of Elizabeth along with a Priest who will not ring the church bells of his Parish in defiance of the Prussian Generals. Great Classic Film.
A rare non-horror effort from producer Val Lewton, this is a period film about a patriotic laundress during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Lewton brought along Cat People star Simone Simon and director Robert Wise (who would do two horror films for Lewton, including Curse of the Cat People with Simon). Despite the setting, it's very obviously meant to be about Nazi-occupied France. It's also pretty clear Simon's character was meant to be a prostitute but the Code wouldn't allow that. The way the upper class types look down on her and the stuff about the German officer wanting to "dine" with her and her steadfast refusal over something so minor is indicative that more is going on here than the script is allowed to say outright. Simone's gorgeous as ever. I love her adorable accent. She handles herself well in this often unexciting costumer. The rest of the cast is fine, with Kurt Kreuger a standout as the slimy villain (and the title character). It's a beautiful-looking film with cinematography by Harry Wild. Lewton fans might like to take a look at it but don't expect anything like his atmospheric horror films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although director Robert Wise makes striking use of standing sets from RKO's Hunchback of Notre Dame to give us memorable images of the coach in the town, the lackluster studio scenes inside the coach, plus a disappointing performance from Simone Simon who plays with little of her usual fire and vigor; plus the very second-string support cast led by John Emery, Kurt Kreuger, Alan Napier, Helen Freeman and Jason Robards, Senior hardly players that would induce even a mild stampede at the box-office; plus a screenplay that is not only far too talky but far too obviously is bending over backwards to make patriotic parallels; plus Robert Wise's disappointingly bland direction; plus niggardly production values. In all, a very disappointing movie from the Val Lewton unit, well below the producer's usual high standard on all counts, including script, direction, cast, and writing. Screenwriter Peter Ruric could do much better than this, e.g. "The Black Cat" and "Grand Central Murder".
SIMONE SIMON, who gained so much fame from her "Cat People" persona and
a subsequent film called "Curse of the Cat People", appears here in an
uneven costume drama adapted from two Guy DeMaupassant stories about
class differences at the time of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and a
young woman who has to assert herself when the going gets rough. She
shows spirit in her offbeat role and the cast is a good one, featuring
JOHN EMERY, ALAN NAPIER, KURT KREUGER and JASON ROBARDS, SR.
The coach scene that takes up the first twenty minutes or so of the story is reminiscent of "Stagecoach" in which the characters behave snobbishly toward Claire Trevor, as the prostitute with a heart of gold. Here it's SIMONE SIMON as a laundress with her own sense of pride, refusing to deal with the Prussians or Germans on any level, not even willing to do their laundry. Only when she offers food and drink to the other passengers, do they begin to find any good in her, at least temporarily.
Her loyalty to France makes her resist the request of the Prussian officer, KURT KREUGER, to dine with them when the passengers must stay over at an inn. The other passengers get together and force her to humble her patriotism for the sake of letting them go on with their journey. She complies and the next day when they resume their journey, the others are ungrateful to her and treat her shabbily again. JOHN EMERY tells them off and leaves the coach to meet up with her. She refuses to accept his apology for not taking a stronger stand in the resistance movement but changes her mind later when he does prove to be heroic.
The resistance message seems to reflect the type of WWII propaganda films Hollywood churned out during this period, but the film is an odd mixture of costume drama and patriotism under fire.
Not exactly a ground breaker, but interesting, especially for fans of Simone Simon's screen persona. Just why this particular story interested Val Lewton, considering his background as a man who preferred making horror films, is not clear to me.
The film,"Mademoiselle Fifi" is a combination of two of Guy de Maupassant's patriotic stories: "Boule de Suif," the story of a patriotic French girl whose love for her country is misunderstood by those with whom she comes in contact; and "Mademoiselle Fifi,", a tale of a sadistic Prussian officer intent on breaking the will of conquered France, who has been nicknamed "Mademoiselle Fifi" by his comrades because of his constant use of the phrase "Fi fi done." The action takes place during the last part of the Franco-Prussian Way, the locale being occupied France from the city of Rouen, headquarters of the German Third Army, to a little village near the unoccupied territory.
like many movies from period, it is seductive for its atmosphere. it is a kind of Maupassant in American skin. nice, clean, melodramatic, with patriotic heart but , in same measure, good example for a manner to present a drama. sure, like many films of war , its purpose is obvious - to be model for viewers. but it is its sin. Simone Simon is perfect gem for a strange construction, without real story and almost confuse. Manichean lines of script, the good and bad characters, the message like stamp on letter, a great potential and fear to expose more than demand of rules. a film. like many. interesting seed for discover Maupassant work/style. and for hope to a better adaptation.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There isn't too terribly much that I could add that hasn't already been said.However, to add on something for one of Profesor Lisistwitz's observations-yes the heroines in both stories were prostitutes but, given the state of the censorship codes at that time, their true profession(by the way, the world's oldest) wouldn't have been acceptable. In addition, most of the other critics have quite perceptively noticed and mentioned that the screenplay is based on two of Guy De Mauppassant' short stories, which have been quite cleverly put together.And this IS the genius of the scriptwriters.The humiliated girl in "Ball of Fat" come back to retaliate against the villain who humiliated her in the beginning.Well done!
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