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Celestine, the chamber-maid, has a new job in the country, at the Lanlaires. She has decided to use her beauty to seduce a wealthy man, but Mr. Lanlaire is not a right choice: the house is firmly controlled by Madame Lanlaire, helped by the strange valet Joseph. Then she tries the neighbour, former officer Mauger. This seems to work. But soon the son of the Lanlaires comes back. He is young, attractive and does not share his mother's antirepublican opinions. So Celestine's beauty attracts Captain Mauger, young Georges Lanlaire, and Joseph. Three men, from three different social classes, with three different conceptions of life. Will Celestine be able to convince Georges of her sincerity? Will sinister and inflexible Joseph let his views on Celestine be ruined? A quite disillusioned depiction of humanity. Written by
This film is not to be confused with the film by the same name which was made in 1964 by the famed director Luis Buñuel. While the theme of a conniving maid who is using her wiles to get ahead is in both and they have the same name, otherwise the films are very dissimilar--mostly because the bizarreness of Buñuel's version is missing. No foot fetishes, no rape, no murder and no antisemitism in the 1946 film! Jean Renoir's vision for the story is light-years different from Buñuel's. Personally, I think both versions have their strengths and both have their flaws, but I think the latter version is a bit better.
Paulette Goddard plays the title role. She is a conniving woman who comes to her new home as a maid in order to marry a rich man. She's mostly interested in the master's son--but the young man is an indifferent suitor at best (Hurd Hatfield). There's also the old and VERY wacky neighbor (Burgess Meredith) and the valet--played in a very creepy manner by Francis Lederer. Who will she get by the end of the film? And, unfortunately, who care? My biggest problem with this film is Goddard. I have long wondered why she got so many plum roles as she was only a fair actress--and here she often overplays her part. Any sort of subtlety is missing from her portrayal--and the role really needed this, as the woman SHOULD have been played like a master manipulator. As far as the direction goes, it wasn't bad--and had the nice look Jean Renoir was noted for in his films. But he probably should have reigned in a few of the more florid portrayals (not just Goddard's)--though Lederer was BRILLIANT and the best thing about the film. Also, Goddard's character was a bit too sympathetic--she should have been much more amoral and manipulative in order to make the movie more enjoyable. Overall, I prefer the 1964 version a bit more--though I think this film could use yet another remake--one that is more subtle and without the weird 'extras' Luis Buñuel put in his film that tended to distract the viewer. Worth seeing but nothing more--and it should have been better. A great script idea that should have been even better--and juicier.
FYI--Burgess Meredith and Paulette Goddard were married while they were making this film. Seeing Meredith wearing so much makeup and playing a very old man was rather funny--as they are almost the same age.
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