Writer Georges Duroy (George Sanders) is one social-climbing S.O.B. who does most of his climbing over the warm (and cold) bodies of women. He begins with Rachel (Marie Wilson), a hanger-on...
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Writer Georges Duroy (George Sanders) is one social-climbing S.O.B. who does most of his climbing over the warm (and cold) bodies of women. He begins with Rachel (Marie Wilson), a hanger-on in the cafes and Folies Bergere crowd, and then moves on to dally with Clotilde de Morelle (Angela Lansbury.) Always striving to move upward on the social scale, he ditches her to marry Madeleine Forestier (Ann Dvorak). Now he gets on the fast track. He persuades Madame Walter (Katherine Emery), the wife of his publisher, to fall in love with him, and then compromises Madeleine to frame a divorce, so he can pursue Madame Walter's daughter, Suzanne (Susan Douglas, before somebody decided her later-married name was her most-often used screen name.) He moves along so well that ere long he is in legal position to usurp the title of one of France's most noble houses. The moral, at the end, is it is okay to mess with French women, but triffling with French titles is going too far. Written by
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In the 1880's, a handsome rake schemes his way to the top of French society leaving a trail of exploited women in his wake.
I was about to slam Sanders' performance as a wooden one-note. Note how in the many close-ups his expression rarely changes, conveying little or no emotion, regardless the situation. Then it occurred to me. That's exactly right for such a heartless egotist as Duroy. In fact, he feels no emotion. Instead he's a walking calculator in the way he uses people. In place of warmth or animated charm, he seduces women with a strongly masculine presence and complete self-assurance, which Sanders conveys, in spades. Note too, how in the dueling scene, Duroy looks on impassively while his opponent musters strength to shoot him. Now a lack of emotion while staring death in the face is either evidence of an iron will or a simple lack of feeling. Of course, as an actor, Sanders can emote subtly or otherwise when called upon, as his lengthy career shows. So I figure his impassive manner in this movie is intended to define Duroy's character, and is not a deficiency on either the actor's or director's part.
Anyway, the movie itself amounts to a triumph of parlor room refinement. I especially like Lansbury. Her baby-face Clotilde provides enough meaningful emotion to engage the audience in ways that Duroy does not. In fact, the actresses, including a poignant Marie Wilson, are all well cast. Still, pairing the 40-year old Sanders with a girlish Douglas, half his age, amounts to a real stretch. But catch some of those parlor room sets that are doozies. The one with the checkered floor and striped wall had me cleaning my glasses. Overall, it's an oddly affecting morality play, with a style and taste that make even the painted backdrops somehow appropriate. Too bad this was the great Warren William's (Laroche) last movie. In terms of a commanding presence, he and Sanders belong together, as William's pre-Code films abundantly show. Nonetheless, this is one of the few features of the time to make a thoroughly dislikable character the central figure. And that took some guts. No wonder the film was an independent production.
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