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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
Les Adams <email@example.com>
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A cad without the charm he needs, but snappy writing and solid cast.
The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947)
The weary diffidence of George Sanders makes this movie what it is, but there is a rather large cast of important characters who hold up their types, too. Only Sanders in the lead role (as the Bel Ami) has full roundness to his character. Look, however, for John Carradine and Elsa Lancaster, both welcome and convincing, though they only appear sporadically. Ann Dvorak takes on the second most important role and she's terrific, cast perfectly and acting with cunning.
The story is a period piece, set in late 19th century France. It centers really around one idea--Sanders, who is portraying a real lady's man, gets several women interested in him (or he in them) with somewhat suspicious goals (like money) under his hat. The first half of the movie has these women at odds with each other and Sanders playing his hand just so. Then he lands one of them and a different kind of ambition takes over his life, with some tricks to become yet wealthier. And the movie shifts. It gets fairly complex, based on a French novel by Guy de Maupassant. It has enormous potential, and yet it never quite gels. You can imagine a "Magnificent Ambersons" kind of construction to make it work, but that would require more length. And Orson Welles.
The writing is naturally amazing at times. The characters, as much as they get developed, are intelligent and say intelligent things.
There are two aspects that plague this version. First is Sanders himself. He's one of my favorite actors of this era, but he has a limited kind of style and he's miscast here, lacking the charm and fast wit you would need to pull off all these machinations, some romantic and some political. Second is the way the story is told, cramming the pieces together, jumping from one moment into the future as if there wasn't time to mention that so and so meanwhile died, or that our main man in fact got married. Sometimes this kind of economy makes for a fast movie, but here it feels too harshly edited.
And then there is the slight falseness to the filming, all done in studios, with hints of the city in the background, beautiful but unconvincing light, and sound that is dubbed or added and is sometimes painfully wrong (Sanders whistling without moving his lips, Carradine playing a complicated accordion piece on an instrument without keys, footsteps on a stone walk that sound like a wooden stage, a singer who...you get the idea). The director, Albert Lewin, had a thriving career writing for silent movies (there is an irony in that, I suppose), then he became a producer in the 1930s before switching to directing just a half dozen films in the 1940s. Only one of these has a reputation--The Picture of Dorian Gray--with this one a kind of runner-up. But whatever its promise, it struggles to take off as either a romantic heart-tugger or a social high drama.
Small tidbit--Uma Thurman and others are filming a remake of this story, and naturally all the womanizing has taken on a sexual quality, from what I can see. That's a strength with the way Lewin shot and edited this early one, because we get the way the leading man is a selfish cad without having to get distracted into the prurient details that would distract, even further, from the larger plot.
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