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The first to die in an epidemic of meningitis in Vera Cruz is a French tourist. His wife Nellie, detached and indifferent, feels little grief and realizes that her coldness is her own doom. Over the next two days, she is attracted to George, a local drunk who does odd jobs for brothels and dances grotesquely for tourists in exchange for drinks. George has his own dark secret, a tragedy he caused that leaves him with a death wish. In assisting the local doctor to cope with the epidemic, these two emotional cripples enable each other to rediscover reasons to live and to love. Written by
Allegret's most impressive location story, far better than the damp philosophizing of Une si jolie petite plage. I liked the approach: the characters are not symbols of alienation or corruption but have lives of their own. The meningitis outbreak in this Mexican town doesn't stand in for the moral decline of the West, unlike the plague in Puenzo's La peste, one of the worst films William Hurt ever made. I imagine that if Luis Bunuel had done this adaptation of a Sartre story, it would have looked a lot like Los olvidados, and the vomiting and sweating of the victims would have taken precedence over the moral self-questioning of the characters.
Gerard Philipe is tremendous as the drunken ex-doctor with a terrible secret; he was able to forget that he'd become the official leading man of French cinema, star of the Cinema of Quality that Truffaut detested so much. Ditto for Michele Morgan, whose parts usually had aristocratic backgrounds, or at least great wealth. As the not-very-grieving widow of the first disease victim, she holds the picture together, making sure we don't get too swayed by Philipe's lowlife antics.
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