The heroine, Sybylla (Davis), a headstrong girl growing up in early 20th century Australia, has the opportunity of marriage to a wealthy young man (Harry played by Niel) whom she loves, but... See full summary »
When the Circus Master first tries to recruit Lola, he lists San Francisco as an important North American city, and includes Buffalo Bill in a list of major circus figures. This scene is set shortly before Montez left for Bavaria, so it must be late 1845 or early 1846. San Francisco was called Yerba Buena until 1847, and the name Buffalo Bill was first applied in the 1860s to William F. Cody, who was born in 1846. See more »
Watching "Lola Montes" often feels like rollerskating up and down hilly streets lined with sumptuously designed department store windows. At other times you would swear that Josef von Sternberg made a 50s comeback in color, so packed are the frames and so obstructed are the sightlines; the only thing missing is the Sternbergian close-ups. Then you might wonder if Bertolt Brecht had a hand in the screenplay, so alienated are we from the emotional core of this woman's life.
The film seesaws between a circus act starring the middle-aged title character (Martine Carol) and flashbacks to her past. In the circus setting, ringmaster Peter Ustinov presents a series of impossibly lavish tableaux which depict points in Montes's scandalous life. The flashbacks include her first marriage, her dalliance with King Ludwig I of Bavaria (Anton Walbrook), and her relationship with a Bavarian student (Oskar Werner). In reality, Montes never appeared as the star of such a circus act, but this film's creators have chosen to present her life in these terms in order to cast her as a metaphor of the celebrity freak, no different in essence from a circus animal who jumps through hoops or a daredevil who engages in public spectacle. She is almost always seen from a distance, as if to emphasize her actual insignificance. The parallels to our contemporary celebrity culture are obvious.
But beyond this commentary on celebrity and the technical virtuosity of the busy sets and panning camera, there is nothing much here. There is certainly no compelling drama. The central character is so distanced from the viewer that she can only be grasped as a concept, not as a human being.
And I have to agree with others that Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" comes to mind, but even that endless Carnival Cruise Ship commercial had a clear central love story.
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