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After one innocent kiss a bittersweet romance eventually blossoms so
naturally between young Dominique (Christine Carere) and the easygoing
charmer Luc (Rossano Brazzi), who also happens to be married to
Francoise (Joan Fontaine).
There is a tug of war within Dominique as she tries to come to terms with her feelings for Luc as well as for young Bertrand who wants to marry her. Human nature being what it is, we can understand all too well what she goes through -- the hopes and dreams, the joys and sorrows that make up life's experiences -- all are a part of her growing up. However, there is a price to pay for gaining maturity but she comes through in the end.
Romantic music throughout sets the mood for many tender scenes as well as a few frolicking lighthearted ones. Early on Johnny Mathis sings "A Certain Smile" to perfection. Don't pass this one up if you are a Mathis fan.
Joan Fontaine is admirable in her portrayal of the loving, caring wife who must deal with a husband's waywardness. One fine actress!
This is Romance indeed with a very human touch.
Here's a film that's boosted by its spectacular scenic splendor and a
lovely title tune, A CERTAIN SMILE, sung by Johnny Mathis and
immediately becoming one of his favorite hit tunes, which is about the
only thing that will linger in your memory once the tawdry tale is
The simple story is a trifle (as all of Francoise Sagan's novels are), dealing as it does with the subject of flirtation and affairs. The affair is between a pretty young law student studying at the Sorbonne, CHRISTINE CARRERE, and ROSSANO BRAZZI, her Uncle Luc who is married to the sophisticated JOAN FONTAINE. Christine is also being pursued by a fellow law student, BRADFORD DILLMAN, but seems to prefer Brazzi's continental charm to callow youth.
Most of the trite story centers on the budding romance between Brazzi and Carrere, leaving Fontaine on the sidelines wondering what the glances between the two really mean. Does it really matter? She gazes with sophisticated charm at Johnny Mathis as he sings "A Certain Smile", all the while knowing that her husband is a philanderer.
It really has nothing new to say, but can be enjoyed on the basis of its CinemaScope grandeur and the performances of the leads, all of whom have done better work elsewhere and are pretty much wasted here.
Attractive looking romance fails to engage, despite glorious
landscapes, Parisian backdrops and an A-list cast including a faithful
performance by an enchanting Joan Fontaine. Her apparently fading
allure is causing her husband Luc (Brazzi) to philander, his attentions
straying to the nubile Parisian college student Dominique (Carere). To
add to the interlude, Brazzi is Bertrand's (Dillman) uncle; Bertrand in
turn is enamoured by Dominique, chasing her tail all over Paris in
spite of her rather aloof and distant behaviour.
At the intermission, Johnny Mathis steps up to croon the title tune, and thus introduces Luc's affections to Dominique. Bertrand, aware of her distraction, but not suspecting of his own uncle seems oblivious to Fontaine's subtle hints, her wisdom laboured over years of Luc's infidelity. The scenes in which Fontaine emasculates Brazzi for his adultery, and the one in which she coolly chides Carere's naivety are among the film's rare highlights. In essence, Fontaine steals this picture with her mature, dignified portrayal of a woman scorned.
Carere is lukewarm, the nuances of her character aren't conveyed in her stilted performance; Brazzi, at the opposite extreme lays it on too thick, like some hormonal Latin lover crying rivers of guilt and remorse as he laments the mutual attraction as some kind of perverse affliction. Dillman, in his debut picture, offers some resistance, but ends up a tragic cuckold. The remainder of the supporting cast (Franz, Locke and Livingston) are reliable if largely uninvolved.
Next to Fontaine, the French Riviera is the most attractive feature of this rather sterile soap opera - the sets, costumes, colour and sound are all assets, but the dramatic tone just doesn't hit the right pitch. Tepid, overlong and in the final analysis, disappointing. If, however (like myself) you still revere Fontaine, or, pine for the Paris lifestyle, this glossy magazine cover will be worth the time.
It has some beautiful scenery, and a very hummable theme song, but other than that it's not very effective. Director Negulesco did much better with the studio-bound "Best of Everything." One doesn't really care about any of these self-involved people (well, maybe a little for the Joan Fontaine character). Zero chemistry between supposed lovers Brazzi and Carrere. For some much better film adaptations of Francoise Sagan novels, try Bonjour Tristesse and Aimez Vous Brahms (in which Yves Montand plays the same compulsive-womanizer type as Brazzi in "Smile," but somewhat more compellingly). I have to admit that Sagan's characters in general are pretty boring to me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Copyright 1958 by 20th Century-Fox Film Corp. New York opening at the
Paramount: 31 July 1958. U.S. release: August 1958. U.K. release: 12
October 1958. Australian release: 23 October 1958. Sydney opening at
the Century. 9,411 feet. 105 minutes.
VIEWER'S GUIDE: Not suitable for children (or adults either, for that matter).
SYNOPSIS: Dominique Vallon (Christine Carere) is in love with Bertrand Griot (Bradford Dillman), a fellow student at the Sorbonne, and the couple plan to marry if he can convince his mother (Kathryn Givney) to approve his inheritance before it is due.
COMMENT: My attitude to "A Certain Smile"? I regard it with contempt. It's not worth speaking about. It did make a fair bit of money for the studio and it did introduce a new personality in Christine Carere (who faded from sight after only two more films: "Mardi Gras" and "A Private's Affair"). We did give audiences some value for their money with backgrounds of the French Riviera in CinemaScope. But the efforts of the players and Jean Negulesco's usually sensitive direction were wasted on a story so trite, nothing could save it. (Though Johnny Mathis, then a top recording star, did just that when his rendition of the title song shot to first place on the hit parade). Adapted from comments made to me by producer Henry Ephron with all of which I thoroughly agree.
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