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Today Lady Louise Lendale is 80 years old and she tells her long time admirer, British poet Sir Percy, all about her eventful life. In the beginning, she was a young laundress working in "Le Mouton Bleu", a renowned Paris whorehouse. There, she met Armand, both a charming man and a bomb-throwing anarchist, and it wasn't long before she became his mistress. One day while Armand was away in Switzeland, working for a revolutionary movement aiming to murder a Russian prince, Louise met the second man in her life,, a British Lord she soon called Dicky. The latter offered to marry her. In exchange, he would save Armand from the police's grip. She accepted on the condition she could still see Armand... Written by
Peter Ustinov claimed that an earlier attempt to film Romain Gary's best-selling novel had foundered because it presented the story as a romantic melodrama, whereas he saw it as an absurdist comedy. After it had proved a box-office failure, he remarked that the film had had a most unusual problem - he'd been given too lavish a budget, rather than too small a one, as on his previous film, "Billy Budd". He had aimed, he said, at "a cross between Rene Clair and Preston Sturges", but the film was too grandiose to be as funny as he'd intended. See more »
Viewing this movie after a 30-year gap, I realize I need to appreciate the movie as a Peter Ustinov film rather than as a Sophia Loren film. While Sophia Loren is a delight for the eyes with her hour-glass figure, she proves that she cannot act competently as an elderly lady--her hoarse voice is as phony as phony can be.
Ustinov and Romain Gary carry the film. I have had the good fortune to have met Ustinov as a film critic in 1984 and discussed the few films he had directed. He was delighted as a small boy that someone remembered that he was once a director as most people recall him as actor. Ustinov the director is a superb wit and his visual digs at French and Russian society are hilarious (Romain Gary, I guess, contributed to the verbal digs at the Poles). Ustinov and Gary do not even spare the British. The farcical comedy is at its best in the opening 15 minutes with some good camerawork and some fine, witty dialogues.
Ustinov is not a top notch director but he can provide sufficient material for the laughs to keep flowing. For instance, he does not show the face of Paul Newman as the car driver, but the audience can guess that the director is hiding a crucial fact. The brothel scenes, the escape in the balloon, the actions of the police, are orchestrated with admirable finesse for a director who is detailing a farce.
That Carlo Ponti allowed Ustinov to direct this venture is a credit to Ponti as the outcome was more rewarding for Ponti's wife Loren than for Ustinov for the average viewer. The French actors were superb: Phillipe Noiret, Michel Picolli, Claude Dauphin, Jacques Dufilho, and Marcel Dalio. Claude Dauphin stood out as the best among the range of French talent.
The images of a prince playing with a bomb as though it were a plaything reduces the farce to absurdist black humour as is the choice of the assassin's dress (a priest's cassock!). So is the coughing signals alerting members of the police force during a concert. It is fun that can be enjoyed at all levels--thanks to Ustinov and Gary more than due to the contributions of the formidable line-up of actors.
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