Today Lady Louise Lendale (Sophia Loren) is eighty-years-old and she tells her long time admirer, British poet Sir Percy (Cecil Parker), 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 (Paul Newman), 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 (David Niven). 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
Writer and Director Sir 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 to be a box-office failure, he remarked that this movie had a most unusual problem. He'd been given too lavish a budget, rather than too small a one, as on his previous movie, Billy Budd (1962). He had aimed, he said, at "a cross between Rene Clair and Preston Sturges", but this movie was too grandiose to be as funny as he'd intended. See more »
Blake Edwards' THE PINK PANTHER (1963) not only made an international film superstar of Peter Sellers and created a popular cartoon character but also made star-studded comedy extravaganzas a fashionable commodity in the film industry for the rest of the decade. In retrospect only a handful of these proved to be as successful and as durable and, alas, the film under review here is definitely not one of the lucky few. Frankly, LADY L has been shown so incredibly often on TV in my neck of the woods in the last 20 years or so that I can't believe I had never watched it from beginning to end until now! The credentials were unquestionably promising, even mouth-watering: Sophia Loren and Paul Newman in a Peter Ustinov-directed comedy epic (who even has a cameo as a Bavarian prince) also featuring David Niven, Claude Dauphin, Philippe Noiret, Michel Piccoli, Marcel Dalio and Cecil Parker; indeed, how could it possibly miss? Well, a lame misfire it most certainly turned out to be with only the occasional bright spot provided by (surprisingly enough) Dauphin - as a befuddled but dogged Police Inspector on the trail of anarchist thief Newman (who was never comfortable with comedy and this is no exception) - and, even less frequently, by Noiret as a lecherous Minister of the Interior. Both Piccoli and especially Dalio are criminally underused and even the usually reliable Niven looks bored in his rather thankless role as a dying aristocrat who takes Loren under his wing.
Which brings me to Lady L herself: beautiful as she is, I've never been particularly impressed with Loren's acting capabilities (particularly in her international ventures) and since Sophia is the whole show here - metamorphosing from a timid Italian laundress to a ravishing British lady to a cantankerous 80-year old celebrity - the film's success (or lack thereof) is clearly subject to one's impressions of her. Even so, its real death-knell is the sheer fact that, for such a conglomeration of talent, big-budget and comic potential, LADY L is a witless and distinctly unmemorable enterprise. Apparently, the film was originally to be helmed by director George Cukor and was intended for Gina Lollobrigida, Tony Curtis and Sir Ralph Richardson...which I don't think would have improved matters all that much!
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