THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BEL AMI (1947)
I’m a bit mystified how I never got around to this film until recently. I adore George Sanders and no one plays a better scoundrel than he does. Add to that a luminescent Angela Lansbury at her very dewiest beauty and some great women’s roles, and — well, there are always strange holes in the viewing past of the cinematic autodidact. It’s good to know that unexpected pleasures a-plenty await me. Maybe this was part of the golden thread on Twitter or maybe this was just a rabbit hole I went down on my own — whatever the path, it was a great destination.
Based on the Guy de Maupassant novel (which I haven’t read) and perhaps for the contemporary audience a little too gleefully evil if the scoundrel is inevitably hoisted by his own petard, it nonetheless charms as only Sanders can when he’s of a mind to do so. Professor turned director Albert Lewin ‘found a kindred spirit’ in Sanders per this TCM essay by Greg Ferrara, which reminds me how I got to it: Max Ernst and Leonora Carrington!
As in The Portrait of Dorian Grey Lewin sought a contemporary artist to create the signature painting for the story — The Temptation of Saint Anthony. You may know Leonora’s take, as do I:
But it was Max’s that ended up in the film — briefly in colour. Fitting for the excesses of la Belle Époque with all its expensive frou-frou and embellishments. There’s a nice evocation of the glamour of Paris contrasting with the seedy side, especially after the deprivations of the Franco-Prussian war, not to mention the soldiers who came back battered and bereft. Or terminally ill like John Carradine’s Forestier, pal to Sanders’ Duroy, who’s down on his luck and sees no way of getting out of it (and I have another Carradine role to write about soon).
I can also add this to the Writers on Film course: Carradine is a newspaper editor and offers a job to his mate, who needs to impress the publisher with a piece as snarky as his conversation. At the dinner party he meets Forestier’s wife Madeleine (Dvorak), the secret of his success, and the youthful widow of an old husband, Clotilde (Lansbury). Madeleine manages to coach his undisciplined thoughts into something coherent and Clotilde offers him sexy fun times — or at least the suggestion of it allowed by the Hays code.
Just from that set up you can tell how interwoven these competing interests will be even before we add a bratty ingenue and a scheming enemy. George sings! They all dance. It’s delicious fun.