Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Martine Carol and Anton Walbrook in the Bavarian Royal palace
LOLA MONTES (1955). Director: Max Ophuls. This is the remastered and completely restored version as it was first made by Max Ophuls.

"When such a woman spends more than five minutes with a man, that's enough to start rumors."

In her later years, the still attractive dancer and notorious lady Lola Montes (Martine Carol), is exhibited as an attraction in a circus, with the various acts presenting tableaus relating to her scandalous life. Now and then she thinks back to things that happened in her past: her affair with Franz Liszt (Will Quadflieg); her early marriage to Lt. James (Ivan Desny of Anastasia), who was her late father's adjutant; and her becoming the mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria (Anton Walbrook of Gaslight), a situation which nearly drives the whole country into a civil war before she flees in a coach with a handsome young student (Oskar Werner). Her infamous life and behavior have now literally turned her into a sideshow freak.

Martine Carol and Peter Ustinov
Lola Montes was based on a novel which was a fictionalized version of the life story of the real "Lola Montes," the stage name of the Irish-born dancer and entertainer Eliza Gilbert. Frankly Gilbert's fascinating life should have made a much more interesting picture than Max Ophuls has provided. After its release, the picture was trimmed of about half an hour with the narrative being presented in chronological order. Restoring the movie to its original shape hasn't done it much good, as it never builds up any suspense, introduces characters only to have them disappear a moment later, and has too many of those long and rather boring circus sequences. It doesn't help that in the lead role Martine Carol gives a performance that can only be described as adequate. The other actors make a better impression, especially Walbrook as King Ludwig, and Oskar Werner as the student, who catches Lola's eye but is seen on screen all too briefly.

Martine Carol

Lola Montes is dramatically bankrupt, with one-dimensional characters that never really engage the attention or sympathies of the audience. For much of the movie cinematographer Christian Matras seems to have trouble filling the CinemaScope frame with attractive compositions or even covering the action in a compelling or professional fashion. Faces often seem to be photographed through screens or lattices. For some reason there is s big improvement in the scenes that take place in Bavaria, which are striking. However, most of the settings and the lighting schemes throughout the movie are eye-appealing.

Martine Carol and Oskar Werner
One suspects that the main reason for the circus framing device was that it was cheaper to show Lola "carried off by Cossacks" by using clowns and the like in a theatrical setting than to use scores of men on horseback in a real location. Peter Ustinov has the thankless role of the circus' master of ceremonies. Georges Auric's [Dead of Night] score is occasionally powerful but it can't do enough to save the movie. Lola Montes has its admirers, but despite my admiration for many foreign films, I suspect this would have been much better had it been made in Hollywood. (Speaking of Hollywood, Ophul's best film may well be Letter from an Unknown Woman.) Today Martine Carol is pretty much forgotten (except for this film's enthusiasts) but she amassed fifty credits before dying in her forties and her real life had its own share of scandals.

Verdict: The material was certainly there for a great movie, but this is not the film it should have been. **1/4. 


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - you are right, Martine is no longer remembered at all, despite her many glamorous film appearances in big screen Technicolor epics like this one, which I have not yet seen. Maybe because she never had one iconic role?
- Chris

William said...

Possibly her scandals in real life were more interesting than her movies, LOL?