(director/writer: Max Ophuls; screenwriters: Marcel Achard/Annette Wademant/based on the novella Madame de by Louise de Vilmorin; cinematographer: Christian Matras; editor: Borys Lewin; music: Oscar Straus/Georges Van Parys; cast: Charles Boyer (General Andre de…), Danielle Darrieux (Comtesse Louise de…), Vittorio De Sica (Baron Fabrizio Donati), Lia Di Leo (Lola), Jean Debucourt (Monsieur Remy), Jean Galland (Monsieur de Bernac), Mireille Perrey (La Nourrice); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ralph Baum; Second Sight FilmsDVD PAL; 1953-France-in French with English subtitles)



Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The penultimate film by the German-born master filmmaker Max Ophuls (“The Reckless Moment”/”Lola Montes”/”Caught”), who lived in Hollywood during the Nazi regime but after the war lived in France. It’s an elegant adaptation of Louise de Vilmorin’s 1951 novella, set at theend of the 19th century in Paris.The glossy black-and-white film centers around the milieu of society balls and the opera. It tells a superficial love story about how the sale of earrings somehow leads to a tragic misunderstanding, while Strauss plays in the background.

The vain Countess, Louise (Danielle Darrieux), on a whim, because she spent her allowance probably on gambling debts, discreetly sells the diamond heart earrings her haughty General husband, Andre (Charles Boyer), gave her as a wedding gift, to Monsieur Remy (Jean Debucourt), the jeweler who sold them to the General. Louise then claims she lost them at the opera but Remy tells the General the truth when he learns of the loss through the newspapers and the General discreetly buys them back for a greater price. The General induces his duplicitous wife to say she found them, which calls off the police search and stops the newspapers from reporting on it further. Andre then gives the prized earrings as a parting gift to his adventurous mistress Lola (Lia Di Leo), as they civilly split up and she leaves for exotic Constantinople. Lola pawns the valuable jewels to continue gambling at the casino, after losing at roulette. By coincidence, a wealthy Italian diplomat, Baron Donati (Vittorio de Sica), in Constantinople at the time for work, buys them at a pawn shop. When the Baron returns to Paris, he meets with the General on business and their lives also cross at society affairs. The Baron is attracted to Louise and the two flirt with each other. To express his love for Louise, the Baron gives her the earrings as a gift. When worn, Louise lies to hubby and says she found them. Things can never return to normal, as the socialite lady can’t keep from lying and the cuckolded husband can’t help from acting the part that is expected of a 19th century aristocrat in Paris when he finds out for sure his wife never loved him and is unfaithful. Meanwhile the earrings change hands a few more times before things are finally resolved in a 19th century gentleman’s way.

Ophuls masterfully uses the earrings as the plot device to expose the emptiness of society life and how such a material possession can assume such an importance as to lead a superficial person down a slippery path usually reserved only for doomed romantics.

Vilmorin left the characters unnamed, using the abbreviated Madame de , a device used by many 19th century novelists to suggest their stories were based on real-life events and characters.

The three stars carry off this tragic comedy-of-errors with aplomb, as they all portray to certain degrees vacuous characters who mask their real inner sufferings with a false external gaiety and always speak with double meanings. Ophuls brilliantly executes his meticulously detailed mise en scenes into flawless film-making, making the film sparkle as does a diamond. It’s a classic film that is timeless and visually beautiful, and remains precious in its sentimentality even if it’s about a world that no longer exists and tells us about characters who are hard to sympathize with.