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SPECTER OF THE ROSE (director/writer: Ben Hecht; cinematographer: Lee Garmes; editor: Harry Keller; music: George Antheil; cast: Judith Anderson (Madame La Sylph), Michael Chekhov (Max Polikoff), Ivan Kirov (Andre Sanine/Paul Dixon), Viola Essen (Haidi), Lionel Stander (Lionel Gans), George Shdanoff(Kropotkin), Charles ‘Red’ Marshall(Specs McFarlan), Juan Panalle(Jibby), Lew Hearn (Mr. Lyons), Ferike Boros (Mamochka), Bill Gray (Jack Jones); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ben Hecht/Lee Garmes; Republic Pictures Home Video; 1946)
“Cynical serio-comic ballet melodrama that distinguishes itself by its brilliant dialogue.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer Ben Hecht (“Angels Over Broadway”/”Soak The Rich”/”The Scoundrel“)tries his hand at directing, in this cynical serio-comic ballet melodrama that distinguishes itself by its brilliant dialogue and ability to blend together kitsch art with a wild-eyed film noir tale. It offers memorable acerbic lines such as ‘the masses would never get married if the poets didn’t tell them how beautiful it is,’ ‘art itself is a miracle,’ and ‘love is a seasonal thing among artists.’

It opens withthe untruthful smarmy theatrical producer Max “Poli” Polikoff (Michael Chekhov) visiting the world-weary ballet instructor Madame La Sylph (Judith Anderson) in her dinghy studio to discuss his plan to stage a new showing of The Specter of the Rose in the spring starring Andre Sanine (Ivan Kirov), the former Paul Dixon from Indiana, the brilliant lead dancer of her ballet troupe. For the last seven months Andre has become a basket case, remaining alone in his room while in bed and saying he killed his ballerina wife Nina with a knife when he became possessed while dancing the ballet of The Specter of the Rose.

Andre is nursed back to health by a fawning admirer of his genius, Haidi (Viola Essen). She’s the young ballerina studying under La Sylph. This budding romance pleases Poli, who promises to get a rich patron of the arts as a backer if Andre is available to dance the lead.

Turning up at the dance studio is homicide detective Specs McFarlan (Charles ‘Red’ Marshall) with the brash bohemian poet Lionel Gans (Lionel Stander), who is crushed Haidi ignores him and runs after Andre. Lionel brought the cop along to question Andre about his wife’s death. The jealous spurned poet has told the cop that the mentally unbalanced Andre confessed killing his wife, even though her uninvestigated death was written off as a heart attack. After the cop questions members of the ballet troupe and Andre, he decides not to make an arrest.

The peculiar and intense schizophrenic Andre while sitting with Haidi in a bourgeois hotel lobby tells her: ‘Press yourself against me so hard that you’re tattooed on to me.’ With that they’re married, which troubles La Sylph because she knows the mad genius dancer killed his wife and presents a danger to his new wife. La Sylph covered up for Andre when he had ongoing severe headaches and hallucinations. Andre’s problems started when he smelled the rose and the music filtered through strange voices in his head that made him act his fanciful stage role in real life, turning him into a killer as the lines of fiction and reality became blurred.

The ballet company goes on a successful international tour performing the new ballet, but the troupe is haunted by Andre’s insanity returning and placing his sweet partner in harm’s way.

Hecht amazingly brings art to the Republic studio, known for making artless actions pics that please the masses. It has a very funny blend of culture and soap opera story telling, that’s richly flavored by the world of ballet and the artsy-fartsy crowd that reside in that world. It’s a one-of-kind film that I enjoy seeing again and again over the years, without ever tiring of its pretenses.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”