One year, one film: 1952
Moulin Rouge, dir. John Huston
Starring Jose Ferrer
RECOMMENDED | Highly Recommended | Must-See
Not to be confused with director Baz Luhrmann’s Ewan McGregor/Nicole Kidman-starring musical, 1952’s Moulin Rouge is focused on the life, struggles, and creativity of French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. I discovered Moulin Rouge in the first year of this blog and reviewed it with a 3.8/5 rating, writing:
“Moulin Rouge is a stunning film in the visual sense. Vibrant colors are used in a wide variety of shades, from bright orange to deep blue. The costumes are fantastic as well – some are understated and some are extravagant, but they’re all beautiful. The use of color captures the excitement of Paris and the Moulin Rouge very well.”
“Ferrer’s performance accomplishes both understatement and high emotion. The best things about this film are Ferrer’s performance and the atmosphere built by the combination of great sets, great cinematography and great costuming.”
The film didn’t become an instant favorite, but I was very impressed by Ferrer and found the film on the whole to be quite moving. How did the critics of 1952 feel?
Screenland called the picture “an artistic tapestry of France in the 1800s,” giving props to Ferrer’s performance, as well as Zsa Zsa Gabor’s appearance in the role of a Moulin Rouge singer. “The Song from Moulin Rouge” was also named by the mag as one of the “Tops in Movie Music.”
Variety didn’t adore the film, but praised John Huston, writing that “Huston’s direction is superb in the handling of individual scenes. The can-can ribaldry, the frank depiction of streetwalkers, the smokey atmosphere of Parisian bistro life — they come through in exciting pictorial terms.”
Even the ol’ grump Bosley Crowther agreed with me regarding the film’s visual merit. “If the measure of the quality of a motion picture merely boils down to how much the screen is crowded with stunning illustration, then John Huston’s Moulin Rouge well qualifies for consideration as one of the most felicitous movies ever made,” his New York Times review stated. “Mr. Huston has got a motion picture in which the eyes are played upon with colors and forms and compositions in a pattern as calculated as a musical score. And the sheer stimulation is not only charming but it develops a flow of emotional response within the bewitched beholder that is keyed, indeed, to the plot.”
The film’s vibrant portayal of Paris almost feels like fantasy, and certainly transports the viewer to another time. The film is worth watching for this alone, but also for a wonderful effort by Jose Ferrer.