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Film Highlight: Lola Montès

Peter Ustinov and Martin Carol in Max Ophüls' Lola Montès (1955)

Peter Ustinov and Martin Carol in Max Ophüls' Lola Montès (1955)

When this Max Ophuls masterpiece was released in Paris in 1955, eager audiences came not only to see the most expensive movie ever made in France but also to get a whiff of intrigue from a film whose subtitle was "La reine du scandale." Telling of a once-celebrated courtesan (Martine Carol) now reduced to a circus act, the film flaunted a series of multilayered flashbacks along with sweeping—and at times dizzying—camera work. Audiences balked, perhaps not surprisingly, and the producers performed crude surgery on this baroque gem, excising Ophuls's flashback sequences and other innovative scenes that would remain lost forever. But as most of the original cut was heroically reconstituted in the '60s, we can now better appreciate the Ophulsian touches that make Lola Montès a masterwork: his audacious use of screen space, his deep and lavish sets, his remarkable Technicolor palate. Although it's true that Carol isn't exactly the cinema's greatest femme fatale, she's dazzling nonetheless—and in any case, it's Ophuls who's the real star here.