Synopsis by Bruce Eder
Max Ophuls' final film (and his only movie in color) is a cinematic tour-de-force masquerading as a biography, in this case a dazzling fictionalized life of the notorious 19th century dancer, actress, and courtesan. A still beautiful, but weary and disillusioned (and, as we later discover, ailing) Lola Montes (Martine Carol) is first seen as the featured attraction at a seedy American circus, appearing at the center of a series of various tableaux depicting the scandalous events for which she is known. With a strangely sincere yet sinister and manipulative ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) providing color commentary, some of it very ironic on two or more levels, the movie flows between these staged recreations in the circus and the events as recalled by the subject. In a series of dissolves, the film takes us through her girlhood with her mother, interrupted when her mother's lover (Ivan Desni) becomes attached to the daughter; her unhappy marriage and its aftermath; romances with composer Franz Liszt (Will Quadflieg), abduction by a Russian general (in the arms of Cossacks, no less); her affairs across the landscape of Europe with men great and notable; her thwarted aspirations as a dancer; and her romance with King Ludwig I (Anton Walbrook) of Bavaria, which led to her being made Countess of Landsfeld, and, later, to his abdication. The gracefulness of Ophuls' cyclical narrative, and the transitions between the recalled elegance of the locales, and the people with whom her romances and affairs took place, and the seediness of the circus -- where she is also compelled, in the course of performing, to perform as an aerialist -- were lost on viewers in 1955. And for many years the movie only existed in a version re-cut without the director's approval, in which the story was presented in linear fashion. It was only in the 1960's, long after Ophuls' death, that efforts were made to restore the original structure, and in 2008 the movie's original Technicolor luster was restored to its full depth and richness.
circus-performer, mistress, aristocracy, flashback, prostitute/prostitution, carnival
High Historical Importance, High Production Values