Josë Ferrer went on his knees to star in this John Huston bio-pic on Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. It starts well with a two-reel prologue that recreates an evening’s entertainment at the Moulin Rouge. Milling crowds in the galleries; dandies at little tables by the stage floor; hardworking waiters; then the specialty acts, great stars we still recognize from the famous posters and dancing girls to ring out the night with the can-can. It’s wonderful stuff, beautifully choreographed by Huston, and atmospherically lit by Oswald Morris, as if the gaslight’s sfumato had never cleared. A tourist’s view, perhaps, but with a guide who knows the best spots. Then, the musicians stop the Offenbach & the Georges Auric tunes and a short crippled man walks down the painterly streets of Paris . . . and straight into a deeply unconvincing, even banal story about the ugly, cynical artist & the guttersnipe tart. But all is not lost, the film is still loaded with lovely things to see, including some fine montages of real Lautrec, and a brief & brilliant deathbed coda where old friends return in a dream show. With a radiant Zsa Zsa Gabor playing the great Jane Avril and making up for her inept lip-synching by bidding Toulouse a blunt, but terribly funny farewell. It’s a wonderful way to go.
DOUBLE-BILL: For an insider’s look at the era, without the filtered color, try Jean Renoir’s deeply moving & grandly entertaining FRENCH CAN-CAN/’55.