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Sunday, April 12, 2015

THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT (1969)

Jean Giraudoux’s play, poetic whimsy masked as trenchant social critique (or is it the other way ‘round?) sinks under the weight of a full-scale production & multinational all-star cast better suited for a David Lean epic. The play, tough enough to pull off, works a series of star turns as the titular eccentric old biddy (a feathered Katherine Hepburn) leads a band of misfits, proletariat & not-yet corrupted youth in holding off a greedy cartel of industrial, military, religious & political heads who plan to wreck l’arrondissement drilling for oil. But fanciful allegory gets buried under director Bryan Forbes’ handsomely designed, prettily shot dawdle thru Edward Anhalt’s adaptation. Those who hang on can see the play finally take hold in a largely unaltered scene where the four main biddies (Hepburn, Giulietta Masina, Margaret Leighton and the phenomenal Edith Evans) have a go at each other. (Oh, that’s how it’s supposed to work.) And the following kangaroo court scene, a showpiece for Danny Kaye’s philosophizing rag-picker, also works pretty well, though it’s more G. B. Shaw (DON JUAN IN HELL) than Giraudoux. In the big cast, John Gavin’s evangelical Elvis and Richard Chamberlain’s doe-eyed student radical (those ‘68 Paris riots must be alluded to) are pretty bad, but Oscar Homolka makes for a hilarious commie commissariat. Originally meant for John Huston who ankled at the last minute, what might he have done with it?

DOUBLE-BILL: An expensive disaster, it likely put the kibosh on Hepburn taking the lead in George Cukor’s film of Graham Greene’s TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT/’72. Instead, Maggie Smith stepped in. A pity since Hepburn would have been better there while Smith would have been a natural here! And still might be if only someone could find the right form to suit the delicate material.

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