Post-War Art-House Movie Theaters (oops, ‘Theatres’) always had a sure-fire booking in pairing two 1937 Pre-War Julien Duvivier classics: PÉPÉ LE MOKO (still a title to conjure with) and this near-forgotten enchantment. Duvivier made better films, but few as memorable as BAL, with its can’t-miss set-up of a rich, still young, Unmerry Widow (Marie Bell) searching for something she missed in life by tracking down the promising partners listed on an old dance card from her debut ball of twenty years ago. Naturally, no one’s life has turned out just as expected, but our widow finds out something about herself all the same. The trick of the film, and what makes it so compelling, is the widow’s graciousness and the opportunity for Duvivier to cast a wide net in a series of one-reel character sketches played to the hilt in the various styles of his all-star cast. (See poster.) And with Duvivier fitting his technique to each; at its most extreme in the darkest of the playlets, shot with cantered angles, as Bell visits a once brilliant medical student, now a shabby sea-side doctor who assumes she’s come for an abortion. Brutal stuff. Other stories are ironic, sentimental, slightly comic, even uplifting, though now & then a bit abrupt due to lost footage. (Ten or so minutes lost, don’t let it worry you.) The stories never get too far below the surface, but sometimes, with a film this well put together, a thin texture can suffice.
DOUBLE-BILL: Shirley MacLaine visits a series of men from her past in WHAT A WAY TO GO!/’64; and the Julien Duvivier-phobic François Truffaut had Jeanne Moreau track down the assassins who done her wrong on her wedding day in THE BRIDE WORE BLACK/’68. OR: Run your own ‘50s art-house with Duvivier’s PÉPÉ LE MOKO as second feature.