The Earrings of Madame De… (1953)

madamede

The 12 Classics for 2016/ Blind Spot project is aimed at getting movie bloggers to broaden viewing horizons and catch up with well-regarded essentials of cinema.

The Earrings of Madame De… (1953, aka Madame de…) is a tragic romance directed by Max Ophuls. I recently watched and very much liked his Caught (1949) and The Reckless Moment (1949), as well as Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), and after this movie, I look forward to watching many more of his films. This film glides along elegantly, as carefully and tastefully put together as its key players, who work hard (but make it look so easy) to create facades and illusions, keep up appearances and adhere to the manners and motions of their class. That’s all possible, even fun, so long as they do it without emotional involvement, but tragedy comes when real love and deep resentment intrude and disrupt their composed lives and images.

Louise (Danielle Darrieux) is the younger, magnificent wife of General Andre de… (Charles Boyer). As the movie opens, she’s trying to decide which one of his expensive gifts she can pawn off to pay her debts. She picks out some earrings she doesn’t like, takes them to the jeweler, and lies to her husband that she lost them. After a minor scandal arising from the earrings being reported stolen, the jeweler explains the truth to the General, who buys the gems back and gifts them to his departing mistress. She gambles them away in Constantinople, where they are bought by a charming diplomat, Baron Donati (Vittorio De Sica) who happens to work with the General, and becomes involved with Louise. Louise is shocked when Donati gifts her those same earrings, which become symbols of their fated romance, and take on added meaning with each passing month as Louise seeks refuge from her loveless marriage and falls deeper in love with Donati. Her deceptions and casual affairs, even the routine of buying back the earrings from the jeweler, all amused the General when they were frivolous matters, but once it’s clear that Louise has stepped outside the bounds of etiquette and truly loves Donati, those earrings become precious and sacred to her, hated by the shamed General, and disowned, along with the entire affair, by the cool image-conscious Donati.

madamede2

This is a gorgeous film that engrosses with a graceful flow and understated acting, all befitting the characters’ roles and constraints and allowing the smallest show of passion or loss of control to stand out as memorable anomalies. Among the many affecting visuals: the montage of many weeks’ worth of waltz scenes in which Louise and Donati grow close in full public view, their reunion in a carriage, the General nonchalantly searching for the “lost” earrings at the opera, the comical reactions of the servants in every setting, and Louise tearing up love letters and flinging them out the window, where the bits of paper morph into a snow flurry. Louise suffers from a heart ailment, and uses that to milk sympathy and stage dramatic fainting spells as needed, but once she grows lovesick her heart truly hurts, she fades and ages, loses her poise and will for performance. A duel between her husband and lover, settled by a single gunshot, is too much for her to bear. All that remains are those once-disposable earrings, in their new home, attached proudly and forever to Madame de… and symbolic of her unfullfilled life, painful loss and brief love.

This post is part of the Blind Spot Series hosted by Ryan McNeil of The Matinee.

blindspot16

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “The Earrings of Madame De… (1953)”

    1. Beautiful looking and sad movie, plus I love Boyer so it’s a must for his fans. This would be perfect at tcm fest actually, would make a nice double with Brief Encounter.

  1. Very sensitively written.

    This is for me one of the greatest movies ever made–but two other Ophuls films are about even with it–Letter from an Unknown Woman (likely my favorite of the three if I had to choose) and Liebelei, which I strongly encourage you to seek out. These three films all have a lot in common, even to the narratives leading to fateful duels. All three are melodramas with tragic romances at the center, and I don’t think anyone ever did those better than Ophuls. His command of a moving camera, hand in glove with his dramatic vision, is also matchless.

    While I especially like those three, I’ve never been very let down by any of his movies and many of the others (including the other two you mention) are also superb. Ophuls moved around as much as any director, making films in something like five different countries and always finding his way wherever he was.

    1. Thank you! Hard sometimes to write more than a fan letter when a beautiful, rewarding movie impresses me this much. I agree that it’s one of the greatest that I’ve seen, I know I’ll be rewatching it and am eager to look for Liebelei and more, thanks for that. I loved the moving camera, and how things feel so light and smooth for most of the film. Wonderful acting too. I’d love to see this on a big screen! Thanks again.

  2. Nice critique of the film. I also just watched this recently and was swept right under its spell. Ophuls was one of the best at making the seemingly mundane dreamy and romantic. He was very much an actor’s, or more correctly an actress’s, director and of the films of his that I’ve seen all have knock out performances by their leading ladies. This is no exception with Darrieux taking the viewer through her journey by making you care about this frivolous foolish woman.

    I really enjoyed the film though The Reckless Moment remains my favorite of his works, Joan Bennett is so great in that.

    1. Yes it casts a spell for sure. A great film centered on a woman’s character and this kind of performance is a welcome thing and enjoyed that in pretty much all the Ophuls I’ve seen so far. Wonderful movie, thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Such a great Ophuls movie and attention to detail and taking his time to let the story unfold. Discovering new films…and liking then. Good review.

    1. Discovering these types of films especially, is a delight! Takes me down new roads I didn’t even know I needed in my life 🙂 Such a beautiful picture and I recall you were one of the people who told me to check it out so thanks!!

  4. I love this movie so much. I saw it on TCM one day and was just in awe. As you said, it is very elegant yet constrained, and any emotion shown is an anomaly reflecting the true instincts of the characters. Lovely words for a lovely film 🙂

    1. It really is lovely, would have been interesting to see something comparable or even a remake from Hollywood at that time–such good parts and writing. I really want to see more Ophuls movies. Thanks!

Comments are closed.