Huston’s Venice Silver Lion-winning costume drama focuses much more on disabled French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec than the infamous Paris nightclub that he frequently visits in this ruminative take on love and loneliness.
Dir. John Huston
1952 | UK | Drama | 120 mins | 1.37:1 | English & French
PG (passed clean)
Cast: Jose Ferrer, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Colette Marchand
Plot: Set in the 19th century, this is the story of Toulouse-Lautrec, a disabled artist who forgets his worries by drinking, mingling and doing sketches at the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris. Lonely and convinced he will be alone forever, things change when he meets Marie, a young girl in need of help.
Awards: Won Silver Lion (Venice); Won 2 Oscars – Best Art Direction-Set Decoration & Best Costume Design; Nom. for 5 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Film Editing
Subject Matter: Moderate – Loneliness; Love
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
A bit of trivia: Both 1952 and 2001 versions of ‘Moulin Rouge’ won the exact two Oscars—Best Production Design and Best Costume Design—in their respective years. While Baz Luhrmann’s later work is flashier and edgier, John Huston’s take is the more understated and ruminative one.
Here he focuses much more on disabled French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec than the infamous Paris nightclub that he frequently visits. He goes there to draw women as they strike seductive poses or dance the can-can.
There’s chaotic energy to the scenes in the Moulin Rouge, but don’t be fooled as much of Huston’s work has an air of quiet sensitivity surrounding it.
Jose Ferrer is fantastic as Henri, who doesn’t have to worry about money or status that comes from being born into a noble family.
“We each have our own escape, you see. Mother, her prayers. You, your horses, your falcons and your dreams of an age that is no more. And I, my cognac.”
He is, however, consigned to a life of loneliness because of his disability… until a young rebellious woman named Marie gives him some food for thought after showering him with affection and attention.
As a period film, Moulin Rouge is beautiful and elegant, though some might find it a tad dull for their liking. It’s an old-fashioned film from an old-school Hollywood director, and as such, has an old-world charm to it.
What hooked me is Henri’s cynicism about love, which is as debilitating as his passion for painting is potent. Its denouement somewhat elevates the emotionalism of the film’s themes as Huston ruefully asks us to think about the relationships and experiences that have shaped us, for better or worse.
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