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Monday, 31 January 2011

The Flame of New Orleans (1941)

I haven't done a film review for several months, so I thought it was about time that I got my act together and wrote one - and what better to start with that the 1941 film The Flame of New Orleans starring Marlene Dietrich, Bruce Cabot, and Roland Young.

Directed by René Clair, this film is truly surprising. From the reviews I'd read and the rating it had on IMDb (6.6/10), I was expecting it to be dull, stale, and whilst not exactly boring (can a film of 79 minutes be boring?), rather tedious to watch. I couldn't have been more wrong as it is in fact a lively, charming and thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy.

In the film, Marlene plays Claire Ledoux, a woman masquerading as a French countess who arrives with her maid, Clementine (played by Theresa Harris), in New Orleans in the 1840s. It soon becomes clear that Claire's reason for being in said city is to snare a wealthy husband - a task that she soon accomplishes with the help of a little fainting trick (something that Marlene does rather beautifully, I must say!) and an excess of charm. The unlucky (or lucky... we are talking about Marlene, after all) fellow is Charles Giraud (Roland Young), an ordinary, nervous, and slightly pompous older man.

However, it's not all smooth sailing and soon Claire's perfectly thought out plan starts unravel. She meets (or, more accurately, is overturned by...) the dashing young sailor Robert Latour (Bruce Cabot) whom she finds infinitely more attractive than her stuffy fiancé but who doesn't have sufficient money to please her. She strings him along for a time, managing to keep both men in the dark about the other. Then, when someone recognises her as a girl he knew in St. Petersburg and is overheard relating a juicy story about her to his friend, the trouble really begins. Claire is, in true fashion, only daunted for a moment before thinking up a wonderfully ridiculous solution to the problem. The solution is one that has been used many times before by many extremely different characters and for a myriad of reasons, but Marlene makes it seem fresh and so wonderfully brilliant that it made me think, "Oh, how very clever!" even though I knew I'd seen it in films, read it in books etc. many times before. You'll have to watch it to find out what it is though, as I'm not going to tell you!

All in all, I think this film is a little gem of absolute perfection. I was so pleasantly surprised by it that it quite made my day! Marlene gives a wonderful performance, as usual. I was rather afraid that she was going to be playing a very mundane, feeble character, but I couldn't have been further from the truth. I really loved Theresa Harris as Clementine, who is just as much Claire's partner in crime as she is her maid. There's also a slew of great smaller parts (and I mean smaller. This film is 79 minutes, there's not really room for anyone else besides Marlene, Bruce and Ronald) all of whom are played by wonderful actors - Mischa Auer, Laura Hope Crews (whom you might remember as Aunt Pitty in Gone With the Wind and who plays a very similar role in this), Anne Revere and Andy Devine.

If you want to watch a light, frothy comedy full of beautiful costumes, sets and Marlene, I highly recommend this film ! ★★★★★

(OK, this was a kind of terrible mini-review, but... I never said I was good at them! ;D )

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