E. A. Dupont (director)
Network on Air (studio)
121 min (length)
26 June 2017 (released)
This silent movie extravaganza from 1928 is one of the most lavish productions of its time with a tragic love triangle at its core – all played out in and around the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret in gay Paris.
Although predominantly created at Britain’s Elstree Studios, the pick-up shots were filmed in the French capital – resulting in almost twenty minutes of staggering footage depicting the nocturnal hustle and bustle around the Moulin Rouge and other establishments around the Pigalle. From a historical point of view it’s particularly interesting to study the French fashion (both male and female) of the time. We then get treated to some extraordinary stage productions involving a plethora of dancers and performers all dressed in spectacular garb – doing their thing on a huge stage boasting truly magnificent set designs, though it is fair to assume that these scenes were already filmed at Elstree. Cue for the undisputed sensation of the Moulin Rouge: seductive dancer Parysia (Olga Tschechowa) who, night after night, has an ecstatic audience at her feet… and countless admirers backstage, in particular one wealthy Marquis (Marcel Vibert).
One night, her attractive daughter Margaret (Eve Gray) and her betrothed Andre (Jean Bradin) arrive at the cabaret to watch her mother’s performance. Andre is instantly smitten by the beautiful woman and can barely believe that she is the daughter of his beloved. Neither can we! At the time of filming, Tschechowa was only 31 years old whereas Gray, who plays her daughter, was a mere 28 years old… and it shows. In fact, in some scenes Tschechowa looks younger than Gray – the only big flaw of this silent classic. For some reason which is never really explained, mother and daughter haven’t seen each other for a long time, which makes the re-union backstage all the more emotional. Henceforth Parysia, Margaret and Andre can be seen hitting the nightspots of Paris and having a jolly good time though Andre’s growing obsession with Parysia becomes only too obvious – sadly not to Margaret nor to her mother, who thinks nothing of innocently flirting with her daughter’s beloved if only for a giggle. The truth is that Parysia feels very sincerely about her daughter’s happiness and when she learns that Andre’s father, a stuffy old aristo (George Tréville), objects to his son marrying the daughter of an actress and dancer, she takes matters into her own hand – resulting in his surprise consent.
Now all is set for the big wedding and Margaret in particular is beaming with happiness. Unfortunately, Andre is not. The silly sod feels that he is so hopelessly in love with Parysia that not is he unable to proceed with the wedding arrangements but, seeing no way out of the situation, decides to commit suicide rather than marry a girl he no longer desires. A bit far-fetched perhaps? So well, his attempt to shuffle off this mortal coil fails and both Margaret and Parysia mistake his condition for physical and emotional exhaustion due to the on-going spats with his father. Margaret decides to drive to his father to inform him of his son’s condition but wait, Andre has already worked out plan B should his initial suicide attempt fail: he’s tempered with the breaks of his own car which he had planned to drive along rocky country roads after his recovery… obviously not assuming that Margaret is now sitting in his car trying to fetch his father. In a sudden outburst of guilt, he reveals everything, including his feelings, to a shocked Parysia who coldly replies (via inter-titles): “Save my daughter and then kill yourself!”
No Andre, still weak, chases after Margaret in a desperate race against time to save her from certain death – I won’t give the grand finale away but yes, there is a happy ending for all involved and an additional moral ‘message’ for Andre.
As was usual during the silent movie era, the performances are completely over-the-top by nowadays standards but it only adds to the fun of it all. The same can be said for the make-up – both female and male actors were caked in it, including some surgeons and doctors in one particular scene!
MOULIN ROUGE is released in a brand-new HD restoration with a brilliant score including the Can-Can, although the legendary dance itself is never properly performed during the many stage scenes.