Cast & Crew
Three separate tales based on the stories of DeMaupassant: one about an aging man who covers his face with a mask to disguise his age, another about an artist's model who returns to enact revenge on the mentor/lover who abandoned her, and the third about a brothel which is forced to close its doors.
Guy De Maupassant
Le Plaisir aka House of Pleasure
Jean Servais, Le Plaisir
In his ironic 1952 look at the pain of pleasure, Max Ophuls found some of his greatest images of the frailty of human happiness in the faces of his leading ladies, Gaby Morlay, Danielle Darrieux and Simone Simon. Like the latter, he had enjoyed a checkered Hollywood career that had sent him back to Europe in search of more control over his career. For Simon, the film marked the chance to play a mature, conflicted and ultimately self-determined character, a far cry from the pouty girl-women she had been typed as during her all-too-brief Hollywood visits.
After the success of La Ronde (1950), which followed the Arthur Schnitzler play in depicting ten sexual encounters with recurring characters, Ophuls set out to make an even more episodic film, an omnibus of three stories by Guy de Maupassant, one of the premier ironists of French literature. The only thing linking the three tales besides the director's trademarked style was the narration of Jean Servais as the author's voice, eventually given physical form in the last story, which Servais relates to a friend on screen. Originally, Ophuls had planned to make the third sequence an adaptation of "Paul's Mistress," the story of a man losing his love to a group of lesbians. As production delays held up filming, the director got cold feet and substituted the somewhat more conventional "The Model." He then assembled a cast of noted French actors, including Jean Gabin, Claude Dauphin, stage legend Madeleine Renaud and three actors who had starred in La Ronde, Darrieux, Simon and Daniel Gelin.
Of the three stories, the central one, "The Tellier House," is the longest and, in the view of many critics, the sunniest, with its tale of the women of a brothel joining their madam (Renaud) to visit a country church where her niece is receiving her first communion. The film opens with "The Mask," about a man (Jean Galland) wearing a mask to cover his age as he visits a local dance hall, while his wife (Morlay) waits stoically at home. The film ends with Simon's episode, about a model who uses a suicide attempt to fight the control of her artist-lover.
The structure of Le Plaisir is symmetrical. Not only is the longer central story flanked by shorter tales at the picture's beginning and end, but also "The Tellier House" is told in sequences that mirror each other. The segment opens and closes with exterior shots of the brothel. In second and next-to-last position are the women's train trips to and then from the country. And at the center is the country visit, where the prostitutes' sentimental tears over the innocent young confirmande and Darrieux's brief involvement with the girl's father (Jean Gabin) provide a bittersweet view of the film's eponymous topic, pleasure. The construction puts the Darrieux-Gabin scene, a sweet promise of love tainted by the knowledge that they can only ever meet again as prostitute and client, at the film's center. This puts into sharp relief the idea behind all three stories, that in life pleasure is ultimately colored with some level of pain. This is mirrored in the other stories, in which the elderly man can only feel comfortable dancing in a mask that restricts his breathing until he collapses, and the artist becomes a success when he finds his muse, only to feel trapped by his association with her image.
Ironically, the pleasures offered audiences by Le Plaisir are pure joys. As ever, Ophuls gets strong work out of his cast, particularly the women, with Simon, Darrieux and Morlay at their best. And the mobile camera techniques are at times breathtaking. The first shot leads viewers into the dance hall, circling the dancers as their movements build to a climax. The brothel in the second story is introduced with a long shot as the camera moves up and down its walls, allowing the audience to peer through open windows, shutters and security bars at the forbidden pleasures within. Later, the camera does a 360-degree pan of the communion service, bringing together the profane world of the visiting women and the sacred trappings of the church. Finally, the camera chases Gelin and Simon through their fights in the last story, eventually adopting the woman's point of view as she throws herself out a window.
For the film's U.S. release in 1954, distributors Arthur Mayer and Edward Kingsley determined its most marketable sequence was the central one, which took a more cheerful view of its characters and, in its depiction of the seaside brothel and its staff, offered the promise of naughtiness that was luring audiences to foreign imports in hope of finding more adult materials than existed in most Hollywood films of the time. The distributors played this up by re-titling the film House of Pleasure, and switched the positioning of the second and third stories. Sadly, this cost Le Plaisir its symmetrical structure while also obscuring the progression in women's roles from the submissive wife in "The Mask" to the cheerful working women of "The House of Tellier" to the model who eventually takes over her controlling artist-lover's life in "The Model." The English-language version also substituted narration by Peter Ustinov in a French accent that led some critics to compare him to Pepe Le Pew. The film still received strong reviews and even won an Oscar® nomination for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. The nomination went to Ophuls rather than art director Jean d'Eaubonne, marking the director's second nomination (the first was for the adapted screenplay of La Ronde).
Ophuls' camerawork, particularly in his later films, is one of the wonders of modern cinema, particularly considering that he was working with traditional, heavy cameras, and each of his long takes required meticulous choreography of not just the camera but of actors, dolly tracks and set pieces as well. He would be a significant influence on later filmmakers, particularly when lighter, more mobile cameras became available. Directors like Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven, 2002), David Fincher (The Social Network, 2010) and Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull, 1980) have all included Ophulsian shots in their works. The nightclub scene in Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990) is one of the most noticeable of later tributes to the director. Stanley Kubrick claimed Le Plaisir to be his favorite film and paid tribute to its opening story in his final film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
Producer: Edouard Harispuru, M. Kieffer
Director: Max Ophuls
Screenplay: Jacques Natanson, Max Ophuls
Based on the stories of Guy de Maupassant Cinematography: Philippe Agostini, Christian Matras
Art Direction: Jean d'Eaubonne
Score: Joe Hajos
Cast: Claude Dauphin (Le docteur), Gaby Morlay (Denise), Madeleine Renaud (Julia Tellier), Mila Parely (Madame Raphaele), Danielle Darrieux (Madame Rosa), Pierre Brasseur (Julien Ledentu), Jean Gabin (Joseph Rivet), Jean Servais (L'ami de Jean/Narrator), Daniel Gelin (Jean), Simone Simon (Josephine), Amedee (Frederic), Jean Galland (Ambroise), Peter Ustinov (Narrator, English Version).
by Frank Miller
Le Plaisir aka House of Pleasure
Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)
He was born Peter Alexander Ustinov on April 16, 1921 in London, England. His father was a press attache at the German embassy until 1935 - when disgusted by the Nazi regime - he took out British nationality. He attended Westminster School, an exclusive private school in central London until he was 16. He then enrolled for acting classes at the London Theater Studio, and by 1939, he made his London stage debut.
His jovial nature and strong gift for dialects made him a natural player for films, and it wasn't long after finding theatre work that Ustinov moved into motion pictures: a Dutch priest in Michael Powell's One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1941); an elderly Czech professor in Let the People Sing (1942); and a star pupil of a Nazi spy school in The Goose Steps Out (1942).
He served in the British Army for four years (1942-46), where he found his talents well utilized by the military, allowing him to join the director Sir Carol Reed on some propaganda films. He eventually earned his first screenwriting credit for The Way Ahead (1944). One of Sir Carol Reed's best films, The Way Ahead was a thrilling drama which starred David Niven as a civilian heading up a group of locals to resist an oncoming Nazi unit. It was enough of a hit to earn Ustinov his first film directorial assignment, School for Secrets (1946), a well paced drama about the discovery of radar starring Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir Richard Attenborough.
After the war, Ustinov took on another writer-director project Vice Versa (1948), a whimsical fantasy-comedy starring Roger Livesey and Anthony Newley as a father and son who magically switch personalities. Although not a huge hit of its day, the sheer buoyancy of the surreal premise has earned the film a large cult following.
Ustinov made his Hollywood debut, and garnered his first Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actor, as an indolent Nero in the Roman epic, Quo Vadis? (1951). After achieving some international popularity with that role, Ustinov gave some top-notch performances in quality films: the snappish Prinny in the Stewart Granger vehicle Beau Brummel (1954); holding his own against Humphrey Bogart as an escaped convict in We're No Angels (1954); the ring master who presides over the life of the lead character in Max Ophuls's resplendent Lola Montez (1955); and a garrulous settler coping with the Australian outback in The Sundowners (1960).
The '60s would be Ustinov's most fruitful decade. He started off gabbing his first Oscar® as the cunning slave dealer in Spartacus (1960); made a smooth screen adaptation by directing his smash play, Romanoff and Juliet (1961), earned critical acclaim for his co-adaptation, direction, production and performance in Herman Melville's nautical classic Billy Budd (1962); and earned a second Oscar® as the fumbling jewel thief in the crime comedy Topkapi (1964).
He scored another Oscar® nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category for his airy, clever crime romp Hot Millions (1968), in which he played a con artist who uses a computer to bilk a company out of millions of dollars; but after that, Ustinov began taking a string of offbeat character parts: the lead in one of Disney's better kiddie flicks Blackbeard's Ghost (1968); a Mexican General who wants to reclaim Texas for Mexico in Viva Max! (1969); an old man who survives the ravaged planet of the future in Logan's Run (1976); and an unfortunate turn as a Chinese stereotype in Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981). Still, he did achieve renewed popularity when he took on the role of Hercule Poirot in the star laced, Agatha Christie extravaganza Death on the Nile (1978). He was such a hit, that he would adroitly play the Belgian detective in two more theatrical movies: Evil Under the Sun (1982) and Appointment With Death (1988); as well as three television movies: Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Murder in Three Acts, Dead Man's Folly (both 1986).
Beyond his work in films, Ustinov was justifiably praised for his humanitarian work - most notably as the unpaid, goodwill ambassador for United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Since 1968, he had traveled to all corners of the globe: China, Russia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Kenya, Egypt, Thailand and numerous other countries to promote and host many benefit concerts for the agency.
Ustinov, who in 1990 earned a knighthood for his artistic and humanitarian contributions, is survived by his wife of 32 years, Hélène du Lau d'Allemans; three daughters, Tamara, Pavla, Andrea; and a son, Igor.
by Michael T. Toole
Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)
Shown at 33rd Spoleto Festival (Cinema In The Bordello) June 27 - July 15, 1990.
Released in United States Spring May 19, 1954
Released in United States 1990 (Shown at 33rd Spoleto Festival (Cinema In The Bordello) June 27 - July 15, 1990.)
Released in United States Spring May 19, 1954
Released in United States 1990