The Earrings of Madame De...


1h 42m 1954
The Earrings of Madame De...

Brief Synopsis

When a woman sells her earrings to pay a gambling debt, it leads to a string of betrayals.

Film Details

Also Known As
Earrings of Madame De..., Madam De...
Genre
Romance
Drama
Foreign
Release Date
1954

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

A Parisian socialite sells the diamond earrings given to her by her husband. Her husband coincidently spots them in a jewelry shop and buys them for his mistress. She in turn loses them gambling and they are bought once again by a rich Italian diplomat. He turns around and gives the jewels to his mistress...the original Parisian socialite.

Film Details

Also Known As
Earrings of Madame De..., Madam De...
Genre
Romance
Drama
Foreign
Release Date
1954

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White

Award Nominations

Best Costume Design

1953

Articles

The Earrings of Madame De...


"It was her vanity that destroyed her."
Tag line for The Earrings of Madame de...

Had vanity been the only source of its leading lady's problems, The Earrings of Madame de... (1953) would be little more than a footnote in film history. But in the hands of director Max Ophüls and its unbeatable trio of stars -- Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux and Vittorio De Sica -- the story of a French woman done in by a series of white lies rises to the level of high tragedy. Although it opened in the U.S. to faint praise, this elegant romance is now acknowledged as one of the treasures of world cinema and, for many, the brightest gem in the career of one of the screen's greatest directors.

Many of Ophüls' stylistic trademarks -- his meticulous design of detailed mise en scenes that define and confine his characters, his framing of close-ups that probe character psychology and his use of tracking shots as a series of moving portraits that comment on his characters -- were developed during his years as a stage director. In fact, many of his films are constructed in the best dramatic tradition. The plot of The Earrings of Madame de..., for example, is almost classically framed, with the story opening and closing with a consideration of the eponymous jewelry that passes through a series of owners until returning to the hands of the leading lady. As with many of the plays with which Ophüls had grown up -- particularly those of Arthur Schnitzler, whose La Ronde he had filmed to great acclaim in 1950 -- the film's glittering surfaces masked a subtext of pain and heartache that went beyond mere vanity.

The novella by Louise de Vilmorin had been published in 1951, and some critics contend that its protagonist, identified only as Madame de, was a self-portrait, the noted beauty's critique of her own carefree approach to life. Ophüls knew Vilmorin and was a frequent guest at her salons along with such notables as Jean Cocteau and Anaïs Nin. He turned to her book when plans to film Balzac's La Duchesse de Langeais fell through (Jacques Rivette recently the Balzac novel to the screen in 2007 as Ne touchez pas la hache). That film would have given him the chance to direct Greta Garbo, a dream pairing as both excelled at finding the humanity within doomed romantics. Her costume tests for what would have been her comeback after a decade off screen would become her last professional work.

At a scant 62 pages, Vilmorin's novella sketched out the basic plot points in the film. A General's wife sells her earrings, a wedding present from her husband, to pay her gambling debts, then tells him she has lost them. Her husband learns of the deception and buys the jewelry back as a farewell present to his mistress. When she loses them gambling they fall into the hands of an Italian baron who then falls for the wife and gifts her with her own earrings. Vilmorin left the characters unnamed, using the abbreviated Madame de and General de in a tribute to 19th century novelists who had used the same device to suggest their stories were based on real-life events. She did not give her story any clear setting in time or place, however, leaving the details to the reader's imagination. In his adaptation, Ophüls kept the naming, creating the suggestion that his characters could represent anybody from the story's milieu. He also fleshed out the other details. In particular, he set the story in Paris during the 1890s, a period with which he felt a strong personal connection. And as a tribute to the author, he gave his leading lady her first name, Louise.

Ophüls also shaped the screenplay to fit two of his stars. Darrieux, who had risen to stardom as Boyer's doomed mistress in Mayerling (1936), had long been considered one of the finest actresses in French film. Ophüls not only wrote the leading role for her, but informed producer Ralph Baum that if she were not available, he would not make the picture. De Sica, who had been a stage and screen star before turning to directing, had approached Ophüls the year before for a role in Le Plaisir (1952), but the director thought Jean Gabin a better choice for the role. Instead, he promised De Sica that he would use him as soon as he had the right role, then wrote The Earrings of Madame de... with him in mind.

Boyer was returning to French film for the first time since World War II, a period he had spent in Hollywood working in the interest of Franco-U.S. relations. He had a much more difficult time on the film than his co-stars, constantly questioning his character's motivation. Finally, Ophüls exploded, "Enough! His motives are [that] he is written that way!" Boyer never questioned him again, simply playing all of his scenes with a sense of aloof power.

On its initial release in Europe, the picture ended with the earrings passed on to a nun and then to a young bride who is poised to follow the Madame's path of self-destruction. Realizing the extra scenes weakened the film, Ophüls personally cut them from all existing prints. In Europe, the film was released simply as Madame de..., but the U.S. distributor added The Earrings of for its debut there in 1954 (in other nations it was called Golden Earrings and The Love of Their Lives). In that era -- before the rise of the auteur theory, which examines the meanings generated by directorial style -- some American critics dismissed the film, as they had with many of Ophüls' Hollywood films. Writing in the New York Times, "A.W." labeled the picture "elegant and filled with decorative but basically unnecessary little items, which give it gentility and a nostalgic mood, but nothing much more substantial." In later years, a new generation of critics more attuned to Ophüls' directing style would find the "decorative...little items" both necessary and extremely substantial. The French auteur critics and their U.S. followers would spearhead a major reevaluation of Ophüls' films, eventually ranking The Earrings of Madame de... among the greatest works in film history. In 2007 a new 35 mm print played in New York City to noticeably better reviews than it had received in 1954.

Producer: Ralph Baum
Director: Max Ophüls
Screenplay: Marcel Achard, Max Ophüls, Annette Wademant
Based on the novella Madame de by Louise de Vilmorin
Cinematography: Christian Matras
Art Direction: Jean d'Eaubonne
Music: Oscar Straus, Georges Van Parys
Cast: Charles Boyer (General Andre de...), Danielle Darrieux (Comtesse Louise de...), Vittorio De Sica (Baron Fabrizio Donati), Jean Debucourt (Monsieur Remy), Jean Galland (Monsieur de Bernac), Mireille Perrey (La Nourrice).
BW-105m.

by Frank Miller
The Earrings Of Madame De...

The Earrings of Madame De...

"It was her vanity that destroyed her." Tag line for The Earrings of Madame de... Had vanity been the only source of its leading lady's problems, The Earrings of Madame de... (1953) would be little more than a footnote in film history. But in the hands of director Max Ophüls and its unbeatable trio of stars -- Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux and Vittorio De Sica -- the story of a French woman done in by a series of white lies rises to the level of high tragedy. Although it opened in the U.S. to faint praise, this elegant romance is now acknowledged as one of the treasures of world cinema and, for many, the brightest gem in the career of one of the screen's greatest directors. Many of Ophüls' stylistic trademarks -- his meticulous design of detailed mise en scenes that define and confine his characters, his framing of close-ups that probe character psychology and his use of tracking shots as a series of moving portraits that comment on his characters -- were developed during his years as a stage director. In fact, many of his films are constructed in the best dramatic tradition. The plot of The Earrings of Madame de..., for example, is almost classically framed, with the story opening and closing with a consideration of the eponymous jewelry that passes through a series of owners until returning to the hands of the leading lady. As with many of the plays with which Ophüls had grown up -- particularly those of Arthur Schnitzler, whose La Ronde he had filmed to great acclaim in 1950 -- the film's glittering surfaces masked a subtext of pain and heartache that went beyond mere vanity. The novella by Louise de Vilmorin had been published in 1951, and some critics contend that its protagonist, identified only as Madame de, was a self-portrait, the noted beauty's critique of her own carefree approach to life. Ophüls knew Vilmorin and was a frequent guest at her salons along with such notables as Jean Cocteau and Anaïs Nin. He turned to her book when plans to film Balzac's La Duchesse de Langeais fell through (Jacques Rivette recently the Balzac novel to the screen in 2007 as Ne touchez pas la hache). That film would have given him the chance to direct Greta Garbo, a dream pairing as both excelled at finding the humanity within doomed romantics. Her costume tests for what would have been her comeback after a decade off screen would become her last professional work. At a scant 62 pages, Vilmorin's novella sketched out the basic plot points in the film. A General's wife sells her earrings, a wedding present from her husband, to pay her gambling debts, then tells him she has lost them. Her husband learns of the deception and buys the jewelry back as a farewell present to his mistress. When she loses them gambling they fall into the hands of an Italian baron who then falls for the wife and gifts her with her own earrings. Vilmorin left the characters unnamed, using the abbreviated Madame de and General de in a tribute to 19th century novelists who had used the same device to suggest their stories were based on real-life events. She did not give her story any clear setting in time or place, however, leaving the details to the reader's imagination. In his adaptation, Ophüls kept the naming, creating the suggestion that his characters could represent anybody from the story's milieu. He also fleshed out the other details. In particular, he set the story in Paris during the 1890s, a period with which he felt a strong personal connection. And as a tribute to the author, he gave his leading lady her first name, Louise. Ophüls also shaped the screenplay to fit two of his stars. Darrieux, who had risen to stardom as Boyer's doomed mistress in Mayerling (1936), had long been considered one of the finest actresses in French film. Ophüls not only wrote the leading role for her, but informed producer Ralph Baum that if she were not available, he would not make the picture. De Sica, who had been a stage and screen star before turning to directing, had approached Ophüls the year before for a role in Le Plaisir (1952), but the director thought Jean Gabin a better choice for the role. Instead, he promised De Sica that he would use him as soon as he had the right role, then wrote The Earrings of Madame de... with him in mind. Boyer was returning to French film for the first time since World War II, a period he had spent in Hollywood working in the interest of Franco-U.S. relations. He had a much more difficult time on the film than his co-stars, constantly questioning his character's motivation. Finally, Ophüls exploded, "Enough! His motives are [that] he is written that way!" Boyer never questioned him again, simply playing all of his scenes with a sense of aloof power. On its initial release in Europe, the picture ended with the earrings passed on to a nun and then to a young bride who is poised to follow the Madame's path of self-destruction. Realizing the extra scenes weakened the film, Ophüls personally cut them from all existing prints. In Europe, the film was released simply as Madame de..., but the U.S. distributor added The Earrings of for its debut there in 1954 (in other nations it was called Golden Earrings and The Love of Their Lives). In that era -- before the rise of the auteur theory, which examines the meanings generated by directorial style -- some American critics dismissed the film, as they had with many of Ophüls' Hollywood films. Writing in the New York Times, "A.W." labeled the picture "elegant and filled with decorative but basically unnecessary little items, which give it gentility and a nostalgic mood, but nothing much more substantial." In later years, a new generation of critics more attuned to Ophüls' directing style would find the "decorative...little items" both necessary and extremely substantial. The French auteur critics and their U.S. followers would spearhead a major reevaluation of Ophüls' films, eventually ranking The Earrings of Madame de... among the greatest works in film history. In 2007 a new 35 mm print played in New York City to noticeably better reviews than it had received in 1954. Producer: Ralph Baum Director: Max Ophüls Screenplay: Marcel Achard, Max Ophüls, Annette Wademant Based on the novella Madame de by Louise de Vilmorin Cinematography: Christian Matras Art Direction: Jean d'Eaubonne Music: Oscar Straus, Georges Van Parys Cast: Charles Boyer (General Andre de...), Danielle Darrieux (Comtesse Louise de...), Vittorio De Sica (Baron Fabrizio Donati), Jean Debucourt (Monsieur Remy), Jean Galland (Monsieur de Bernac), Mireille Perrey (La Nourrice). BW-105m. by Frank Miller

The Earrings of Madame de... - Max Ophuls' Lavish 1953 Costume Drama - THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE...


The legendary Max Ophuls has been gone more than fifty years, but nothing in filmmaking has surpassed his finest work. His Lola Montés is to the "woman's film" what 2001: A Space Odyssey is to Science Fiction, a revolutionary experiment in both structure and content.

Ophuls' 1949 return to Europe from a decade in Hollywood resulted in a brief series of gems. His sophisticated comedy of morals La ronde became an international hit, and the trilogy La plaisir is a moving experiment in the short story form. 1953's The Earrings of Madame de ... (known in France just as Madame de ...) is considered by many to be Ophuls' masterpiece. It's a tale of etiquette and chivalry, and the risks that accrue when a society woman lets emotion rule her actions.

In late 19th century France, "Madame Louise de..." (Danielle Darrieux) is the pampered wife of the wealthy army general "Andre de ..." (Charles Boyer); neither is identified by a last name. Louise is first seen fussing over her closets of fine clothing and shoes. She plays the dutiful wife but offers her husband only verbal affection, an arrangement he accepts but hopes will change. In her pursuit of romantic illusions outside of marriage, Louise needs spending money of her own. She pretends that she's lost a pair of precious earrings but in actuality has sold them to a jeweler. Accepting Louise's subterfuge, Andre buys the earrings back and gives them to a mistress departing for the Orient. Later, Louise meets Baron Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio De Sica), an Italian diplomat returning from the East. The Baron gives Louise the same earrings, and she pretends to "find" them as an excuse to again wear them in public. For various humiliating reasons, Andre must purchase and re-purchase the same jewels from the same jeweler, never revealing to Louise that he's aware of her lies and subterfuge. But when the affair between Louise and the Baron becomes common gossip, Andre's patience comes to an end.

Madame Louise de ... can be seen as the mirror image of Lisa in Ophuls' earlier Letter from an Unknown Woman, an American film starring Joan Fontaine. Both pictures center on women who subsist on romantic notions. The penniless innocent Lisa allows herself to be seduced and spends a mostly miserable lifetime hoping that her worthless lover will return. The painfully bittersweet ending forces us to decide whether Lisa is a victim of a man or of her own romantic illusions. Is pure love nothing more than a license to suffer?

Madame Louise has everything Lisa lacks: money, position and respectability. Andre realizes that he's married the most popular woman in their society and knows that jealousy in public or private would only drive Louise away. He's prepared to wait out her casual dalliances with admirers, and he's even willing to accept Louise's "tender refusals" of intimacy. In The Earrings of Madame de ..., it's Andre who must hide his feelings when confronted repeatedly with evidence of Louise's infidelity. The strength of the story is that, although the outwardly elegant Louise is a prize fool, she means no malice and is only following the dictates of her heart.

Max Ophuls' celebrated style finds its best expression gliding through palace-like homes, opera houses, Andre's headquarters and the salon where the jeweler discreetly sells and re-sells the telltale earrings, symbols of Louise's infidelity. Christian Matras' long takes aren't as ostentatious as the one in Le Plaisir that moves through two rooms of an artist's garret, climbs a set of stairs and then plunges out of a high window. Mirroring the personalities of the characters, the camera follows their tentative movements, seldom drawing attention to itself but frequently executing masterful choreographed movements. When a tyro director wants to impress, the first trick out of the box is a gratuitous long-take master shot, using a Steadicam mount that makes such shots relatively easy to accomplish. Ophuls employs a conventional camera dolly and relies on careful planning and precise set design. His fluid moving camera shots have no equal for taste and discretion.

Danielle Darrieux is the epitome of privileged grace and Charles Boyer an exemplar of masculine restraint. They played opposite one another years before in a French version of Mayerling directed by Anatole Litvak; watching their byplay here is an education in matrimonial tragedy. As Louise and Andre perform polite greetings, we're forced to ponder the exact politics of their relationship. Does the fact that Andre sees casual mistresses impose an unfair double standard on their marriage? Director Vittorio De Sica is a perfect choice to play the kind of handsome foreigner Louise dreams about; the Baron remains composed even when admitting an affair with another man's wife. Ophuls' sense of romantic fatality insures that the destinies of all three leave an indelible impression; his film is nothing less than magnificent.

Criterion presents The Earrings of Madame de ... in a clean B&W transfer that reveals fine details of costumes, settings and subtle facial expressions. Disc producer Johanna Schiller has arranged an excellent grouping of key-source extras. Scholars Susan White and Gaylyn Studlar provide the audio commentary, while Tag Gallagher analyzes the film in featurette form. Molly Haskell's booklet essay begins by listing Madame de ... at the top of her list of favorite films. Paul Thomas Anderson contributes a video introduction. Ophuls collaborators Alain Jessua, Marc Frédérix and Annette Wademant appear in video interviews, and costume designer Georges Annenkov's observations are offered in a lengthy text essay.

In an amusing archival interview author Louise de Vilmorin expresses contempt for Ophuls' adaptation of her novel: "An Italian ambassador fighting a duel? Impossible!" The fat booklet also contains a hefty excerpt from de Vilmorin's novel, Madame de..

For more information about The Earrings of Madame de..., visit The Criterion Collection.To order The Earrings of Madame de..., go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

The Earrings of Madame de... - Max Ophuls' Lavish 1953 Costume Drama - THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE...

The legendary Max Ophuls has been gone more than fifty years, but nothing in filmmaking has surpassed his finest work. His Lola Montés is to the "woman's film" what 2001: A Space Odyssey is to Science Fiction, a revolutionary experiment in both structure and content. Ophuls' 1949 return to Europe from a decade in Hollywood resulted in a brief series of gems. His sophisticated comedy of morals La ronde became an international hit, and the trilogy La plaisir is a moving experiment in the short story form. 1953's The Earrings of Madame de ... (known in France just as Madame de ...) is considered by many to be Ophuls' masterpiece. It's a tale of etiquette and chivalry, and the risks that accrue when a society woman lets emotion rule her actions. In late 19th century France, "Madame Louise de..." (Danielle Darrieux) is the pampered wife of the wealthy army general "Andre de ..." (Charles Boyer); neither is identified by a last name. Louise is first seen fussing over her closets of fine clothing and shoes. She plays the dutiful wife but offers her husband only verbal affection, an arrangement he accepts but hopes will change. In her pursuit of romantic illusions outside of marriage, Louise needs spending money of her own. She pretends that she's lost a pair of precious earrings but in actuality has sold them to a jeweler. Accepting Louise's subterfuge, Andre buys the earrings back and gives them to a mistress departing for the Orient. Later, Louise meets Baron Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio De Sica), an Italian diplomat returning from the East. The Baron gives Louise the same earrings, and she pretends to "find" them as an excuse to again wear them in public. For various humiliating reasons, Andre must purchase and re-purchase the same jewels from the same jeweler, never revealing to Louise that he's aware of her lies and subterfuge. But when the affair between Louise and the Baron becomes common gossip, Andre's patience comes to an end. Madame Louise de ... can be seen as the mirror image of Lisa in Ophuls' earlier Letter from an Unknown Woman, an American film starring Joan Fontaine. Both pictures center on women who subsist on romantic notions. The penniless innocent Lisa allows herself to be seduced and spends a mostly miserable lifetime hoping that her worthless lover will return. The painfully bittersweet ending forces us to decide whether Lisa is a victim of a man or of her own romantic illusions. Is pure love nothing more than a license to suffer? Madame Louise has everything Lisa lacks: money, position and respectability. Andre realizes that he's married the most popular woman in their society and knows that jealousy in public or private would only drive Louise away. He's prepared to wait out her casual dalliances with admirers, and he's even willing to accept Louise's "tender refusals" of intimacy. In The Earrings of Madame de ..., it's Andre who must hide his feelings when confronted repeatedly with evidence of Louise's infidelity. The strength of the story is that, although the outwardly elegant Louise is a prize fool, she means no malice and is only following the dictates of her heart. Max Ophuls' celebrated style finds its best expression gliding through palace-like homes, opera houses, Andre's headquarters and the salon where the jeweler discreetly sells and re-sells the telltale earrings, symbols of Louise's infidelity. Christian Matras' long takes aren't as ostentatious as the one in Le Plaisir that moves through two rooms of an artist's garret, climbs a set of stairs and then plunges out of a high window. Mirroring the personalities of the characters, the camera follows their tentative movements, seldom drawing attention to itself but frequently executing masterful choreographed movements. When a tyro director wants to impress, the first trick out of the box is a gratuitous long-take master shot, using a Steadicam mount that makes such shots relatively easy to accomplish. Ophuls employs a conventional camera dolly and relies on careful planning and precise set design. His fluid moving camera shots have no equal for taste and discretion. Danielle Darrieux is the epitome of privileged grace and Charles Boyer an exemplar of masculine restraint. They played opposite one another years before in a French version of Mayerling directed by Anatole Litvak; watching their byplay here is an education in matrimonial tragedy. As Louise and Andre perform polite greetings, we're forced to ponder the exact politics of their relationship. Does the fact that Andre sees casual mistresses impose an unfair double standard on their marriage? Director Vittorio De Sica is a perfect choice to play the kind of handsome foreigner Louise dreams about; the Baron remains composed even when admitting an affair with another man's wife. Ophuls' sense of romantic fatality insures that the destinies of all three leave an indelible impression; his film is nothing less than magnificent. Criterion presents The Earrings of Madame de ... in a clean B&W transfer that reveals fine details of costumes, settings and subtle facial expressions. Disc producer Johanna Schiller has arranged an excellent grouping of key-source extras. Scholars Susan White and Gaylyn Studlar provide the audio commentary, while Tag Gallagher analyzes the film in featurette form. Molly Haskell's booklet essay begins by listing Madame de ... at the top of her list of favorite films. Paul Thomas Anderson contributes a video introduction. Ophuls collaborators Alain Jessua, Marc Frédérix and Annette Wademant appear in video interviews, and costume designer Georges Annenkov's observations are offered in a lengthy text essay. In an amusing archival interview author Louise de Vilmorin expresses contempt for Ophuls' adaptation of her novel: "An Italian ambassador fighting a duel? Impossible!" The fat booklet also contains a hefty excerpt from de Vilmorin's novel, Madame de.. For more information about The Earrings of Madame de..., visit The Criterion Collection.To order The Earrings of Madame de..., go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer July 19, 1954

Re-released in United States September 22, 1993

Re-released in United States October 28, 1994

Released in United States 1997

Released in United States Summer July 19, 1954

Re-released in United States September 22, 1993 (Film Forum; New York City)

Re-released in United States October 28, 1994 (Nuart; Los Angeles)

Released in United States 1997 (Shown at Telluride Film Festival (Max Ophuls Tribute) August 29 - September 1, 1997.)