Monthly Archives: January 2019

A Critical Look at Madame Bovary (1949) by Vincente Minnelli: the Waltz Scene with Jennifer Jones and Louis Jourdan.

By John P. Walsh

In the 1949 film Madame Bovary directed by Vincente Minnelli, a beautiful and charming Madame Bovary (Jennifer Jones) meets wealthy Rodolphe Boulanger (Louis Jourdan) at a ball where he literally sweeps her off her feet. Selfishly aggravated by her husband Charles Bovary (Van Heflin) for not fitting into high society, Madame Bovary begins a love affair with Rodolphe. Though the pair scheme to elope to Italy, Rodolphe does not love Madame Bovary. 

The Waltz Scene was Filmed to the Music 

One of the film’s most carefully wrought and delightful scenes is this ballroom sequence. It was one of the last segments to be shot. The film footage was tailored to Miklós Rózsa’s music. Minnelli explained to the composer in advance the camera movements so he could write the music in an arrangement for two pianos. The scene was then filmed to match it. Their artistic collaboration produced one of cinema’s most original scenes uniting robust music with weaving and gliding images on film.

Madame Bovary (Jennifer Jones) and Rodolphe Boulanger (Louis Jourdan) waltz at the ball. It is one of the film’s most delightful scenes and one of the last to be shot. Director Vincente Minnelli made certain its choreography carefully matched the music of Miklós Rózsa. Madame Bovary was nominated for an Oscar for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.

“Break the Windows”

As Rodolphe swirls her, Emma Bovary’s head spins until she becomes dizzy. The viewer sees her disorientation as the camera takes her viewpoint. She keeps dancing but asks for fresh air. Her request leads to an extraordinary and incredible reaction by the stewards. They start to smash the ballroom’s windows with chairs to help her cool down. This fantastically destructive action of broken glass aligns with the destruction of Emma’s romantic illusions throughout the film. 

In reaction to Madame Bovary becoming dizzy while waltzing with a new lover, the stewards smash the ballroom windows to give her air. The extraordinary action ultimately becomes symbolic of the destruction of Madame Bovary’s romantic illusions with handsome and wealthy Rodolphe.

Night of Repressed Passion

Along with her husband’s boorish behavior at the ball and everywhere else, her romantic disappointment leaves Madame Bovary feeling publicly humiliated. Instead of love and excitement, she runs out of the ball in shame. Though she yearns for happiness and excitement, her pursuit of selfish pleasures ends in scandal and ruin.

Jennifer Jones as Madame Bovary offers a performance that is elegant and beautiful and equally insightful to the selfish and nervous personality of Flaubert’s fictional character.

A film poster for Madame Bovary. There were several different versions produced for the marketing of the film.

This publicity photo for Madame Bovary showed the love triangle of Madame Bovary (Jennifer Jones), her handsome lover Rodolphe Boulanger (Louis Jourdan), and her cuckolded and hapless husband Charles Bovary, as medical doctor (Van Heflin).

Thirty-year-old Jennifer Jones plays Gustave Flaubert’s doomed title character, Madame Bovary, from his 1856 serial novel in Vincente Minnelli’s 1949 film of the same name. The film offered two costume and wardrobe managers — Walter Plunkett for women and Valles for men. Walter Plunkett was a prolific costume designer who worked on over 150 projects in his Hollywood career, including Gone With The Wind. In 1951, Plunkett shared an Oscar with Orry-Kelly and Irene Sharaff for An American in Paris. Valles specialized in men’s costumes at M-G-M. Valles received two Academy Award nominations including Spartacus in 1960.

Van Heflin is Charles Bovary, whom Madame Bovary (Jennifer Jones) had loved and hoped to build a respectable life, but in whom she grew disillusioned. Costumes were by Valles and Walter Plunkett both award-winning Hollywood costume designers.

A unique example of the costume design of Valles (Louis Jourdan) and Walter Plunkett (Jennifer Jones) for the 1949 film Madame Bovary. The next year, in 1950, both costume designers were nominated for an Academy Award for That Forsyte Saga.

Madame Bovary who danced wildly with Rodolphe at the ball loves him and in the story they plan to elope to Italy. But Rodolphe leaves for Italy without her which shatters Madame Bovary’s dreams and spirit.

Madame Bovary (Jennifer Jones) is indulged by an unscrupulous shop-keeper as she lives beyond her means in the pursuit of happiness and takes on heavy debt impossible to pay back. The film plot is told from the point of view of the author Gustave Flaubert (James Mason) who stands accused at his trial for corrupting morals by writing it.

From the waltz scene through to her death scene Jennifer Jones as Madame Bovary offers a performance that is elegant and beautiful as well as provides insight into the contradictions offered by a selfish and nervous personality. In the end she finds her own death more attractive than living with shattered dreams. Charles, who never stopped loving her, begs her to wait for a doctor to arrive. Madame Bovary sighs, “Oh, Charles, why are you always trying to save me?”

A 1949 film poster for Madame Bovary that includes a head shot of James Mason as the novel’s author, Gustave Flaubert. The film is told in flashback through the character of Flaubert who is on trial on charges of immorality for writing the novel. This is based on historical fact. After Flaubert’s work was serialized in the Revue de Paris in 1856, the government brought an action against the publisher and author in 1858. Tried on a charge of immorality, both were acquitted in 1859. When Madame Bovary appeared in book form in France, it met with a warm reception.

Vincente Minnelli directs Jennifer Jones and Louis Jourdan in a scene from Madame Bovary. Reviews from critics were mixed and the film lost money at the box office. Whether it is the fault of the film-makers or the story itself is a debatable point.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

6 Famous Modern and Classic Ballets.

Pointe shoes

Pointe shoes.

FAMOUS INSTRUCTOR: Marie Rambert (1888-1982) was a prominent dance teacher in British Ballet. She is pictured here in the late 1940’s with her students. Rambert founded the Rambert Dance Company which is active today.

In the late 19th century, Ballet developed mainly in Russia. That development included the revival of the male role and the rise of the pas de deux.

Ballet Society, New York, 1948. Photo by Irving Penn is here: https://www.artic.edu/artworks/144790/ballet-society-new-york

# 1 The Dream (1964).

Choreographer: Frederick Ashton.

Music: Felix Mendelssohn.

Story: W. Shakespeare.

The Dream is a one-act ballet adapted from Shakespeare created in 1964 for the Royal Ballet. Depicted is elegant Oberon, king of the forest fairies, in a later production.

# 2 Onegin (1965).

Choreographer: John Cranko.

Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Story: A. Pushkin.

With music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) and first performed in 1965, Onegin is one of the most popular story ballets for audiences to watch and for dancers to aspire to perform in. His ballet masterpiece, Onegin was created by John Cranko (1927-1973). The lead roles of Tatiana and Onegin, and Olga and Lensky, are finely drawn characters who tell a story of love and tragedy through a series of intricate and diverse dance sequences.

#3 Mayerling (1978).

Choreographer: Kenneth MacMillan.

Music: Franz Liszt.

Story: G. Freeman.

A staple of The Royal Ballet since its premiere in 1978, Mayerling was created by principal choreographer and former artistic director Kenneth MacMillan (1929-1992). It is the tragic story based on a true story of the murder-suicide of the crown prince of Austria-Hungary and his mistress. The music is by Franz Liszt. Appearing in virtually every scene in a three-act ballet, the male lead dancer performs with five different ballerinas. It is one of the most demanding roles of the ballet stage. Mayerling is the Imperial hunting lodge in the Vienna Woods where the bodies of the pair were discovered on January 30, 1889.

FAMOUS BALLERINA: Pierina Legnani (1868-1930).

Pierina Legnani (1868-1930) is considered the greatest Italian ballerina of the late nineteenth century. Legnani trained at La Scala Theatre Ballet School in Milan and danced famously in Europe, especially Italy and Russia. In the photograph she is depicted in 1896 at the Imperial Marinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia. She is in the lead role in La Perle, an original production created for Legnani.

The Mariinsky Theater of ballet and opera opened in 1860.

Pierina Legnani and Olga Preobrajenska (1871-1962) in 1899. They were two of the greatest ballerinas in the late nineteenth century.

#4 Giselle (1841).

Choreographer: Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot.

Music: Adolphe Adam.

Story: Théophile Gautier and Vernoy de Saint-Georges.

Natalya Bessmertnova and Mikhail Lavrovsky dance the roles of Giselle and Albrecht in Adam’s ballet Giselle. With its premiere at the Paris Opera (Salle Le Peletier) in June 1841, the ballet Giselle was a triumph and staged across Europe. The music is composed by Adolphe Adam (1803-1856) and became the French composer’s most popular and enduring work. Musically, Adam introduced the leitmotif, that is, a specific theme for a character who appears on stage in the ballet. The libretto was scored by Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) and Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges (1799-1875) with choreography by Jean Coralli (1779-1854) and Jules Perrot (1810-1892). The story is about two lovers, Giselle and Albrecht. When Giselle discovers that Albrecht is betrothed to Bathilde she dies of a broken heart at the end of Act I. This leads to the appearance in Act II of a group of otherworldly and potentially mortally dangerous “Wilis,” a type of young female vampire, intent on revenge for Giselle by arranging for Albrecht’s destruction.

Paris Opera (Salle Le Peletier) in 1844 by A. Provost. The print depects the theatre at the time of Adolphe Adam’s triumphant ballet Giselle. The opera building, opened in 1820, was destroyed by fire in 1873 and replaced in a new location by the Palais Garnier.

Opera Le Peletier salle in 1858 by Gustave Janet (1829-1898).

Street ballet.

#5 COPPÉLIA (1870).

Choreographer: Arthur Saint-Léon.

Music: Léo Delibes.

Story: Charles-Louis-Étienne Nuitter.

Coppélia is based on Der Sandmann by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822). The comic ballet was choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon (1821-1870) to the music of Léo Delibes (1836-1891). The libretto is by Charles-Louis-Étienne Nuitter (1828-1899). The comedy about mischief-making village folk premiered in May 1870 and, though it later went on to become one of the most popular works of the Paris Opera Ballet, was immediately interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and siege of Paris. Italian ballerina Giuseppina Bozzaccchi (1853-1870) first danced the part of Swanilda. Tragically, the 17-year-old ballerina died from malnutrition related to the war’s privations in November 1870. In this photograph from a 2014 production by the English National Ballet, Shioro Kase dances as Swanilda and Yonah Acosta dances as Franz.

#6 Paquita (1846).

Choreographer: Joseph Mazilier.

Music: Edouard Deldevez.

Story: Joseph Mazilier and Paul Foucher.

Natalia Osipova dances as Paquita at the Royal Opera House, London. The two-act ballet is set in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. It tells the love story of a French military officer and a Spanish gypsy woman.

FAMOUS BALLERINA: Marie Taglioni (1804-1884).

Marie Taglioni had many spectacular ballet accomplishments in her dancing career that spanned 25 years. Marie’s parents were both dancers. Her Swedish mother was a ballet dancer and her Italian father was a dancer, choreographer, and ballet master in Vienna at the Court Opera. Marie was rigorously trained by her father in Vienna– six hours each day of ballet practice for six days a week. The hard work paid off. At 17 years old, Marie made her debut in Vienna in Rossini’s La reception d’une jeune nymphe à la cour de Terpischore, choreographed by her father. Over the next 5 years Marie danced in cities in Austria and Germany until, in 1827, she made her Paris Opéra debut. In 1832 Marie is credited with dancing en pointe (on tip toes), an innovation for ballet theater at that time. As a famous celebrity, Marie Taglioni influenced fashion and hairstyles in the 1830’s.

Marie Taglioni as Flore in Charles Didelot’s ballet Zephire et Flore. Hand-colored lithograph, c. 1831 by Alfred Chalon (1780-1860). The first famous ballerina, Marie Taglioni influenced hairstyles and fashion in the Romantic Era of the 1830’s and was the first ballet dancer to move en pointe.

Marie married in 1832 but was separated in 1836. She bore a child with a lover in 1836 but he died soon after. In 1837 Marie accepted a dance contract to perform in Russia at the famed Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg. Marie remained at the Imperial Ballet until 1842, the same year she gave birth to a second child. In 1843 she danced in Milan at La Scala in another of her father’s ballet creations, La Sylphide and in 1845 appeared in London at Her Majesty’s Theatre dancing in Pas de quatre choreographed by Jules Perrot (1810-1892). In London, Taglioni was one of the famous ballerinas to appear in this production dancing alongside Carlotta Grisi (1819-1899), Lucile Grahn (1819-1907) and Fanny Cerrito (1817-1909).

Dominating the image is Marie Taglioni, standing with her arms en couronne, surrounded by ballerinas Lucille Grahn, Fanny Cerrito, and Carlotta Grisi for the 1845 London production of Pas de Quatre. Lithograph by English artist and engraver Thomas Herbert Maguire (1821-1895).

In 1847 Marie Taglioni retired from the stage following her appearance in The Judgment of Paris, a ballet that concludes an opera (1754) by Christoph Gluck. She lived in Venice into the 1850’s. Marie Taglioni returned to Paris in 1857 to take up the position of dance examiner at the Paris Opéra. One day before her 80th birthday, she died in Marseilles. For posterity there is some mystery as to the exact location of her grave for it is not known into which cemetery in Paris Marie Taglioni was exactly buried.