FEATURE image: Madame Bovary (Jennifer Jones) and Rodolphe Boulanger (Louis Jourdan) waltz at the ball in a still from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1949 film Madame Bovary directed by Vincente Minnelli. Fair Use.
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, wealthy Rodolphe and her own descent into madness.
Night of Repressed Passion
Along with her husband’s boorish behavior at the ball and everywhere else, madame Bovary’s romantic disappointment leaves her feeling publicly humiliated. Instead of love and excitement, Madame Bovary 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. It is equally insightful to the selfish and nervous personality of Flaubert’s fictional character.
A film poster for Vincente Minnelli’s Madame Bovary. Several different versions of the film poster were produced for the marketing of the 1949 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 hapless and cuckolded husband Charles Bovary, a medical doctor (Van Heflin).
Thirty-year-old Jennifer Jones plays Gustave Flaubert’s doomed title character, Madame Bovary, from his 1856 serial novel. Vincente Minnelli’s film of the same name offered two costume and wardrobe managers: Walter Plunkett for women and Valles for men.
Walter Plunkett was a prolific costume designer who worked on more than 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 award-winning Valles and Walter Plunkett, award-winning Hollywood costume designers.
A unique example of the Valles’ costume design for Louis Jourdan and Walter Plunkett’s costume design for Jennifer Jones for the 1949 film Madame Bovary. The next year, in 1950, both Valles and Walter Plunkett were nominated for the Academy Award for Compton Bennett’s That Forsyte Woman/Saga.
Madame Bovary who danced wildly with Rodolphe at the ball loves him. In the story the illicit couple plan to elope to Italy. But Rodolphe leaves for Italy without her and 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. She takes on a heavy debt that is impossible to pay back.
The film plot is told from the point of view of the author, Gustave Flaubert (James Mason). a leagl porceedings takes place where Flaubert is accused of corrupting morals by writing Madame Bovary. It is an historical fact that, in 1858, Flaubert and his publisher had faced government charges of immorality for Madame Bovary. But the outcome of the trial was that Flaubert was completely acquitted.
From the waltz scene through to her death scene Jennifer Jones as Madame Bovary offers a performance that is elegant and beautiful. It also provides insight into the contradictions offered by a selfish and nervous personality.
In the end Madame Bovary finds that her own death is more attractive to her than living with her shattered dreams.
Charles, who never stopped loving his wife, 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 Gustave Flaubert, the story’s author.
Minnelli’s film is told in flashback through the character of Flaubert who is on trial for charges of immorality for writing the novel. After Flaubert’s work was serialized in the Revue de Paris in 1856, the government charged and tried the author and his publisher for immorality. Both were acquitted in 1859. After Madame Bovary appeared in book form in France, it became an instant classic.
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 unhappy story is a debatable point.
FAMOUS INSTRUCTOR: Marie Rambert (1888-1982), a prominent dance teacher in British ballet, works with with her students in the late 1940’s. Rambert founded the Rambert Dance Company which is active today.
Ballet developed mainly in Russia in the late 19th century. Its revival included (1) the resurgence revival of the male role and (2) the rise of the pas de deux.
# 1 The Dream (1964).
Choreographer: Frederick Ashton.
Music: Felix Mendelssohn.
Story: W. Shakespeare.
Adapted from William Shakespeare (English, 1564-1616) The Dream is a one-act ballet for the Royal Ballet created in 1964. Depicted is elegant Oberon, king of the forest fairies.
# 2 Onegin (1965).
Choreographer: John Cranko.
Music: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Story: A. Pushkin.
With music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Onegin was first performed in 1965. Onegin is one of the most popular story ballets for both audiences and dancers.
Onegin was created by John Cranko (1927-1973) and is his ballet masterpiece. Its lead roles are Tatiana and Onegin, and Olga and Lensky. These 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.
Mayerling was created by principal choreographer and former artistic director Kenneth MacMillan (1929-1992) at The Royal Ballet. Since its premiere in 1978, it has been a popular staple on the ballet stage. The music is by Franz Liszt (1811-1886).
The male lead dancer appears in virtually every scene in the three-act ballet and performs with five different ballerinas. It is one of ballet’s most demanding roles.
Mayerling is a tragic story based on the true story of the murder-suicide of the crown prince of Austria-Hungary and his mistress.
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 in Italy and Russia.
Pierina Legnani and Olga Preobrajenska (1871-1962) in 1899. In the late 19th century, the pair were considered the greatest ballerinas.
#4 Giselle (1841).
Choreographer: Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot.
Music: Adolphe Adam.
Story: Théophile Gautier and Vernoy de Saint-Georges.
With its premiere at the Paris Opera (Salle Le Peletier) in June 1841, the ballet Giselle was an immediate triumph and staged across Europe.
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. These creatures are intent on revenge for Giselle by arranging for Albrecht’s destruction.
The ballet music was composed by Adolphe Adam (1803-1856). It became the French composer’s most popular and enduring work. Musically, Adam introduced to ballet 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). The choreography was by Jean Coralli (1779-1854) and Jules Perrot (1810-1892).
The print above 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.
#5 COPPÉLIA (1870).
Choreographer: Arthur Saint-Léon.
Music: Léo Delibes.
Story: Charles-Louis-Étienne Nuitter.
Coppélia is a comic ballet based on Der Sandmann by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822). It was choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon (1821-1870) with music by Léo Delibes (1836-1891) and a libretto by Charles-Louis-Étienne Nuitter (1828-1899).
The comedy surrounding mischief-making village folk premiered in May 1870. Its production was immediately interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and the siege of Paris. Following the hostilities, Coppélia went on to become one of the most popular works of the Paris Opera Ballet.
Italian ballerina Giuseppina Bozzacchi (1853-1870) first danced the part of Swanilda. Tragically, the 17-year-old ballerina died from malnutrition related to the Franco-Prussian War’s privations in November 1870.
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, including six hours of ballet practice everyday 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. For the next five 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 and the first famous ballerina, Marie Taglioni influenced fashion and hairstyles in the Romantic era of the 1830’s.
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 (above) is Marie Taglioni, standing with her arms en couronne, surrounded by ballerinas Lucille Grahn, Fanny Cerrito, and Carlotta Grisi. The lithograph by English artist and engraver Thomas Herbert Maguire (1821-1895) depicts a scene for the 1845 London production of Pas de Quatre.
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.
Taglioni lived in Venice into the 1850’s and 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.
To this day there is some mystery as to the exact location of her grave. It is not known into which Paris cemetery Marie Taglioni was exactly buried.
#6 Paquita (1846).
Choreographer: Joseph Mazilier.
Music: Edouard Deldevez.
Story: Joseph Mazilier and Paul Foucher.
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.