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, 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 character’s selfish and nervous personality.

A film poster for Madame Bovary. There were several different versions.

Publicity photo for Madame Bovary showed the love triangle of Jennifer Jones, Louis Jourdan, and 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.

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.

Madame Bovary loves Rodolphe. They plan to elope to Italy together–but Rodolphe leaves for Italy without her.

The film story is told at one remove from the audience since it is narrated as part of the trial of its author, Gustave Flaubert, accused of corrupting morals for writing it.

Madame Bovary (Jennifer Jones) is indulged by an unscrupulous shop-keeper as she lives beyond her means and takes on heavy debt.

Jennifer Jones as Madame Bovary offers a performance that is elegant and beautiful and equally insightful to the character’s selfish and nervous personality. In the end she finds her own death more attractive than living with her shattered romantic and financial dreams. Charles, who always loved her, begs her to wait for a doctor to arrive, but Madame Bovary sighs, “Oh, Charles, why are you always trying to save me?”

1949 film posters for Madame Bovary directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Jennifer Jones.

 

 

©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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *