Tag Archives: Film Director – Vincente Minnelli

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

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.

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” dramatizes a heroine’s transition into madness

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 (1902-1982) 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 (1886-1970) 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.

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 danced wildly with Rodolphe at the ball and loves him. The illicit couple plan to elope to Italy. But Rodolphe leaves for Italy without her and shatters Madame Bovary’s spirit and dreams.

Costumes were by award-winning Valles and Walter Plunkett, both award-winning Hollywood costume designers.

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 legal proceedings 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.

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?”

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.

A 1949 film poster for Madame Bovary that includes a publicity head shot of James Mason as Gustave Flaubert, the novel’s French 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 film critics had been mixed and Madame Bovary lost money at the box office. Whether it is the fault of the film-makers or the unhappy story becomes a debatable point.

Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner: History of Hollywood Glamour Portraits of the 1930’s and 1940’s.

FEATURE image: Marlene Dietrich. Paramount, 1947. Photograph by A.L. “Whitey” Schafer. The actress was appearing in Golden Earrings, a 1947 romantic spy film made by Paramount Pictures and starring Ray Milland and Marlene Dietrich.*

MARLENE DIETRICH

This Hollywood glamour portrait of forty-six-year-old Marlene Dietrich (1901, Berlin – 1992, Paris) wearing a green turtleneck sweater was taken when the movie actress was starring in Golden Earrings, a romantic spy film made by Paramount Pictures. It was her comeback film following World War II.

1940’s blondes

Like other leading ladies in the 1940’s, the Hollywood glamour machine transformed Dietrich into a golden-haloed blond which accentuated her magnificent cheekbones and sultry eyes under penciled-arc eyebrows and painted nails that A.L. “Whitey” Schafer’s color portrait makes evident.

It was also in 1947—the same year that the photograph was made— that Dietrich received the Medal of Freedom. Dietrich called it her life’s proudest achievement.

While Golden Earrings was a decent film, its main purpose was to provide the actress with a job. It led into her next project—the 1948 American romantic comedy A Foreign Affair directed by Billy Wilder. That film made Dietrich again a top star.

Following Dietrich’s meteoric rise at Paramount Pictures starting in 1930 her acting parts later stagnated as film directors —including Josef von Sternberg and others—seemed to use her more as a piece of expensive cinematic scenery than as a serious dramatic actress.

The film’s song, “Golden Earrings”, with a tune by Victor Young and lyrics by Ray Evans and Jay was sung in the movie by Murvyn Vye. It was a hit recording in 1947-48 by Peggy Lee. See- https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1633213/m1/#track/4

“Whitey” Schafer wrote an important book on glamour photography

Photographer A. L. “Whitey” Schafer (1902-1951) was a still photographer who started shooting stills in 1923 and continued in that line of work at Columbia Pictures when he moved there in 1932. Personally outgoing, Schafer was appointed head of the stills photography department at Columbia three years later. In the 1940’s Shafer wrote copiously on his craft and advocated for techniques in glamour photography that are seen in this Dietrich color portrait.

In 1941 Schafer published Portraiture Simplified, a book in which he argues that “portraiture’s purpose is the realization of character realistically.” Among his technical observations Schafer wrote elsewhere that “composing a portrait is comparable to writing a symphony. There must be a center of interest, and in all portraits this naturally must be the head, or your purpose is defeated. Therefore, the highest light should be on the head.”

In 1941 Schafer replaced Eugene Richee (1896-1972) as department head of still photography at Paramount Studios. Schafer remained in that position where he photographed the stars until he died at 49 years old in an accident in 1951.

From Paramount Pictures, A Foreign Affair is a 1948 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Billy Wilder. The film made Marlene Dietrich once again a top star in the post-war years.

ELIZABETH TAYLOR.

Though still a teenager, Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) in 1949 when the publicity still photograph was made, was celebrated as the new generation’s great beauty.  In 1942, at 10 years old, Elizabeth made her film debut and her life and beauty blossomed over the decade in front of the cameras. The photograph captures Taylor after she made a little over a dozen films. In 1950 she co-starred in M-G-M’s comedy film, Father of the Bride. Directed by  Vincente Minnelli, Taylor played Kay, the daughter of Stanley T. Banks (Spencer Tracy) who is trying to cope with the preparations for her wedding day.

Elizabeth TAYLOR 1949
Elizabeth Taylor. M-G-M, 1949. Photograph by Hymie Fink.

Who is Hymie Fink?

Who exactly was her photographer, Hymie Fink? His identity remains a mystery. Was Hymie Fink a studio photographer? Freelancer? Pseudonym for an unknown talent or combination of unknown talents? His name appears among the stars starting in the late 1930’s until his death was announced in the mid-1950’s by Hedda Hopper. The gossip columnist ended her newspaper column for September 28, 1956 with the epitaph: “Hymie Fink, one of the sweetest men in Hollywood, died of a heart attack on Jane Wyman’s TV set. Hymie photographed every star and every major event in (Hollywood) for twenty-five years.”

Elizabeth Taylor co-starred in Father of the Bride, M-G-M’s 1950 comedy film directed by Vincente Minnelli. Father of the Bride was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Picture, and Best Writing, Screenplay.

LANA TURNER.

Before she became in the 1940’s the well-known Hollywood platinum sensuous blond of movie legend and fame, Lana Turner (1921-1995) was just a pretty redhead from Idaho named Julia Jean Turner.

Lana Turner. 1939.
Lana Turner. 1939, photograph by László Willinger.*

By the time this unretouched color portrait was made, 18-year-old Lana Turner had been discovered three years earlier in a manner that has made it into the annals of show-biz mythology. The immediate result of her discovery in an iconic malt shop near Hollywood High School where she was a student, was a movie contract with producer-director Mervyn LeRoy (1900-1987).

“America’s Sweater Sweetheart”

The title of Lana Turner’s first film in 1937 for Warner Brothers was They Won’t Forget. The title proved prophetic for Lana Turner’s Hollywood career. By 1938 Lana Turner was a sex symbol who went on to make over 50 glamorous films, most of them at M-G-M.

Lana Turner was only 16 years old when she played her five-minute debut part that has her at one point strut across the screen in a tight-fitting sweater and cocked beret for about 20 seconds.

Lana’s image created such a stir among movie-going audiences that gossip columnist Walter Winchell coined her “America’s Sweater Sweetheart” because of her now-classic screen appearance.

Over the next 20 years, a bevy of Hollywood actresses would wear tight sweaters over specialty bras that emphasized the bust line in the hope of sparking a Lana Turner movie success story for themselves.

New Jean Harlow?

Lana was originally being groomed to be the new Harlow. She followed the sex-bomb script in full force in 1941 when the studio dyed her hair whitish blonde for Ziegfeld Girl. Lana co-starred with Judy Garland and Hedy Lamarr and stole the show. 

László Willinger 

Hungarian-born photographer László Willinger (1909–1989) started his professional career in Vienna, Austria. He left Europe for America in 1937 where he joined M-G-M that same year. Soon after, he made this lush shot of 18-year-old Lana Turner in a silky green dress seated on a red divan (or chair) with her head turned and looking to one side with slightly bloodshot eyes.

Willinger’s color portrait of red-headed Lana Turner emphasizes the sensuality of her personality manifested in her full red sensuous lips and painted nails. In 1944, László Willinger left MGM and established his own photography studio in Hollywood. For the next 40 years he successfully practiced his craft.

About her own reputedly rowdy personal life in those M-G-M years, Lana Turner later remarked: “My plan was to have one husband and seven children, but it turned out the other way…” 

SOURCES:

DIETRICH – “Miss Dietrich to Receive Medal,” The New York Times, November 18, 1947;
https://ladailymirror.com/2013/11/04/mary-mallory-hollywood-heights-mdash-a-l-whitey-schafer-simplifies-portraits/;
http://vintagemoviestarphotos.blogspot.com/2014/11/a-l-whitey-schafer.html;
They Had Faces Then. Annabella to Zorina: The Superstars, Stars and Starlets of the 1930’s, John D. Springer and Jack D. Hamilton, Citadel Press, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1974.
Hollywood Color Portraits, John Kobal, William Morrow and Company. Inc., New York, 1981.
https://www.aenigma-images.com/2017/04/a-l-whitey-schafer/
PHOTO CREDIT – *The photograph copyright may be believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Paramount, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist. The copy is of sufficient resolution for commentary and identification but lower resolution than the original photograph. Copies made from it will be of inferior quality, unsuitable as counterfeit artwork, pirate versions or for uses that would compete with the commercial purpose of the original artwork. The image is used for identification in the context of critical commentary of the work, product or service for which it serves as poster art. It makes a significant contribution to the user’s understanding of the article, which could not practically be conveyed by words alone. As this is a publicity photo (star headshot) taken to promote an actress, these have traditionally not been copyrighted. Since they are disseminated to the public, they are generally considered public domain, and therefore clearance by the studio that produced them is not necessary. (See- Eve Light Honthaner, film production expert, in The Complete Film Production Handbook, Focal Press, 2001 p. 211. Gerald Mast, Further, film industry author, in Film Study and the Copyright Law (1989) p. 87, writes: “According to the old copyright act, such production stills were not automatically copyrighted as part of the film and required separate copyrights as photographic stills. The new copyright act similarly excludes the production still from automatic copyright but gives the film’s copyright owner a five-year period in which to copyright the stills. Most studios have never bothered to copyright these stills because they were happy to see them pass into the public domain, to be used by as many people in as many publications as possible.” Kristin Thompson, committee chairperson of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies writes in the conclusion of a 1993 conference with cinema scholars and editors, that they “expressed the opinion that it is not necessary for authors to request permission to reproduce frame enlargements … [and] some trade presses that publish educational and scholarly film books also take the position that permission is not necessary for reproducing frame enlargements and publicity photographs.”(“Fair Usage Publication of Film Stills,” Kristin Thompson, Society for Cinema and Media Studies.)

TAYLOR -http://tatteredandlostephemera.blogspot.com/2009/06/who-is-hymie-fink.html;
http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1956/09/29/page/22/article/diana-dors-isnt-homesick-shes-set-for-film-in-britain;
Hollywood Color Portraits, John Kobal, William Morrow and Company. Inc., New York, 1981.

TURNER – Hollywood Color Portraits, John Kobal, William Morrow and Company. Inc., New York, 1981.
Lana Turner interview with Phil Donahue, 1982 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhu6_V7pNL0
“Hollywood Photographer Dies,” The Hour, Associated Press, August 9, 1989 – https://news.google.com/newspapers nid=1916&dat=19890814&id=azIiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=uXQFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1804,2177679
PHOTO CREDIT: *The photograph copyright may be believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist. The copy is of sufficient resolution for commentary and identification but lower resolution than the original photograph. Copies made from it will be of inferior quality, unsuitable as counterfeit artwork, pirate versions or for uses that would compete with the commercial purpose of the original artwork. The image is used for identification in the context of critical commentary of the work, product or service for which it serves as poster art. It makes a significant contribution to the user’s understanding of the article, which could not practically be conveyed by words alone. As this is a publicity photo (star headshot) taken to promote an actress, these have traditionally not been copyrighted. Since they are disseminated to the public, they are generally considered public domain, and therefore clearance by the studio that produced them is not necessary. (See- Eve Light Honthaner, film production expert, in The Complete Film Production Handbook, Focal Press, 2001 p. 211. Gerald Mast, Further, film industry author, in Film Study and the Copyright Law (1989) p. 87, writes: “According to the old copyright act, such production stills were not automatically copyrighted as part of the film and required separate copyrights as photographic stills. The new copyright act similarly excludes the production still from automatic copyright but gives the film’s copyright owner a five-year period in which to copyright the stills. Most studios have never bothered to copyright these stills because they were happy to see them pass into the public domain, to be used by as many people in as many publications as possible.” Kristin Thompson, committee chairperson of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies writes in the conclusion of a 1993 conference with cinema scholars and editors, that they “expressed the opinion that it is not necessary for authors to request permission to reproduce frame enlargements … [and] some trade presses that publish educational and scholarly film books also take the position that permission is not necessary for reproducing frame enlargements and publicity photographs.”(“Fair Usage Publication of Film Stills,” Kristin Thompson, Society for Cinema and Media Studies.)