Review: Lola Montes DVD

STUDIO: Criterion Collection | DIRECTOR: Max Ophuls | STARS: Oskar Werner, Martine Carol, Peter Ustinov
RELEASE DATE: 2/16/2010 | PRICE: DVD $39.95, Blu-ray $39.95
BONUSES: scholarly commentary, new documentary, 1965 French TV program, vintage footage of actress Martine Carol
SPECS: NR | 114 min. | Foreign language drama | 2.55:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | English, French and German with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

“Here, ladies and gentlemen, the truth, nothing but the truth, of the extraordinary life of Lola Montes,” intones Peter Ustinov (Hercule Poirot in Murder in Three Acts and others) at the beginning of Max Ophuls’ 1955 Lola Montes. Ustinov is portraying the ringmaster of a traveling circus, and the tales he and his troupe of performers weave are revealed in a dream-like chronology, with flashbacks within flashbacks and a bunch of different characters relating their versions — their colorful visions — of the story.

From the outset, reality and fantasy are hard to define in this movie, which is just how Ophuls wanted it in this loose recounting of the life of the famed 19th century Irish-born cabaret dancer and courtesan whose numerous liaisons included composer Franz Liszt and Ludwig I, King of Bavaria. In the movie, Lola is portrayed by French sex siren Martine Carol.

Lola Montes was the last and only color film (featuring Technicolor so luxurious that it brings to mind Powell’s The Red Shoes and Visconti’s The Leopard) directed by Ophuls, the brilliant German-born journeyman filmmaker whose masterpieces include Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948), La Ronde (1950) and The Earrings of Madame d… (1953). But the movie was disastrously received during its initial release and subsequently reworked, re-edited and re-released by others in a handful of abhorrent versions.

In addition to a stunningly restored version of the film that comes closest to Ophuls’ original cut, Criterion’s new DVD offers a handful of fine special features, led by a new 35-minute documentary by Marcel Ophuls, Max’s filmmaking son and an assistant on the original movie. Marcel and other Max collaborators discuss the making and undoing of Lola Montes, the masterful tracking shots and sweeping pans that were his trademarks (Kubrick idolized him) and the film’s place in cinematic history. It’s “the most wonderful thing on Earth” exclaims the great cinematographer Michael Ballhaus in the documentary, an opinion that has been echoed by legendary film critic Andrew Sarris. That’s debatable, of course, but this film absolutely demands some attention. And whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.