Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Review #1,359: 'Moulin Rouge' (1928)

Paris's iconic Moulin Rouge has proved an inspiration to many filmmakers down the years, including the likes of Jean Renoir, Baz Luhrmann and Woody Allen, who were all clearly fascinated by the venue's vibrant cabaret act and reputation as the home of the modern can-can. You would have to go all the way back to 1928 to witness one of cinema's earliest (if not the earliest) brush with the Moulin Rouge, although the scenes of the dancing girls bare little resemblance to the famous hangout. German-born director Ewald Andre Dupont made films in both Hollywood and London, and is perhaps best known for Variete and Piccadilly, but he also made this little-seen melodrama, filmed at Elstreet Studios, in 1928.

The star attraction at the city's most popular hangout is undoubtedly Parysia (Olga Tschechowa), a striking lady who performs to an adoring crowd on a nightly basis, dazzling the audience with songs, dances and shakes of her feathers. She is over the moon when she receives a letter from her daughter Margaret (Eve Gray) announcing her pending arrival. Parysia hasn't seen her child for a few years since she left for boarding school, and she's all grown up with a new man at her side. That man is Andre (Jean Bradin), who believes that he's met the perfect partner until he witnesses his future mother-in-law's stage performance for the first time. Andre falls in love, and declares his feelings to the shocked Parysia, who is determined to see her daughter happy by setting off to persuade Andre's stern, rich father than Margaret is worthy, despite his distaste for the goings-on at the Moulin Rouge.

Dupont's forgotten silent is a strange beast. It is essentially a rather relentless melodrama with little insight into human behaviour, which climaxes with a breathtaking high-speed car chase that would put many modern-day blockbusters to shame. At the film's centre is the odd love triangle between mother, daughter and a handsome charmer, but Dupont ignores the fact that Parysia would realistically want her offspring as far away from this letch as soon as possible once he declares his undying love for the mother of his fiancee. For a movie entitled Moulin Rouge, there's very little of what the venue is best known for, aside from a bit of uncomfortable black-face. From a technical standpoint, it is absolutely wonderful, with the director making full use of his leading star with close-ups and effective camera movements. Tschechowa is a legend of silent cinema, and it isn't difficult to understand why she was courted by the likes of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. For the most part, this is pretty dull stuff, but the climax will leave you breathless and hugely impressed.

Directed by: Ewald André Dupont
Starring: Olga Tschechowa, Eve Gray, Jean Bradin, Georges Tréville
Country: UK

Rating: ***

Tom Gillespie

Moulin Rouge (1928) on IMDb

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