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Film review: 'Earrings' a rewarding mystery

Stunning French classic is rich in story and character

Published: Friday, June 15 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

EARRINGS OF MADAME DE ... — *** 1/2 — Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, Vittorio De Sica; black and white; in French, with English subtitles; made before ratings (1953), probably PG (violence, mild profanity, nude artwork)

The nearly forgotten French classic "Earrings of Madame de ... " withholds certain information from its audience, such as the last name of the title character. (That character was supposedly based on a real-life figure, hence the film's rather nebulous title.)

And like the recent series finale of HBO's "The Sopranos," the film's conclusion cuts away before showing what happens to the characters. Fortunately, the ending here is not as infuriatingly incomplete; the resolution is fairly obvious. But as a result, there are certain aspects of the film that play out like a mystery, and it's a rewarding one.

"Earrings of Madame de ... " is rich in story and character. (This theatrical re-issue also features enhanced picture and sound.)

As the title suggests, the film revolves around a pair of earrings that were a wedding gift from Andre (Charles Boyer), a French Army general, to his wife Louise (Danielle Darrieux). The two have a rather strained relationship, which explains why Louise has pawned the earrings. She also needs the cash to pay off some unspecified debts.

But rather than coming clean about that, she tells Andre that she's lost the earrings, which sends the despondent general on a desperate search to find them. Once they turn up again, the earrings also become a crucial component in the relationship between Louise and Baron Donati (Vittorio De Sica), an Italian diplomat who's become smitten with the unhappily married woman.

Director Max Ophuls' drama features some handsome production design (specific to the early 20th century setting) and some occasional, welcome humor.

The fluid camera work is stunning as well. Ophuls and cinematographer Christian Matras follow the characters down corridors, down stairways, through windows and around dance floors (accompanied in those latter sequences by some snippets from Oscar Strauss waltzes).

The contributions of the film's fine cast are also notable. All three leads are terrific, but Boyer may be the standout as the film's ostensible "heavy" (a departure from some of his more romantic leading-man roles).

"Earrings of Madame de ... " was made before ratings but would probably receive a PG for some brief violence (overheard warfare and a duel), scattered mild profanity (religiously based), and glimpses of nude statues and art. Running time: 105 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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