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Friday, May 20, 2016


They say that the girls always go for the bad boy, which is fortunate for Georges Duroy (George Sanders) in Guy de Maupassant's THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BEL AMI (1946) since he is a bad, bad boy indeed. 

He is, in fact--in the words of one acquaintance--"an unmitigated cad", and this elegantly-told story is all about his casual betrayals of both women and men in romance, business, and various matters of basic trust and decency which he regards as mere impediments on the path to his narcissistic self-advancement.

Sanders, naturally, is perfectly cast as such a jaded, perversely attractive smoothie, not unlike his character Lord Henry Wotton in the earlier THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945) which also featured director Albert Lewin and co-star Angela Lansbury.  Wotton, however, relished decadence for its own sake, while Duroy considers it a means to an end.

The affairs of "Bel Ami", the pet name given to him by Lansbury's Clotilde de Marelle, are recounted matter-of-factly with all of Duroy's methodical mendacity presented in leisurely and picturesque tableaux that are beautifully designed and refreshingly un-melodramatic. 

The restored film's black-and-white photography by Oscar-winner Russell Metty (SPARTACUS) is exquisite, as are the 1880s Parisian sets that are lovingly shot with a sort of Kubrickesque romanticism.  A single color shot is a close-up of Max Ernst's painting "Temptation of St. Anthony", commissioned for the film.

Lansbury is gorgeous as a young single mother (her daughter is played by IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE's "Zuzu", Karolyn Grimes) who first loses her heart to the duplicitous Duroy along with her self-respect. It's no wonder that she is ultimately his one regret after all is said and done.

Ann Dvorak is equally good as the sharp-witted wife of his old military friend Charles Forestier (John Carradine), both of whom secure Duroy a lucrative position as a writer for a leading newspaper.  It's through them that Duroy commits some of his most devious plays for wealth and status, using friends, enemies, and lovers alike as chess pawns.

The story seems quite a bit ahead of its time in its frank portrayal of Duroy's calculated promiscuousness with women both married and single, and in its portrayal of these women as equal players in his high-stakes game.

Much occurs between scenes--between the lines, as it were--to stimulate our imaginations and give the story an added dimension which would probably be lacking if filmed today.

The supporting cast is fine, with THE WOLF MAN's Warren William in his final role as Duroy's most bitter rival Laroche-Mathieu, Katherine Emery as scorned lover Madame Walter, and Marie Wilson ("My Friend Irma") as a "common" woman who is the butt of one of Duroy's most wicked putdowns in the very first scene. 

The DVD from Olive Films is in 1.33:1 with mono sound.  Subtitles are in English.  No extras.  The film's restoration from the highest quality picture and audio elements available is a visual delight. 

Surprisingly, a story about such a cold fish as Duroy yields a richly involving viewing experience enhanced by sharp, Oscar Wilde-level dialogue.  Emotionally distant as its protagonist at first, THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BEL AMI gradually builds to a dramatic life-or-death ending which lingers in the mind.
Twitter: @OliveFilms

Release date: May 24, 2016


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