Henri: Forgive me, madame, the lady is not undressing, she is dressing. The gentleman happens to be her husband. They are celebrating their twenty-seventh wedding anniversary. They are going to have dinner with their oldest son. He is a taxidermist. I am appalled that you should thus malign these good people. It goes to prove what I have always maintained, that evil exists only in the eye of the beholder. I will thank you to stop looking at my pictures.
This biopic of the short, sad life of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is amazing looking but not totally satisfying in some way.
Henri (Jose Ferrer) is born the heir to the ancient aristocratic title of the Count Alfonse de Toulouse-Lautrec (also played by Ferrer) and his gentle religious wife. Father and mother are first cousins, the latest in a long line of traditional inbreeding. Henri is born with a number of ailments but with an obvious talent in drawing that is prized by both father and mother. When he is 13 he falls downstairs and fractures both legs. The bones refuse to mend properly. After a number of surgeries and other procedures the doctors conclude there is nothing to be done. The legs will not grow thereafter. This leaves Henri with the torso of a man and abnormally short legs. Rejected by his childhood sweetheart, Henri decides to leave for Paris.
He develops a lifelong alcohol problem. He spends all his evenings drinking and sketching in the bohemian Moulin Rouge, where can-can dancers and other performers scandalize the City. Lautrec is a great favorite of both the management and the performers.
One day, Henri helps a prostitute, Marie Charlette (Colette Marchand) to escape arrest by the police. She goes home with him and seems not to mind his deformity. They have a very stormy relationship but she always comes back to the generous Henri. After she breaks his heart, he eventually becomes a close friend and escort of Myriamme, a couture seamstress and admirer of his art. This relationship comes to a sad end as well. Henri basically drinks himself to death but leaves behind much beautiful art. With Zsa Zsa Gabor as a famous singer.
Huston, who I don’t think of primarily as a visual filmmaker, really captures the color and texture of Lautrec’s most famous posters and paintings in this film. I hope someday to see a restored print. It must be breathtaking. Anyone who has seen Ferrer as Cyrano de Bergerac will be able to imagine his performance here in a similarly sardonic, tragically romantic character. Huston was also at least partially responsible for the script but I found it lacked the bite of his best work and dragged. Worth seeing for the visuals, especially if you can find it in a better print than that currently available on YouTube.
Moulin Rouge won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color and Best Costume Design, Color. It was nominated in the categories of: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actress (Marchand); Best Director; and Best Film Editing. I don’t see how this missed at least a nomination in the Best Cinematography category.