Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Flame of New Orleans (1941)

The Flame of New Orleans is a stylish romantic comedy set in early 19th century New Orleans with Marlene Dietrich as an adventuress torn between money and love.

Claire Ledeux (Marlene Dietrich) is a phony countess out to snare herself a rich man. She puts on a good front. She has a nice house and beautiful clothes but she no actual money. Finding a rich husband is not just something to be desired - it’s a necessity. With her beauty and her glamour that should not be a difficult task and she has set her sights on wealthy middle-aged banker Charles Giraud (Roland Young). Success seems to be at hand, in fact he has already proposed, when fate steps in. She meets handsome sea captain Robert LaTour (Bruce Cabot). He would be a most unsuitable husband. He’s certainly not penniless but he’s a long long way from being rich. Most unsuitable indeed. On the other hand he is handsome and carefree and charming. What is a girl to do?

Claire has no doubts as to what she should do. She should marry her rich banker. There is however one major obstacle. Claire has had a colourful past and it has caught up to her. She has been recognised by an old flame who knew her in St Petersburg and the fellow has, most unfortunately, revealed Claire’s past to sundry acquaintances and word has got back to Giraud. Not only is Giraud understandably shocked. There is also the problem of his very respectable family. The woman he marries has to be of irreproachable character.

This is a tricky problem but Claire thinks she has the answer. If Giraud can be convinced that the adventuress with the shady past from St Petersburg was not Claire but her wicked cousin then all should be well. The fact that she has no wicked cousin is a minor obstacle. She will simply invent one. An identical cousin.

Of course it doesn’t work out as smoothly as she had hoped and that disturbingly attractive sea captain seems to keep turning up.

The plot is little more than a succession of very old clichés. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it’s executed with style, charm and wit.

René Clair made only a handful of movies in Hollywood but they included several gems, most notably And Then There Were None and the delightful supernatural comedy I Married a Witch. The lightness of touch he demonstrated in the latter film  is very much in evidence in The Flame of New Orleans. The screenplay provides the players enough to work with and they make the most of it.

Dietrich could play evil scheming spider women or tough cynical women but in this case she gets to play a scheming woman who might be somewhat amoral but is also charming and likeable and generally pretty sympathetic. She’s in superb form, and she’s breathtakingly glamorous as always. And naturally she gets to wear some stunning clothes.

Bruce Cabot and Roland Young are absolutely splendid as her rival suitors. Young plays Giraud as a somewhat ridiculous and pompous figure but one can’t help rather liking him. It’s the sort of part he relished and he’s terrific. Cabot is a handsome dashing leading man with a twinkle in his eye. Theresa Harris plays Claire’s black maid Clementine with style and panache. Mischa Auer provides additional fun as the cowardly but effervescent crazy Russian Zolotov. It’s a fine cast and they’re all at the top of their game.

This was a fairly ambitious and lavish A-picture by Universal’s standards and it looks extremely good, hardly surprising given that the cinematographer was Rudolph Maté. There are some nice visual touches, especially the river scenes.

The Flame of New Orleans is included in Universal’s superb Marlene Dietrich Glamor Collection DVD boxed set. Don’t be put off by the lack of extras or the fact that the five movies come on two double-sided discs. The transfers are gorgeous and all five movies are must-sees if you’re a Dietrich fan.

The Flame of New Orleans is a frothy very amusing and totally captivating romantic comedy. This is a very lightweight movie indeed but if you’re looking for pure entertainment this movie should be just what the doctor ordered. Highly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment