"Eh bien, je ne suis pas homme le plus physique du monde, mais quand elle serra serré elle m'a presque cassé la colonne vertébrale, oh, mon Lola, Lo-Lo-Lo-Lo-Lola!" I already used that joke for my opener of my review for "Lolita", and I used Google Translate for this latest reference to the Kinks' "Lola", so by changing the transvestite's name to Lolita when I reviewed "Lolita", I was probably more accurate to the lyrics, but whatever. You Francophiles can get annoyed with me all you want for letting my laziness overcome my own affection for the French language, but laziness is fitting in a discussion regarding this film, as this effort puts little effort into doing anything unique as a "loose" interpretation of the life and times of Lola Montez. Sure, this film is about some French chick, whereas Montez was an Irish woman who was known as a "Spanish" dancer and ended up dying in New York (Ironic, because New York is usually where the Irish go to "not" die), but the Irish's English is about as hard to understand as the French's French, so, yeah, I'm not really seeing a line between fact and fiction here, Herr Max Ophüls. Well, I doubt that this film has any pretense about being a biopic for Lola Montez in disguise, as the titular main character's name is [u]Lola Montè[/u]s, for goodness' sake, but the fact of the matter is that I don't really understand why Max Ophüls went through the trouble of "tap dancing" (It's funny because this film is about a dancer) around just telling us who this film is actually about, unless, of course, the other people behind this project didn't want to run the risk of legal issues, which I know sounds stupid, but kind of makes sense when you think about it, for although this film came out after any kind of copyright that would, for whatever reason, be associated with Montez's estate had expired, as the producer's cut of this film apparently told us, the people who called the shots behind this project other than Ophüls had a tendency to make mighty dumb decisions. ...No, the scenario is still stupid, but what I'm getting at is that when Sergio Leone made it the portion of Heaven that is reserved for legendary filmmakers who had their last film butchered by producers, I bet Ophüls walked up to him, handed him a smoke and said, "Well, my friend, it would appear as though the Germans and Italians have a mutual foe yet again." Now, I'm not saying the restored cut of this film that everyone knows and loves is quite as good as "Once Upon a Time in America", but hey, it's still a decent film, though it's not like the producers were the only one who made a mistake with the handling of Ophüls' vision.
Framing the flashback sequences which stand as the body of this narrative with a circus show that presents the story of the titular Lola Montès character as an act, so much so that we often step back to see an event which is being focused upon on a stage at the center of the show, this film boasts a stylistic choice to storytelling that is nothing if not unique and very often livens things up, yet there are still plenty of questionable areas within this stylistic choice, as it distances resonance by presenting a should-be subjective narrative as objective, and makes matters all the worse by being unevenly used, thus leaving storytelling style to feel inconsistent at times. The circus-themed frame story element to this nonlinear character study ultimately graces the film with a colorful stamp that I can't see the final product being the same without, but you've got to take the problems with the strengths, and make no mistake, this major stylistic choice in storytelling proves to be distancing and often inconsistent in its usage, and also has a tendency to sum up potentially exposition-feeding pieces of filler in Montès' story, thus thinning out expository depth that isn't as rich as it probably should be when we switch back to a more traditional and subjective narrative style. As much as this film takes its share of breaks to tell you what's going on, plenty feels kind of undercooked in this character study, yet underdevelopment is perhaps not a disengaging as the slowness, which is very much toned down by a certain consistent liveliness within Max Ophüls' direction that often really springs as entertaining, but still stands, and often as completely undeniable, drying up atmospheric kick enough to dull things down a bit and leave the film to limp out. Storytelling meanders at times, as surely as it takes on the occasional questionable stylistic choice, and yet, with all of my aimless complaining about the slightly underused and generally colorful, circus-themed frame story element and slow spells, there really aren't a whole lot of errors to the final product, but hiccups there are really call your attention to how this film can't afford to make too many mistakes if it aims to truly reward. There's certainly juiciness to this story, but not as much as you might think, or at least hope for, carrying only so much momentum before it begins to get kind repetitious in concept, alone, so when I say that there are not a whole lot of flaws in this film, I mean that there was never to be a whole lot of anything to this film. Needless to say, there's enough meat to this story concept for you to see some clear signs at potential for a rewarding drama, but in the end, this film isn't as rewarding as it perhaps could have been, being a bit too inconsistent and slow for you to ignore the natural shortcomings that end up doing about as much as anything in making an underwhelming effort. Still, while the film is far from outstanding, it impresses enough to entertain adequately and consistently dazzle, maybe even turn in a few decent tunes.
Georges Auric's musical efforts aren't too frequently played upon, and quite frankly, uniqueness to this film's score is substantially less recurring, but it's not like Auric doesn't still turn in a decent score that has enough tasteful color in it to entertaining and often liven things up, even if it's not quite as unique, or as impressive, as the film's outstanding art direction, which backs production designs by Jean d'Eaubonne and costume designs by Georges Annenkov that are so remarkably intricate in their capturing this 19th-century-set world with an intense attention to lavish liveliness that production value ends up being both immersive and dazzling. As far as art direction is concerned, this film almost has to be seen in order to be believed, for although the era this film falls into offers certain limitations to production value's dazzle, the designers of the look of this film make one stunning decision after another, yet not at the expense of enough down-to-earth intricacy to draw you into this dazzling world on a subjective level. Of course, it should go without saying that this film's production value wouldn't be as eye-catching as it most certainly is in the long run if it wasn't for its being gorgeously presented by another truly remarkable artistic attribute: Christian Matras' cinematography, which plays with Cinemascope filming sensibilities to seamlessly marry sweep and intimacy to the scope of this well-produced drama, while playing up vibrant color in a sensationally exuberant that was very much unique at the time, and is still, to this day, breathtaking, bouncing out well-defined color in most-every shot stunningly. The film looks incredible, and not just for its time, thanks to plenty of production value-driven and photographically enhanced eye candy that some films nowadays have trouble challenging, so on a stylistic level, this film is memorable, rewarding, maybe even near-phenomenal, and that does a lot to make the film worth seeing, yet you cannot disregard the engaging color that resides "within" those before the well-lensed camera. There's never anything all that impressive about the acting in this film, but the characters conceptually do a lot to drive the final product's substance, thus there has to be some inspiration the performances, which deliver on just that, with most every member of this colorful cast delivering on charisma and chemistry that go into defining the charming human depths that in turn go into defining this character piece. Of course, the performances wouldn't be quite as charming as they ultimately are if the performers weren't backing up engaging material, which means that Annette Wademant turns in a script that, while uneven and repetitious at times, boasts a fair bit of wit, while director Max Ophüls keeps momentum alive enough to have an engagingingly entertaining beat for every slow spell. Seeing as how there's only so much to this film's substance in concept, acting, writing and direction never delivery a whole lot, but through all of the challenges to your investment, there are enough engaging areas to storytelling to keep you going through and through, even if you do end up wishing that you had more to walk away with.
When the circus has left town, somewhat stylistically uneven storytelling, expository shortcomings and bland spells allow you to meditate upon the natural shortcomings that shake your engagement value, better never so loose that the lovely score work, remarkable production value and incredible cinematography that make up sharp style, as well as the charming performances, witty writing and generally colorful direction that make up entertaining substance, aren't able to keep you locked with "Lola Montès" enough to enjoy yourself just fine through all of the underwhelmingness.
2.5/5 - Fair