Much imitated in structure, if not theme, Max Ophuls’ “La Ronde,” based on Arthur Schnitzler’s famous play, is set in Vienna in the nineteenth century (circa 1900) and unfolds as a merry-go-round, a series of character vignettes, all dealing with love and sex.
They are linked together by a narrator, who as a master of ceremonies is the only figure that appears with the metaphorical carousel in each of the stories. He’s played by Anton Walbrook, who established a name a few years earlier in “The Red Shoes.”
As the title suggests, both the narrative and the visual motifs are circular. Director and co-writer Ophuls uses merry-go-round to foreshadow the film’s events, in which each segment introduces a new character, who has an affair with a character from the previous scene.
It begins with a young prostitute (played by the young but already great actress Simone Signoret), who meets a soldier (Serge Reggiani), who then leaves her when he falls for a chambermaid (Simone Simon). The maid soon meets another man (Daniel Gelin), who goes on to seduce a wealthy married femme (Danielle Darrieux), whose husband is romantically involved with a young employee (Odette Joyeux). The worker, in turns, loves a poet (jean-Louis Barrault), who is in love with an actress (Isa Miranda), but the actress loves a military officer (Philipe). Love comes full circle, when he calls the prostitute from the first segment
Though largely dark and serious, the tone of the segments is varied. The interplay among the characters is intriguing and provocative, not to mention the lavish visual style for which Ophuls is known for.
Though made in 1950, the film encountered censorship problems in the U.S. due to its candid and mature treatment of the issue of sex, which delayed its (limited) theatrical distribution.
The much admired French director Ophuls has made many gems, including “Le Plaisir,” “The Earrings of Madame De” and “Lola Montes.” In the late 1940s, Ophuls was in Hollywood, where he made “Letter from an Unknown Woman,” and the two films noir, “Caught” and “The Reckless Moment.”
Oscar Nominations: 2
Art Direction-Set Decoration (black-and-white): Jean D’Eaubonne
Screenplay (Adapted): Jacques Natanson and Max Ophuls
Oscar Awards: None
The winners of the Adapted Screenplay Oscar were Michael Wilson and Harry Brown for George Stevens’ “A Place in the Sun.”
Richard Day and George James Hopkins received the Art Direction Oscar for Kazan’s “A Streetcar named Desire.”
Running time: 93 minutes