Earrings of Madame De… (1953): Max Ophuls Sumptuous Melodrama Starring Danielle Darrieux and Charles Boyer

The great film critic Andrew Sarris, who introduced me to Max Ophuls’s ravishing classic, has described “The Earrings of Madame De” (aka “Madame De”) as one of his “all-time favorite films,” along with another Ophuls’ gem, “Lola Montes” (which has been resmastered and restored recently).

Sumptuous with its extravagantly decorative sets and costumes, emotionally heartbreaking as a literary and cinematic text, this tragic melodrama is staged in Max Ophuls’ trademark style, marked by a subtle mise-en-scene, a deliriously swirling yet seamless camera movement, and superlative performances by Charles Boyer, Vittorio De Sica, and particularly Danielle Darrieux as the femme in between. In other words, this one-of-a-kind movie is flawless.

In the first scene, Countess Louise De (Darrieux), searching for a valuable object to sell, examines her furs, necklaces, and a cross, before choosing a pair of diamond earrings she had received from her husband, General Andre De (Boyer), as a gift.

Later, when the subject comes up, she claims that the earrings had been stolen, forcing her hubby to search for them. Lo and behold, he retrieves them discreetly from the jeweler to whom his wife had sold them. The General gives the earrings to his younger mistress Lola (Di Leo), who later loses them, while gambling with Baron Donati (Italian director-actor De Sica). Then, upon return to Paris, the Baron falls for the Countess and gives her as a gift an object (he says) that expresses his most personal and deepest feelings!

Set in the Belle ?âpoque, the multi-nuanced tale, whose dialogue goes from the smooth to the brittle, is captivating to watch and listen (for those who speak French, it is a double joy).

Ophuls navigates his exquisite film as a suspense story that follows the circuitous route of pair of earrings as they pass from France to Constantinople, from husband to moneylender to lover to mistress and back again.

The journey of the earrings reveals a society defined by quaint and restrictive social and sexual mores that encourage, if not downright create, hypocrisy, betrayal, narcissism, self-absorption, desperation, and other illnesses, on both the personal and cultural level.

The fluent, ironic style is congruent with the societal malaises it explores. Ophuls, then at the peak of his creativity (having made “La Ronde” and “Le Plaisir”), uses a relentlessly mobile camera that dollies and pans around the various spaces as a character in its own right. Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli had acknowledged the influence of Ophus visual style on his 1940s and 1950s social melodramas. For his part, Ophuls claimed that the famous ballroom sequence, when the Countess and Baron gain awareness of their doomed affair, pays tribute to the Jennifer Jones lush, hysterical waltz in Minnelli’s 1949 “Madame Bovary.”

As Sarris noted: “The Earrings of Madame De” is “a screen tragedy of profundity and splendor, about the obsessive nature of romantic love has never been rendered more brilliantly.”


Countess Louise De (Danielle Darrieux)
General Andre De (Charles Boyer)
Baron Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio De Sica)
Madame De’s Nurse (Mireille Perrey
M Remy (Jean Debucourt)
Jerome (Serge Lecointe)
Lola (Lia di Leo)
M De Bernac (Jean Galland)
Henri De Maleville (Hubert Noel)
Theater Manager (Leon Walther)


Produced by H. Baum and Ralph Baum
Directed by Max Ophuls
Screenplay: Marcel Achard, Annette Wademany, and Ophuls, based on the novel by Louise de Vilmorin
Camera; Christian Matras
Editor: Borys Lewin
Music: Oscar Straus, Georges Van Parys
Costume Design: Georges Annenkov and Rosine Delamare

Running time: 105 Minutes

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 1

Costume Design (b/w): Georges Annenkov and Rosine Delamare

Oscar Context

In 1954, when the French film was eligible for Oscar nominations, the winner of the black-and-white costume design was Edith Head for Billy Wilder’s “Sabrina.”

The contest also included Christian Dior for “Indiscretion of an American Wife,” Jean Louis for Cukor’s comedy “It Should Happen to You,” and Helen Rose for the office melodrama “Executive Suite.”