Story of Three Loves, The

MGM

 

MGM assigned Vincente Minnelli, its top filmmaker, to direct a short fantasy without music called “Mademoiselle,” which was to form the center of an omnibus film, “The Story of Three Loves.”

Hollywood has made only a few omnibus films. The genre was always more popular in Europe, with successful anthologies based on classic short stories, such as Somerset Maugham’s Trio, or Max Ophuls’s “Le Plaisir,” a homage to Guy De Maupassant.
Veteran producer Sidney Franklin initially asked Minnelli to direct two of the three romantic tales, “Mademoiselle” and “Why Should I Cry” but one was enough for Minnelli, and the latter was given to Charles Waters. Shot on the back lot, the anthology consisted of Mademoiselle, set in Rome, The Jealous Lover in London, and Equilibrium, with a Parisian setting. Favoring old-fashioned fare with star cast, Franklin assembled an international troupe. Max Reinhardt’s son, Gottfried, directed The Jealous Lover with James Mason and Moira Shearer, and Equilibrium starred Kirk Douglas and Pier Angeli.
Planned for Leslie Caron, Mademoiselle is based on a short story “Lucy and the Stranger,” by Jan Lustig and George Froeschel. The heroine is a wistful governess of an American family on holiday in Rome. She recites Peguy and Verlaine to Tommy, a 7-year-old boy who cant wait to become a grown-up. When an old sorceress grants his wish for one evening, a transformed Tommy awakens to mademoiselle’s beauty. Ricky Nelson, already popular on TV, played the young boy, and Farley Granger the mature Tommy. ZaZa Gabor was cast as a worldly barfly who vamps the hero before his date with Mademoiselle.
Ethel Barrymore flaunted an imperious tongue-in-cheek delivery as the fairy godmother, Mrs. Pennicott. For Minnelli, working with this grand dame of the theater was the major reason for doing the film. Enchanted by her unflappable spirit and professionalism, he catered to his stars suggestions. In her first scene, Minnelli placed Barrymore in an Italian-Gothic villa, basking in velvety Roman twilight. The Metro Art Department performed miracles for Minnelli. A luscious series of matte shots by special-effects master, Warren Newcombe, recreated the Forum and Caracalla Baths. Back-projection was used to illustrate Granger and Caron’s carriage ride through the city.
The first segment to be shot, Mademoiselle was done very quickly by Minnelli standards, three weeks, wrapping up in February 1952. However, the entire anthology was costlier and took longer to finish than anticipated. At the end, not knowing what to do with this inflated art-house item, MGM kept it on the shelves for over a year. Three Loves finally opened at Radio City Music Hall in March 1953, after The Band Wagon, even though it had been shot before that musical. The public response was timid, and the movie turned out to be a commercial failure.
Minnelli imbues Mademoiselle with few touches of lyricism and whimsy. Fables like this succeed or fail on their charm, and Mademoiselle simply lacked charm. The settings are photogenic, and some of the close-ups appealing, but overall, its a stalled film, with a sumptuous but fake look.
Skeptical viewers wondered why would an adolescent boy in a Roman hotel read gloomy Gallic poetry Granted the wish to become old man of 25, he accidentally encounters the fey governess still weeping over Verlaine. The tuxedoed transient succumbs to her thrall, and soon the two somnambulists proclaim love in slow verse and slow motion. The lovelorns drift across the screen like lost souls
The Jealous Lover replicated The Red Shoes, with James Mason stands in for Anton Walbrook. Like The Clock, the movie brings together two lonely innocents to a big city of strangers, but the emotional urgency that propelled The Clock eludes Minnelli here. Despite high production values and Minnellis camera caressing Caron and Granger in their love scene, the segment is lifeless.
Fleeting seconds in the segment transport it to the Eternal City of Minnelli’s imagination, a dream without a ballet. A succession of soft frescoes of Rome by night, a surrealist trumpery–a giddying overhead shot of Granger running down a gaslit alley, dwarfed by an equestrian statue, out of American in Paris.
The appearance of Ethel Barrymore halfway through the story is most welcome. With her, the story’s high-flown sentiments give way to an astringent comedy. Barrymore is a Minnelli type of witch, an elegant fairy godmother who presides over crumbling baroque archways and sunken Roman pediments. Like Gigi’s Aunt Alicia, Mrs. Pennicott is the star of her miniature domain. The grand dame reveals how she subdued the overweening German governess who blighted her own youth. Mrs. Pennicott says that, to achieve the spell that would liberate him from Mademoiselle, the boy must invoke her name on a stroke of 8: “I love to hear it pronounced, it intoxicates me.”
By turns vain and seductive, the vet star gets a chance to show off her own sorcery, particularly her delicious theatrical voice. Though Mademoiselle was no more than a trifle to fill Minnelli’s idle weeks, in between more important assignments, it touched a personal chord. Mrs. Penicott personifies an essential Minnelli theme: The power of the imagination to overcome the strictures of daily life. As Minnelli himself grew older and dissatisfied with his personal life, he relied more and more on fantasy.
“Mademoiselle” would serve a rough draft for Minnelli’s last picture, “A Matter of Time,” yet another fable about an aged eccentric countess (played by Ingrid Bergman), who initiates a frustrated innocent (Liza Minnelli) to the lure of dreams, a topic that was also explored in Gigi. The idea corresponds to Minnelli’s real-life role in initiating young, unformed women, like Lena Horne, Judy, and his own daughter Liza, into sophisticated society ladies. The supernatural comic relief of Mademoiselle would become a cue for pathos in “Matter of Time.” By 1976, Minnelli’s professional glory had receded into memory, like the amorous exploits of the ravaged countess.
Neither “Mademoiselle” nor “Matter of Time” sustains the transcendent quality Minnelli hoped to convey. However, each film achieved a fleeting grandeur, also a theme in Minnelli’s work, with the same heartfelt image. In Minnelli’s last film, a reclusive old lady, enveloped in the sapphire light of a Roman dusk, contemplates the mysterious promise of the darkness to come.

Minnelli directed the “Mademoiselle” sequence.

 

Cast:

 

Mrs. Pennicott (Ethel Barrymore)

Mademoiselle (Leslie Caron)

Tommy (Farley Granger)

Tommy ay age 12 (Ricky Nelson)

Girl at bar (Zsa Zsa Gabor)

 

Credits

 

Produced by Sidney Franklin

Screenplay: Jan Lustig, George Froeschel, based on a story by Arnold Phillips

Cinematography: Charles Rosher, Harold Rosson

Art Direction: Cedric Gibson, Preston Ames

Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis

Music: Miklos Rozsa

Editing: Ralph E. Winters

Costumes:  Helen Rose

Recording engineer: Douglas Shearer

Makeup: William Tuttle

Hair stylist: Sydney Guilaroff

 

Running Time: 112 Minutes