The script for Moulin Rouge, John Huston’s exquisite biopic of Toulouse-Lautrec, was adapted by Huston and Anthony Veiller from Pierre LaMure’s novel, the film rights for which had been bought by actor Jose Ferrer. And it’s Ferrer who takes the lead role, achieving an uncanny physical likeness to the priggish artist whose posters and paintings perfectly captured the spirit of Monmartre during the naughty 1890s.
Childhood accidents left Lautrec painfully crippled (Ferrer spent most of the shoot on his knees to portray the painter). The film uses this condition to justify its romantic portrayal of the artist as tormented loner who’s tragically unable to accept the true, sympathetic affection of model Myriamme (Suzanne Flon) after glamorous prostitute and first love Marie (Colette Marchand) cruelly belittles him for his deformity.
Lautrec was, in fact, a party animal, but LaMure never intended to write an historically accurate account of his subject’s life. Instead he wanted to evoke the artist’s own vision of place and period through a scarred romance. And Huston’s adaptation does just that. ’50s censorship prevented him from staging the most hedonistic excesses and absinthe-sodden despair that Lautrec witnessed in dance-halls, brothels and loony bins, but we definitely get the picture.
USA / 1953
Director: John Huston
Writer: Anthony Veiller, John Huston (based on the novel by Pierre LaMure)
Cast: José Ferrer, Colette Marchand, Suzanne Flon, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Katherine Kath, Claude Nollier, Muriel Smith, Georges Lannes, Walter Crisham, Mary Clare, Lee Montague, Harold Gasket, Jill Bennet, Maureen Swanson, Jim Gerald, Rupert John