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Moulin Rouge (1953, José Ferrer, Colette Marchand)



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.

production details
UK | 119 minutes | 1952

Director: John Huston
Writer: Anthony Veiller, John Huston (based on the novel by Pierre LaMure)

Lee Montague as Maurice Joyant
Maureen Swanson as Denise de Frontiac
José Ferrer as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Christopher Lee as Georges Seurat
Peter Cushing as Marcel de la Voisier
Harold Kasket as Zidler
Mary Clare as Madame Louet
Claude Nollier as Countess de Toulouse-Lautrec
Colette Marchand as Marie Charlet
Zsa Zsa Gábor as Jane Avril
Suzanne Flon as Myriamme Hayam
Katherine Kath as La Goulue
Muriel Smith as Aicha
Walter Crisham as Valentin Dessosse
Georges Lannes as Police Sgt. Patou