Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Lola Montès (1955)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Lola Montès (1955, Fr.) (aka The Sins of Lola Montès)

In director Max Ophuls' inspired first (and last) color and widescreen film -- in CinemaScope -- a technically brilliant, visually-ambitious, historical-biopic and epic drama about the tragic amorous liaisons of the elitist aristocracy, and the scandalous, cruel creation and crude exploitation of a society fixated on 'celebrity' status. In particular, the film demystified the life story of a notorious, sexy and ribald seductress, often viewed with complicated tracking shots. The plot was structured as a series of cyclical, flashbacked, non-chronological, disjointed tableaux that re-enacted her scandalous life, populated by various acrobats, dwarfs, equestrians, and other performers (including a strongman) in the central circus ring of the tawdry Mammoth Circus.

The film was a financial, over-budget disaster that was quickly withdrawn and re-released in 1957 in a severely-cut version (from 140 to 90 minutes) that was re-edited (rearranged chronologically without the framing flashback structure or device) and translated (dubbed from German to French), with added voice-over narration. Another reconstructed version appeared in 1968 (missing 30 minutes of the original), while a more recent, fully-restored version (missing only 20 minutes of the original) was released in 2008:

  • in the stunning opening sequence, two beautiful chandeliers descended in front of a circus band whose leader was dressed in an Uncle Sam costume; the moving camera descended further and picked up the appearance of the top-hatted, circus RingMaster (Peter Ustinov) carrying a whip who emerged from behind a curtain and approached toward the center of the circus ring
  • the RingMaster began a lengthy and sensationalized speech to an unseen, expectant audience: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you've all been waiting for. The most sensational act of the century. Entertainment, emotion, action, history"; behind him, there were numerous activities taking place (i.e., a juggling act was being performed by two parallel lines of girls)
  • the exploitative Circus RingMaster then introduced the main sideshow attraction of the bizarre and gaudy circus being held in New Orleans, LA - the now aged title character Lola Montès (Martine Carol); she was an infamous, 19th-century Spanish/Irish-born adventuress, paramour and courtesan-prostitute: "A creature a hundred times more murderous than any beast in our menagerie. A bloodthirsty monster with the eyes of an angel. Ravaged hearts, squandered fortunes, the saraband of lovers, scepters, crowns, an authentic revolution. Triumph and downfall. Lola Montes, Countess Maria Dolores of Lansfeld. In the very flesh!"
  • the entrance of Lola Montes was preceded by a parade of clowns and other circus performers who entered the center ring, as the RingMaster continued his introduction: "Here, ladies and gentlemen, the truth, nothing but the truth on the extraordinary life of Lola Montes, reenacted by the entire company in pantomime, acrobatics, tableaux vivants, with music and dance and with the entire orchestra"; the exploits of her scandalous, lurid and notorious life would soon be dramatically re-enacted and staged for the circus audience
  • Lola's appearance was dramatic - she was carried to the center of the circus ring while sitting totally immobile and enthroned on a gold platform, and wearing an elaborate gold dress; the platform was turned in a clock-wise direction before it was set down; the lights were changed to a deep blue hue, as close-ups of her face revealed she had been painted with the features of a doll
  • the camera circled about her on a 360-degree track moving counter-clockwise as the RingMaster manipulatively circled around her and announced the question-answer part of the performance: "The first part of the show. Questions. Ask your questions, ladies and gentlemen. Lola Montes will answer the most shocking questions, the most intimate questions, the most indiscreet questions, about her scandalous career as femme fatale. Don't be shy, ladies and gentlemen, 25 cents per question"
  • after asking for questions (for 25 cents each) from the audience, a chorus of identically red-uniformed male acrobats (looking like bellboys) carried hollowed-out, molded female heads of Lola on sticks (shaped as collection receptacles) to receive quarters and dollars from the audience's patrons, to be donated, according to the RingMaster "for the relief of fallen women"; he also facetiously promised: "She'll tell all"
  • the RingMaster answered all of the questions for Lola; questions included queries such as: "Where did she dance without her costume?", "Did the doctor give you something?", "Where are your children, Lola?", "Was her mother like her?", "Which does she love best: love or money?", "What are Lola's measurements, please?", "Does Lola wear a bra?", and "How many lovers?"
  • during the questioning, the RingMaster privately asked Lola about her doctor's recent diagnosis of her declining health, and she responded: "He said I mustn't drink and smoke anymore"; after the questions, a parade of "Lola's lovers" entered the ring and acrobatically performed in front of her
  • other questions were asked: "Why didn't you ever stay with your lovers, Countess?" and "Does the Countess still remember the past?"; the background behind the Countess began to change to represent memories of her past
  • the remainder of the film was composed of a series of reenactments or episodic flashbacks into aspects of Lola's scandalous life, loves and dance career; the RingMaster continued to orchestrate and narrate the story of her past as a commercial, untouchable spectacle, seen in the flashbacked vignettes; it was unclear whether the RingMaster was sadistically tormenting Lola and exploitatively using her, or functioning as her guardian angel; the RingMaster announced: "We'll look back to her early days"
  • each locale in the film retained a color scheme (in CAPITALS), for example, the circus scenes (with bright REDS, YELLOWS, BLUES) - see more below

    - the first flashback covered the last few days of Lola's affair as the mistress of composer Franz Liszt (Will Quadflieg), when she was en route through Italy in his large wagon-caravan, with her own coach not far behind (YELLOWS, TANS, AUTUMN COLORS)
    - the RingMaster prefaced a brief overview of Lola's own childhood and upbringing as happy: ("Her happy youth and her radiant adolescence"); however, Lola experienced a difficult and unloved youth by her widowed mother Mrs. Craigie (Lise Delamare); her mother planned to marry her off to an aged baron (a banker), but she rebelled; and then her five-year marriage to Lieutenant Thomas James (Ivan Desny), the lover of her own mother, was not idyllic in actuality, due to her husband's infidelity, abusiveness and drunkenness
    - Lola's career as an aspiring ballerina-dancer in Madrid was marked by her rejection of a rich, tyrannical Russian viceroy General Paskievitch; according to the RingMaster, she rejected-spurned the tyrant, who then kidnapped her with his Cossack Army, but she was saved by the intervention of a French diplomat in the Embassy, who romantically 'protected her' for 24 hours
    - Lola traversed across a tightrope placed in front of a series of painted backdrops that represented the different countries or locales of her numerous affairs, as the RingMaster listed all of her many lovers, and sang a song about her body parts or "treasures" that she offered men: ("Three sweet ones: the heart, the wrists, and the hand; Three mad ones: the eyes, the hair, the feet; Three soft ones: the arms, the ears, and the nose; Three curved ones: the shoulder, the mouth, and the breasts; you give your body but you keep your soul")

  • the flashbacks and tableaux were interrupted by the arrival of a Doctor (Willy Eichberger) who reported on his diagnosis of Lola's declining health and fragility: "She has a weak heart and the sore throat may indicate something more serious. That woman is worn out before her time. She must be careful"; the Circus Manager (Friedrich Domin) was reluctant to allow Madame Montes to quit the circus: ("She has to earn a living")

    - the re-enactments continued with the RingMaster's summarization of Lola's life choice: ("Lola understood that keeping a good reputation was out of the question. Rumor, scandals, passion, that's what she chose in order to create a sensation")
    - she experienced a "fresh scandal" in Vienna at Tivoli where she was dancing during an outdoor concert; immediately after discovering that her lover, musical orchestra Kapellmeister/Conductor Claudio Pirotto (Claude Pinoteau), was married, she marched up to him on stage and slapped him while he was conducting; then she approached the Conductor's wife and gave her the "ugly" ring on her finger, given to her by the woman's "cowardly" husband who claimed he was divorced; due to the publicity, Lola was regarded as "the most famous woman on the French Riviera" - revered and sought after by aristocratic and wealthy high-society elites
    - Lola then became "the first woman in Europe to smoke cigars" - an appropriation of a powerful symbol of masculinity

  • in the middle of the survey of Lola's rise to fame and power before her dramatic fall, she rejected work in the circus (in American institutions including Barnum's Circus and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show) after being offered employment by the RingMaster as an unusual attraction: ("You know how to trigger a scandal, Excite the audience...Scandal means money...The world's most scandalous woman. The most scandalous act. You will re-enact your scandals...We'll show everything that women dream of doing, but lack the courage to do"); she declined the lucrative offer for "top fees" - refusing to be shamed and degraded: ("I'm not a machine for scandal... I'm not a fairground freak. I'm not interested in your offer")
  • when the tableaux re-commenced, before the final flashbacks with other lovers in Bavaria, Lola made a "dizzying ascent" high up onto a trapeze platform at the "summit" of the circus tent, where she was soon to perform a climactic daredevil stunt that was "fraught with danger" - to dramatize and depict herself as a "fallen woman"

    - Lola also had a brief romance with a naive, 20 year-old idealist, Latin teacher and leftist German student revolutionary (Oskar Werner) in Bavaria, who entered her coach to guide her to the capital (WHITE)
    - after failing with a royal officer-guard to be introduced to the crowned head of Bavaria, Lola created a commotion with her bolting horse to attract attention during a royal parade; she insinuated herself into an affair with the half-deaf and elderly King Ludwig I (Anton Walbrook) in order to become part of his national dance entourage, even though she was only a mediocre dancer; she manipulatively displayed her body for him by ripping open her bodice to prove she had a full figure, after which the King ordered: "Bring a needle and thread" to repair her dress - an ingenious sequence of the King's minions down the line barking orders and scurrying throughout the palace to fulfill his order; she also scandalously posed nude for a painting-portrait of herself for the King that wasn't allowed to be displayed due to widespread protest; she was rewarded with a palace and became known as the Countess of Landsfeld before the citizens revolted in 1848 against her and the King, forcing him to abdicate the throne; Lola was aided to escape and flee across the border into Austria by the student revolutionary she had met earlier
    - the young revolutionary offered Lola less fortune and fame but a "new start...a simple life, love in a new's destiny, one mustn't fight destiny!" - but she declined ("It's all over, all over")
Various Lovers in Lola Montes' Life

Lola Briefly With Composer Franz Liszt (Will Quadflieg)

Lola - Wife of Lt. James for Five Years

Drunken and Abusive Husband Lieutenant Thomas James (Ivan Desny)

Kapellmeister/Conductor Claudio Pirotto (Claude Pinoteau) - Publically Slapped by Lola

Unnamed Student Revolutionary (Oskar Werner)

King Ludwig I (Anton Walbrook)
  • the flashbacks ended with the RingMaster reminding the audience that Lola finally took him up on his offer to work for the circus, where she had been employed for four months; Lola's final acrobatic, trapeze stunt was a dangerous, death-defying plunge: ("She risks her pretty neck...a sensational dive") from a high platform; upon orders from Lola's Doctor and the Circus Manager, the RingMaster was forbidden to remove a safety net as a precautionary measure positioned just above the floor of the circus ring; after Lola was asked if she wanted the net or not - she answered no, and the safety net was dismantled before her jump; a small padded platform was positioned under her; it was unclear whether Lola fainted as she jumped or not
  • Lola's act was followed by a quick cut to black as she hit her target; another commercial enterprise was proposed by the RingMaster who exhorted male patrons over 16 to approach and pay a dollar to touch or kiss Lola's hand; she was enclosed, entrapped or enshrined - like a beast - in a wooden animal cage ("She will be in our menagerie, among the wild beasts"); a long line-up of eager, top-hatted male customers were ready to worship and 'celebrate' Lola; her last words to the RingMaster were: "I'll be all right"
Lola in Wooden Beast Cage With Patrons Lined Up To Touch or Kiss Her Hand
  • the film ended with a lengthy camera pull-back along the extensive line of gawking admirers awaiting Lola, and finally tracking out beyond closing curtains (crudely painted with scenes of Lola's life)

Exploitative Circus RingMaster (Peter Ustinov)

Lola Montès (Martine Carol)

Red-Uniformed Bellboys with 'Lola' Heads on Sticks Collecting Money

Memories of Lola's Past - The Start of the Film's First Flashback

Lola As An Aspiring Ballerina - Traversing a Tightrope

RingMaster: "She becomes more and more irresistible"

The RingMaster's Rejected First Offer of Circus Employment to Lola

Lola Tearing Open Her Bodice For King Ludwig

Lola's Nude Portrait Posed for the King

Lola's Domesticity with the King Before He Was Forced to Abdicate His Throne

Lola's Daredevil Acrobatic Circus Stunt - A High Dive Jump From A Trapeze Platform

The Padded Platform Below Lola

Ending: Pull-Back Beyond Closing Curtain


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