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February 03, 2010


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Didn't Sarris call Madam de... the greatest?

Glenn Kenny

Sarris, after the 1963 NYFF screening: " 'Lola Montes' is, in my unhumble opinion, the greatest film of all time, and I am willing to stake my critical reputation, such as it is, on this one proposition above all others."


I'd always had the idea that somewhere or another Paul Schrader said that MADAME DE... was the greatest film of all time, but since seeing the film, I haven't been able to find the quote, and, in fact, I believe I found some Schrader quote where he said SANSHO THE BAILIFF, or some or Mizoguchi film (or was it Ozu?) was the greatest film of all time.

Clearly, somebody has said that MADAME DE... is the greatest film of all time, but now they are trying to suppress that opinion.


Sarris definitely thinks Madam de... is the greatest as he stated in the link above. But I guess he felt differently in 63.


Sarris was given to overstatement in his salad days. The casting of Martine Carol alone would deny Lola Montes a place on the topmost tier, but I look forward to reading arguments to the contrary.

Paul Johnson

In the very good anthology Favorite Movies: Critics' Choices edited by Philip Nobile, Sarris' wife, Molly Haskell, has an essay on Madame de... Sarris writes about Ugetsu.


My heart literally skipped a beat when I saw this post. I love LOLA, and only have the mediocre DVD copy that's been in circulation for the last few years, so this Criterion disc is great, great news. The extras sound wonderful, too.


Sarris has said that both are the greatest, actually. He said Lola was the greatest when it came out, and he says Earrings is the greatest today. There are those that think Letter From an Unknown Woman is the greatest. The other day I read that when La Signora Di Tutti came out people said it was the greatest. The first time I saw The Reckless Moment I thought it was the greatest. I think some people have even said Liebelei is the greatest movie ever. Obviously something about Ophuls inspires this kind of overpowered enthusiasm, as compared to a John Ford, who everyone seems to love these days but who rarely gets greatest film ever plaudits (except for The Searchers). I have to say though that Ophuls's movies rarely impress me nearly as much a second time through as they do the first time I see them - and I think that's perhaps because Ophuls, like Hitchcock, though in very different ways, is a master of audience manipulation, such that when you see Letter or Earrings or Lola or The Reckless Moment for the first time, you think, "this is the saddest/most moving/most tragic thing I've ever seen," a response which a second viewing can't help but fail to elicit. Whereas Ford, for example, does not manipulate the viewer in the same way; his greatest films are great precisely because they aren't designed to elicit any one response, but rather, are crafted, if you'll forgive the banality, to make you think, debate, ask questions. Which is why I can go back to Liberty Valence fifty or a hundred times, because my enjoyment of the movie doesn't at all depend on any unexpected directorial tricks, but on the opposite, on the movie's unsettledness. For the same reason, though, few people say of any Ford that it's the greatest film ever made, because his movies are too open-ended to reduce you to a puddle of tears (or of terror, or anything) the way Ophuls can. The more of Ophuls I see, the more I think that Le Plaisir might be the best thing he ever did. There he's not putting his immense skills in the service of some big crashing melodramatic finale; he simply stands back and observes, and there's no one who can observe like he can. Who else could take five men sitting together by a pier because the town brothel's closed and make it something so magical?


Wouldn't it be cool (or just nice) if there was a blog post or something where you could see what major critics thought were their favorite film of all time. I believe Jim Hoberman's was "The Man with a Movie Camera," and Jonathan Rosenbaum's is either "Playtime" or the last Dreyer movie he saw.

S. Porath

I was lucky enouh to see a pristine print of this at a local film festival last summer...positivly stunning. Carol was good enough in it, Ustinov was great as usual, and Anton Walbrook is just brilliant. It was fascinating to see it around the same time as I first saw Demy's film- where Lola herself is a stronger force in the film (And I love Anouk Aimee).

The Siren

@Asher: "a response which a second viewing can't help but fail to elicit..."

Well, no. I get that feeling again and again from Ophuls. And while I have proclaimed my deep and abiding love and admiration for Ford many times here and elsewhere, I think he's an odd counterexample to set against Ophuls' alleged predilection for "crashing melodramatic finales." Liberty Valance (a great film) in particular ends on a emotional and ironic note that is not too far off from Letter from an Unknown Woman.

Also, re: Martine Carol -- I think she is more than adequate to the part. Lola is a woman to whom history just happens, and Carol's rather opaque, marionette quality emphasizes that.

I can't wait to see this again.


I just saw MADAME DE... for the first time a few days ago, and while I suppose anything's possible, at the moment I can't imagine my esteem for it diminishing upon further viewings. At least I haven't felt that with LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN or the other Ophuls I've seen (haven't caught LOLA MONTES yet).

Seeing SANSHO tonight for the first time, and hoping to do a Rossellini double feature, with FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS and VOYAGE TO ITALY, the latter of which has been in my DVR for over a year.

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