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May 03, 2022

Lady Chatterley's Lover


L'Amant de lady Chatterley
Marc Allegret - 1955
Icarus Home Video Region 1 DVD

Contemporary viewers of Lady Chatterley's Lover may be wondering what the fuss was about, at least in the United States where it was temporarily banned for allegedly "promoting adultery". The U.S. release occurred in 1959, almost simultaneously with the publication of D. H. Lawrence's novel, itself the subject of banning internationally. At the same time, Marc Allegret is still a relatively unknown director in spite of his prolific filmography for a couple of reasons. The stateside distribution of foreign films has always been inconsistent during Allegret's career with feature films spanning from 1931 through 1970. Allegret's films never were part of the revival arthouse circuit possibly due to the influence of Francois Truffaut and his dismissal of the "cinema de papa". While Children of Paradise and double features of Diabolique and Wages of Fear were easy to see theatrically in the 1970s, films by the peers of Carne and Clouzot remained unknown.

In the case of Lady Chatterley's Lover, I think I can see what Truffaut was criticizing. I can not claim to be knowledgable about Lawrence, and while I did read the novel, that was about thirty-five years ago. But for a film based on a novel that is about emotional and physical love, it is a very stately affair. There is more life in Jack Cardiff's 1960 film of Sons and Lovers. By 1969, the demise of the old production code meant that Ken Russell could more more direct in filming Women in Love. Between the limits of film censorship in 1955 and Allegret's discretion, the only scene depicting sex between Lady Chatterley and Mellors, the gamekeeper, begins with a two-shot of the couple embracing on blanket in a shack, their faces and shoulders visible, followed by a shot of a very tall tree, chopped down in the woods, falling, the symbolism impossible to miss, followed by another of Lady Chatterley and Mellors in the same embrace but with suggested nudity. While D. H. Lawrence used some very clear language regarding sex, most of the reference to sex as filmed by Marc Allegret is mostly avoided, with Danielle Darrieux's erotic potential covered up with large towels and blankets.

Allegret also updates the film to its then contemporary setting, so that references to the past war would be World War II. There is some streamlining of the novel so that most of the film takes place within the confines of the Chatterley estate with even the outdoor scenes feeling claustrophobic. This was one of the last staring roles for Danielle Darrieux before continuing her career in mostly supporting roles through 2010. The British actor Leo Genn appears as Lord Chatterley. Mellors is played by the Italian actor Erno Crisa, whose filmography indicates a career mostly in smaller supporting roles. There is very little written about Marc Allegret in English. The summary of several of his earlier films suggests that there is more of interest in several of earlier films. Allegret also has a reputation for launching the careers of several French stars including Simone Simon and Brigitte Bardot. While this new restoration of Lady Chatterley's Lover> may not improve Allegret's standing in terms of film scholarship, it remains of historical interest, as well as providing a showcase for the talents of its iconic star.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 3, 2022 05:56 AM