A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
One of the signs of a great director is his ability to sustain a consistent personal tone throughout a film. The work of certain directors can be recognized almost at once; a few hundred feet of Godard or Fellini are sufficient. Max Ophuls was such a director, and his "Lola Montes" has as much unity of tone as any film I can remember.
It is all of a piece from beginning to end: The mood, the music, the remarkably fluid camera movement, the sets, the costumes. It is a director's film. The actors are in Ophuls' complete control, an additional element in his examination of the romantic myth.
His story involves the infamous Lola Montes, "The Most Scandalous Woman in the World," the mistress of Franz Liszt and King Ludwig of Bavaria, of students and artists, of soldiers and ringmasters. We find her in a New Orleans circus, the star attraction in a review of her sensational career. Peter Ustinov, the ringmaster, narrates her past as Lola revolves on a platform. Later the customers will have their chance to spend a dollar and kiss her hand.
The device of the circus is as successful as it is daring. Using it to supply his narrative thread, Ophuls slides through a series of flashbacks with as much ease, and psychological completeness, as Welles exhibited in "Citizen Kane." The structure of the film is terribly artificial -- flashbacks suspended from a fantasy circus -- and the style itself is a highly mannered romanticism. But it works; Ophuls understands and justifies his method.