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Image has repackaged three Brigitte Bardot titles previously released by Home Vision Entertainment (HVe), two of her earliest starring vehicles and a third from the early seventies that reunites her with Roger Vadim, the director who made her an international star in ... and God Created Woman. A number of good Bardot titles and compilations have come our way, including Viva Maria! from MGM and Lionsgate's Brigitte Bardot 5-Film Collection, with Naughty Girl, Come Dance with Me, Love on a Pillow, Two Weeks in September and The Vixen. The holdout BB feature everyone wants to see is Henri-Georges Clouzot's La vérité, where Bardot's acting earned her high praise.
The Brigitte Bardot Classic Collection begins with Plucking the Daisy (En effeuillant la marguerite), a 1956 sex farce acted with verve by a spirited cast. Brigitte proves herself as flexible at comedy as she is pouting in dramatic potboilers. Roger Vadim helped create Bardot's pussycat persona, but Daisy's Marc Allégret is a much more flexible director. The production's lighthearted spirit overcomes its main function as a Gallic oo-la-la girly show.
Bardot plays the virginal Agnes Dumont, the anonymous author of a scandalous paperback. Rather than relocate to a convent as her father (Jacques Demesnil) insists, Agnes sneaks away to visit her disinherited brother in Paris. She gets the notion that he's the owner of Balzac's home/museum, when he's merely a curator. She then inadvertently sells a Balzac original edition for expense money. Obtaining the cash to buy it back entangles Agnes with a lady killer reporter, Daniel (Daniel Gélin) and a striptease contest, where she uses a disguise to again stay anonymous from family and boyfriend alike.
With fine B&W photography and production design by Alexandre Trauner (who would soon be working for Billy Wilder), Plucking the Daisy dotes on mistaken identities and wild coincidences. Males are either cads on the prowl or prime fools for love. Everyone calls everybody else a lecher; even the leading man advises his friends never to be honest with women. Unfettered by present-day political correctness, the whole affair resembles a chauvinistic Frenchman's vision of the good life, with gorgeous & available girls adorning every free space in the décor. Daniel Gélin's newspaper office is merely another location for hanky-panky, as seen in panning shots that casually reveal people kissing in offices and corridors!
Bardot's winning personality makes it all work. Certainly not as va-va-voom as European sex stars like Anita Ekberg, Bardot is sufficiently pert and perky to masquerade as virgin convent school stock. Her basic innocence, combined with intuitive defense instincts against grabby males, somehow grounds the excess hormones in something wholesome. Nubile cutie Agnes likes kissing (and surely sex as well) yet retains her innocent decency. What a fantasy!
Moving around the periphery of this romp are the great Mischa Auer (My Man Godfrey) and Lucianna Paluzzi (Paoluzzi), who a decade later would become one of James Bond's most formidable seductresses in Thunderball. Paluzzi's character is even more of an innocent than Agnes, although the writers conspire to strip her down considerably in one scene.
The attitude presented toward sex is actually rather refreshing. Yup, it is a girly show, with nudity probably snipped out of export versions, but the fleeting flashes of skin are directly presented and not slobbered over as it would be in an American film. Hollywood at this time was still bogged down in lame teasing over possible nudity in bathing scenes, etc., as if the idea that women could actually get naked was some kind of unconfirmed rumor. Daisy seems the work of sophisticated dirty old men and not garden variety dirty old men, if such a distinction can be made. Naughty, yes; exploitative ... well, only a little.
1957's The Night Heaven Fell (Les Bijoutiers du clair de lune) is more of a follow-up to ...and God Created Woman, an overheated melodrama that more or less reveals Roger Vadim to be the sex merchant everyone accuses him of being. The idol of American directors like John Landis undeniably impressed by his lifelong string of gorgeous wives/paramours/conquests, Vadim did direct some good movies (Les Liasons Dangereuses) but mostly made pretentious and/or vapid sex fantasies (Barbarella). This is all fine and good, except that his movies tend to strain for importance while pandering to the skin market. Vadim turns the utterly charming Bardot into a special sexual effect. She appears in one revealing outfit after another (underwear, wet underwear, no underwear) in such a predictable way that we really can't take the story seriously.
Young convent girl Ursula (Brigitte Bardot) returns to the Spanish town where her Aunt Florentine (Alida Valli) lives unhappily with Count Ribera (Pepe Nieto), a macho brute and womanizer. The local malcontent Lambert (Stephen Boyd) has returned from political exile. Lambert is enraged when he finds his sister dead by suicide over the Count and a deadly feud is reignited. Complicating matters is Aunt Florentine's unwillingness to admit her love for Lambert, which clashes with the virginal Ursula's instantaneous attraction to him.
Let's be right up front here: Roger Vadim is basically a misogynist. As in ...and God Created Woman the female is again the root of all evil. That Ursula is not the destructive temptress of the first film makes no difference. The evil that men do is linked to women who for one reason or another deny them sex: the dames are always to blame. The goonish Count abuses his wife, Lambert's sister, and Ursula just because he thinks he owns everything on his fiefdom. Lambert and Ursula aren't so much in love as they are 'in lust', and Vadim or his writers don't acknowledge anything deeper. When Boyd and Bardot head off into the wilderness like Adam & Eve (or Joseph and Mary, with a piglet standing in for the baby Jesus), the symbolism is offset by huge color glimpses of nude flesh. It's erotic, all right, but it's all from a "Wow!" point of view that obstructs any story Vadim might be trying to tell. Even the colorful Spanish setting seems a bit artificial when the inappropriately dressed Bardot slinks through crowds of locals and is more or less ignored. One would think that country Spaniards would react a little more directly to BB's sexy provocation.
Jose "Pepe" Nieto isn't much as the cruel Count but Alida Valli has her moments as the repressed Aunt. Stephen Boyd survives dubbing into Spanish and French fairly well, displaying a sensitivity that seemingly disappeared after his Ben Hur success. Brigitte Bardot does well maintaining a serious characterization amid all the lingerie poses. She's certainly convincing at the conclusion, when Ursula is supposed to be obsessed by sexual devotion to her man. The script and the direction are what let the show down - the lovers-on-the-run tale is missing the foundation to give it all some real meaning. And although the widescreen and color cinematography is often stunning, Vadim uses it like picture postcards, one pretty view after another. Memorable touches, like a Spanish toddler dancing and singing to flamenco music, look like material meant for a different movie entirely.
Interestingly, Mario Moreno Cantínflas is said to play a small role, anonymously. I didn't spot him.
The collection jumps ahead to 1973. Just when unfettered nudity and graphic sex in European filmmaking had made Bardot's earlier "naughty" efforts seem quaint, we find Don Juan, Or if Don Juan Were a Woman (Don Juan ou Si Don Juan était une femme). Roger Vadim's back at it again, returned to France after an American effort or two inspired by the relative success of Barbarella. By this year he's been divorced from Bardot for sixteen years and gone through two more wives (Annette Stroyberg of Blood and Roses & Jane Fonda) as well as an untold number of stellar-rank girlfriends.
The Vadim-Bardot collaboration Don Juan is about Jeanne, an empowered fantasy woman who keeps telling people that she's the reincarnation of the notorious Spanish womanizer. She lives on a barge with underwater windows that she calls a submarine and dresses in flowing sheer gowns of bright color. The costumes and art direction come from the low pits of Eurotrash design; everything looks cheap and freshly painted in contrasting colors. Whenever Jeanne and her friends or random strangers get together, they all look as if the same person dressed them. Adding to the tacky flavor is Vadim's direction, which uses plenty of zooms and sloppy telephoto shots; one particularly awful composition-in-depth racks focus forward and back several times from a close-up of Bardot to a person in the background.
The story is a morality tale, severely morals-challenged. Everything meaningful in life, Vadim seems to believe, revolves around hot sex. The libertine Jeanne locks her own cousin, a priest (Mathieu Carriere) in her submarine pad, supposedly to confess her indiscretions but actually to seduce him. Jeanne tells how she "seduced and conquered" an important lawyer (Maurice Ronet), ruining his marriage and his political career. Another flashback is a casual memory showing a musician (Robert Walker Jr.) driven to suicide after just one sexual encounter. His death was Jeanne's price, and the musician took her at her word. A longer flashback sees Jeanne picked up by a sexist pig millionaire (Robert Hossein), who takes her to England with his sex-pet wife (Jane Birkin). Jeanne and the wife get revenge on hubby by having sex together, and not inviting him. The post-mod potboiler overturns any notion of a feminist resolution: Jeanne does the right thing but must still perish by fire, just as an old-school censor would insist.
Unless you're a DVD dog on the lookout for celebrity skin, Don Juan isn't all that memorable. At 38 the lustrous BB is still a head-turning beauty, even through the poofy hair and the gaudy costumes. The main set pieces are a couple of parties and a fairly foolish orgy at a Swedish university. The actors are certainly attractive but the trite dialogues and obvious situations don't help. Jane Birkin is (as always) a doll but the movie doesn't bother to sort out Bardot's character. Jeanne is willfully malign but we can't tell if she's sincere when she confesses to her priest cousin; the fact that she beds him too doesn't say much in Jeanne's favor, even if she appears to make a 'supreme sacrifice' at the end.
The fiery finish, by the way, appears to be a really well done special effect. Although she turned up in couple more films, this was Brigitte Bardot's last major starring role. I'm sure there are BB-philes primed with plenty of biographical information on the 50s French sex kitten, but her choice to retire before forty comes off as a classy move.
The three discs in Image's The Brigitte Bardot Classic Collection appear to be the same as HVe's separate 2001 releases, although I have to say that they all look better than I remember them -- either the pressing technology has improved or my newer monitor is doing a better job. The two color features are 16x9 enhanced. All three are in French with removable subtitles, which is a good thing. Trailers are also included, one of which gives us a notion of how awful the English dubbing is for these pictures. I remember seeing Plucking the Daisy on local television in the 1960s, under the title Mademoiselle Striptease. The import version clearly cut the film down and might have substituted some alternate non-nude material.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Brigitte Bardot Classic Collection rates:
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