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DVD SAVANT

Savant Double Review:

PLUCKING THE DAISY
&
THE NIGHT HEAVEN FELL

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

HVe, previously known as the VHS distributor of many Criterion titles, strikes out on its own as a DVD producer with these two Brigitte Bardot crowdpleasers from early in her career. Although not quite as lavishly appointed as their Criterion cousins, these discs maintain an equal concern for quality transfers and topnotch presentation.


Plucking the Daisy
HVe
1956 / B&W / 1:37 flat / 101/99m. / En effeuillant la marguerite; Mam'selle Striptease; Please Mr. Balzac
Starring Brigitte Bardot, Daniel Gélin
Cinematography Louis Page
Production Designer Alexandre Trauner
Film Editor Suzanne de Troeye
Original Music Paul Misraki
Writing credits Roger Vadim & Marc Allégret from a story by William Benjamin
Produced by Raymond Eger & Pierre Schwab
Directed by Marc Allégret

Synopsis:

The anonymous author of a scandalous paperback, virgin Agnes Dumont (Brigitte Bardot) sneaks away to her disinherited brother in Paris rather than relocate to a convent as her father (Jacques Demesnil) insists. She moves into her brother's mansion after hours, not knowing he's merely a curator at Balzac's home/museum, and not the owner. Before realizing what's up, she's sold a Balzac original edition for expense money. Getting enough cash to buy it back entangles Agnes with a ladykiller reporter, Daniel (Daniel Gélin) and a striptease contest, where she uses a disguise to again stay anonymous from family and boyfriend alike.

A fun sex comedy that's written like a classic farce and acted with verve by a spirited cast, Plucking the Daisy shows Brigitte to be as flexible at comedy as she is at pouting drama in potboilers like Roger Vadim's...and God Created Woman. Vadim helped create Bardot's pussycat persona, but Marc Allégret is a much better director. The production has a winning spirit that overcomes its main (at the time) attraction as a gallic girly show.

With fine B&W photography, and production design by Alexandre Trauner (who would soon be working for Billy Wilder), Plucking the Daisy is comedy in the mistaken identity - wild coincidence genre. Every available male in the story is either a prime fools for love, or a cad on the prowl. Everyone calls everybody else a lecher; even the leading man advises his friends to never be honest with a woman. The whole affair is refreshingly free of present-day political correctness, and resembles a Frenchman's Utopian/chauvinistic vision of what life should be like, with gorgeous and available girls adorning every free space in the decor. Daniel Gélin's newspaper office is merely an another location for hankypanky, as seen in panning shots that casually reveal people kissing in the corners of offices and corridors!

Bardot's winning personality is what makes it all work; certainly not as va-va-voom as other European sex stars like Anita Ekberg, Bardot is sufficiently pert and perky enough to believe she might be really be virgin convent school stock. Her basic innocence, combined with an intuitive preservation instinct as a defense against grabby males, somehow grounds the excess hormones in something wholesome. She's a nubile cutie who likes kissing (and surely sex as well) but she retains total innocent decency too. What a fantasy!

Moving around the periphery of this romp is a cabdriver said to be played by the great Mischa Auer (My Man Godfrey,) and Lucianna Paluzzi (Paoluzzi), who a decade later would play one of James Bond's most formidable sexy seductresses in Thunderball. She's an even more innocent hometown girl here, although the writers conspire to strip her down considerably in one scene.

The attitude of sex presented here is also entirely refreshing. Yup, it is a girly show, with lots of nudity probably snipped out of the original import versions, but all the skin is fleeting, directly presented, and not slobbered over as it would be in an American film. At this time Hollywood 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 but heavenly rumor. Even with a striptease show the centerpiece of the film, you get the feeling that this was made by sophisticated dirty old men instead of the garden variety dirty old men, if such a distinction can be made. Naughty, yes, exploitative .... well, only a little. The story ends up being rather meaningless (it's certainly not about Agnes' growth as a writer!) but the overall feeling of charm is what sticks in the memory.

HVe's DVD of Plucking the Daisy is a perfect transfer from Janus elements (hope there's no bad blood between Criterion and HVe!) in an attractive package. Several trailers are the main extra, with a full Bardot filmography. There's some nice artwork to be seen on the cover and in a paper insert; one still depicts Bardot in a bra made of daisies that appears nowhere in the film. Savant remembers trying to check out a (surely censored) telecast of Mademoiselle Striptease on television in the early '60s and can only pinpoint a scene where Bardot walked down a big staircase on a stage wearing such a garment ... was an alternate export strip scene shot, to avoid all the nudity shown here?

The only complaint Savant has about this disc are some smarmy liner notes by Chris Gore of Filmthreat.com., an unwelcome touch that just comes off as sleazy. Much nicer is HVe's generous fanfold of cute French postcards, featuring BB, tucked discreetly into the Amaray case.



The Night Heaven Fell
HVe
1957 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 95m./ Les Bijoutiers du clair de lune
Starring Brigitte Bardot, Stephen Boyd, Alida Valli, Pepe Nieto
Cinematography Armand Thirard
Production Designer Jean André
Film Editor Victoria Mercanton
Original Music Georges Auric
Writing credits Jacques Rémy, Roger Vadim, Peter Viertel from the novel by Albert Vidalie
Produced by Raoul Lávy
Directed by Roger Vadim

Synopsis:

Ursula (Brigitte Bardot) returns from the convent to the Spanish town where her Aunt Florentine (Alida Valli) lives unhappily with Count Ribera (Pepe Nieto), a macho brute and womanizer. A local malcontent, Lambert (Stephen Boyd) has returned from political exile to find 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; and virgin Ursula's instantaneous attraction to him.

The Night Heaven Fell is much more the followup to ...and God Created Woman than the comedy above. It's serious, overheated melodrama in a commercial package that reveals Roger Vadim to basically be the sex merchant everyone accuses him of being. The idol of younger American directors like John Landis who are undeniably impressed by his lifelong string of gorgeous wives/paramours/conquests, Vadim did direct some good movies (Les Liasons Dangereuses) but mostly made pretentious or vapid (Barbarella) screen exercises for his sex fantasies. This is all fine and good, except that his movies tend to be awkward as a result, straining for importance while pandering direct to the skin market. Vadim turns the utterly charming Bardot into a special sexual effect, showing up in one revealing outfit after another (underwear, wet underwear, no underwear) in such a way as to make it difficult to take the story seriously.

Vadim is basically a mysogynist. As in ...and God Created Woman, the female is the root of all evil. That this movie's Ursula is not the destructive temptress of the first film makes no difference; all the evil that men do is tied to their relationships with women who deny them sex for one reason or another, as if the women were responsible. The goonish Count abuses his wife, Lambert's sister, and Ursula, just because he thinks he owns everything on his fiefdom. Lambert and Ursula's aren't so much in love as they are 'in lust', and Vadim or his writers don't seem to be able to fathom anything deeper. When Boyd and Bardot head off into the wilderness like Adam & Eve (or John 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 totally male point of view that constantly gets in the way of the story Vadim might be trying to tell. Even the refreshingly direct Spanish setting seems a bit artificial when the inappropriately dressed Bardot slinks through crowds of locals and is more or less ignored. 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, and he shows some sensitivity that later disappeared after his Ben Hur success. Brigitte Bardot does well, trying to keep the Ursula character a serious one amid all the lingerie poses. She's certainly convincing at the conclusion, as totally consumed by sex & blood devotion to her man. It's the script and the direction that let the show down. It would seem to be an adaptation of a famous Iberian novel, but with the thematic guts replaced by girly-show visuals - this lovers-on-the-run tale is missing the foundation to give it all some real meaning. And although the cinematography is often stunning (looking great in color and 16:9 enhancement) Vadim uses it like picture postcards, one pretty picture after another. Not actually a bad director, he doesn't express himself with a camera particularly well. Memorable touches, like a Spanish toddler dancing and singing to flamenco music, look like pickup material shot by a different sensibility entirely.

Interestingly, Mario Moreno Cantínflas is said to play a small role, anonymously.

HVe's DVD of The Night Heaven Fell is beautiful-looking and sounding, plain and simple. Again, the extras are slim but the presentation attractive, with the film's original artwork on the insert. Liner notes are split between Michael Frost's informative essay, and more muck from Chris Gore about his adolescent masturbatory fantasies. The cover art has a provocative still of an arm about to yank a Spanish mantilla from the naked body of our beloved BB. She's pouting, probably trying to figure out just what kind of career she's gotten herself into.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Plucking the Daisy rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailers, French post cards
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: September 28, 2001

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Night Heaven Fell rates:
Movie:Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailers
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: Septermber 28, 2001



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