Private Affairs of Bel Ami, The (1947)

“I do not think it is easy to be a successful scoundrel.”

Synopsis:
A caddish social climber (George Sanders) in 19th century England woos a series of women, then discards them — all while remaining in love with a penniless widow (Angela Lansbury).

Genres:

Review:
George Sanders starred in all three of director Albert Lewin’s literary adaptations: W. Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence (1942), Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), and this film (based on Guy de Maupassant’s novel Bel Ami). With his droll delivery and arrogant demeanor, Sanders at first seems perfectly cast in the title role as corrupt journalist George Duroy, whose monetary and social aspirations lead him to cruelly manipulate the countless women who fall for his charms. Yet we never fully understand why Sanders’ “Bel Ami” is so appealing to females: he’s handsome, but not irresistibly so, and is ultimately too icily self-contained to convince us of his persuasive powers as a lover. With that said, the women he woos — particularly Angela Lansbury as his one true love, and Ann Dvorak as the wealthy wife of his consumptive best friend (John Carradine) — give fine, empathetic performances, allowing us to vicariously experience the suffering he inflicts. Beautifully shot, with striking cinematography by Russell Metty, and creative period detail.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Angela Lansbury as Clotilde
    Private Affairs Lansbury
  • Ann Dvorak as Madeleine
    Private Affairs Dvorak
  • Atmospheric cinematography by Russell Metty
    Private Affairs Cinematography
  • Creative set designs
    Private Affairs Set Designs

Must See?
No, but it’s worth viewing once.

Links:

One Response to “Private Affairs of Bel Ami, The (1947)”

  1. A must.

    Seems to me that the strengths of the film brought out in the assessment would be reason enough to recommend this strongly. As for Sanders not being irresistible enough…I can’t quite agree. I’m not saying Sanders is suitably handsome; I don’t even think that’s the point. It just makes perfect sense to me that his is the type of character that a certain kind of woman would mistakenly view as ‘admirably ambitious but flawed’ and would want to a) hang on his persuasive coattails (being elegantly persuasive can serve as an aphrodisiac) and b) cure him of his flaws and, thus, tame him.

    (I should like to point out that I very much like the scene detailing a woman who is very much *not* persuaded by Sanders’ manipulation.)

    I’ve seen the first four – the most distinguished – of director Lewin’s six films and it seems to me quite a few ffs may very well welcome them for their literary style and flair. In fact, ‘Private Affairs…’ is so tastefully handled in terms of direction, production design and camerawork that it’s something of a shame that all of these almost-romantic elements support the story of a slimeball; a different kind of sociopath bent on conquering those he feels superior to for the sake of claiming goals he doesn’t seem to particularly want – just because he can.

    Across the board, the acting is first-rate. (Was Sanders the best cad, repeatedly, in cinema history?) Not only are there particularly strong performances from John Carradine, Hugo Haas and Warren William, but the women are nothing short of remarkable. (When I watched ‘The Maze’ recently, I knew I’d seen the actress playing the aunt before – Katherine Emery; a pleasure to see her here during this revisit.)

    My understanding is that the ending is a compromise asked for by the studio. It still adequately satisfies and doesn’t seem totally against the grain.

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