Lola Montés / Sins of Lola Montés, The (1955)

Lola Montés / Sins of Lola Montés, The (1955)

“Wanting to make a name for herself, Lola understood that keeping a good reputation was out of the question. Rumors, scandals, passion – that’s what she chose in order to create a sensation.”

A notorious “fallen woman” (Martine Carol) is reduced to starring in a circus led by a ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) who calls out her many love affairs — including her relations with composer Franz Liszt (Will Quadflieg), her unhappy marriage to a Scottish officer (Ivan Desny), her brief love affair with a student revolutionary (Oskar Werner), and her romance with King Ludwig I of Bavaria (Anton Walbrook).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anton Walbrook Films
  • Carnivals and Circuses
  • Feminism and Women’s Issues
  • Flashback Films
  • French Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Max Ophuls Films
  • Peter Ustinov Films
  • Strong Females

Response to Peary s Review:
Peary writes that Max Ophüls — “the master of the mobile camera” — “introduces us to his real-life heroine (Martine Carol) with an incredible shot that begins high in the circus rafters and ends three flights below on the ground — a visual metaphor that reveals to what depths Lola has fallen since she was lover and mistress to many of Europe’s most important men” but now is “the main attraction in a seedy circus, accepting donations for the Society of Fallen Women.”

Drawing from his lengthier analysis of the film in his Cult Movies book, Peary goes on to write that:

Lola epitomizes Ophüls’s intelligent, free-willed, free-spirited, brave women [whose] rebellious actions mock society’s norms and make her an example for repressed women to follow. What she wants is what her heart wants, and it’s not surprising that when we come upon her she has loved so much that her heart is almost worn out. Love has the power to consume an individual and she suffers a great loss each time an affair comes to an end, as it must in Ophüls’s preordained world.

Peary adds, “[Lola] refuses to protect herself from heartache because she believes in living and loving with intensity. Time is Lola’s emotional domain. She is, in fact, a product of her past — her memories are bittersweet at best, but they remain an integral part of her (she remembers every affair.)”

Peary notes, however, that while “Ophüls’s last film is a rich, beautifully designed, scored, and photographed work,” there “are lapses in the script and problems with some characters.” He concedes that “Carol is exciting at rare moments, as in the scene when Lola seduces Liszt”:

… “but mostly she is bland and unable to project the inner beauty that men sense immediately in Lola.”

He points out that the film was “photographed by Christian Matras, whose camera constantly moves to emphasize the shifts and uncertainties in Lola’s life.”

In his Cult Movies essay, Peary concludes by writing, “I don’t agree with the high assessment given the film by [Andrew] Sarris and others, but Lola Montes does reveal Ophüls’s genius with the camera and for set design, and gives insight into his unique vision of women” — which “are reasons enough for it to be seen several times.” I concur.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Vibrant CinemaScope cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for its cult status and as the final film of a major director.


  • Cult Movie
  • Historically Relevant
  • Important Director

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Lola Montés / Sins of Lola Montés, The (1955)

  1. Agreed; must-see, as a satisfying masterwork. As per my 12/8/14 post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “One day he asks her if she dares pose for him…all in pink …She dares!”

    ‘Lola Montes’ (1955): When I think of what it must have cost to make this film. I think we’re talking big, big bucks! And then to think it was not well-received on release. Yikes!

    The Criterion release tells us that, after the film flopped initially, the producers, um, butchered it basically, in an attempt to make it more pleasing for audiences (~when there was nothing wrong with it in the first place!). The attempt was futile and the film existed for years in various truncated versions. As years passed, supporters of the film tried to put it back together in its original version. They succeeded somewhat in the late ’60s. (I had seen it once, years ago, in a butchered form; so I thought little of the film at the time.) But it wasn’t until 2008 (!) that the film was restored to the director’s original vision.

    Criterion has it now in a stunning (to say the least) blu-ray and it’s highly recommended. How to best describe it? It’s as if Fellini, Minnelli and Sirk got together in one directorial body – to blend some surreal elements with design and directorial abilities, and then heighten and refine those same abilities. The result is an often-staggering visual extravaganza that can very nearly overwhelm by its sumptuousness and orchestration. Yet it doesn’t – since the story line is simple: the tale of a ‘fallen woman’, based on the ‘scandalous’ life of courtesan/dancer Lola Montez.

    The main cast members are exemplary: Martine Carol, Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook and Oskar Werner. In a way, the plot (which is really an international travelogue of Lola’s exploits) is secondary to director Max Ophuls’ storytelling techniques – which are endless and endlessly satisfying. (This was his last film.)

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