Cast & Crew
In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian war, the little French village of Cleresville is occupied by Prussian invaders. In defiance of the ruthless German officer Lt. von Eyrick, known as Fifi because he proclaims the town to be his "Fifidom," the curé of Cleresville refuses to ring the church bell. Meanwhile, in the town of Rouen, the young priest who is to replace the retiring curé prays at the tomb of Joan of Arc and then boards the coach bound for Cleresville. Among his fellow passengers are the Count and Countess de Breville; a wine wholesaler and his wife; a merchant and his wife; the outspoken liberal Jean Cornudet and Elizabeth Rousset, a poor laundress returning home to Cleresville. On the long cold journey through the barren French countryside, Cornudet denounces the bourgeoise among the passengers as corrupt and self- serving. Although Elizabeth has been snubbed by the others, she offers to share her hamper of food with them and later voices her defiance of the Prussian occupiers. When the coach stops at an inn for the night, von Eyrick, a guest at the inn, demands to speak to Elizabeth. She returns from her interview flustered, and the next morning, von Eyrick refuses to allow the coach to continue unless Elizabeth agrees to dine with him. When Elizabeth refuses to eat with her enemies, her fellow travelers applaud her patriotism. As the next day dawns, however, they grow impatient and denounce her scruples. When Cordunet, who has expressed his admiration for Elizabeth, concurs with the others, she relents and agrees to dine with von Eyrick. In a private dining room upstairs, von Eyrick tries to humiliate Elizabeth and break her spirit, while downstairs, the others celebrate. The next morning, when Von Eyrick announces that he plans to ride the coach to Cleresville, the passengers welcome him and snub Elizabeth. In Cleresville, Elizabeth, von Eyrick and the priest leave the coach, and after the others begin to make snide comments about the laundress, Cornudet denounces them for betraying her and goes to beg her forgiveness. Although Elizabeth refuses his apology, her defiance has renewed his sense of patriotism, and he vows to defend the bell against the Prussian soldiers. Meanwhile, at the chateau, the bored Prussian officers decide to throw a party and send the corporal to town to find five beautiful girls to entertain them. When the corporal states that the Prussians will take their business away from her aunt's laundry unless Elizabeth joins them, she has no choice but to attend the party. Before the festivities begin, the Prussian captain decides to visit the church with his troops to ring the bell, but he is met by an armed Cordunet, who shoots him and runs away. Learning that Elizabeth has gone to the chateau, Cordunet follows her there. Meanwhile, at the party, Elizabeth is paired with the haughty von Eyrick. Infuriated by his boasts of French cowardice, she stabs him and flees the chateau. When Cornudet pulls her into a passageway to protect her from the soldiers, her faith is restored by his newfound patriotism. The two find refuge in the church, and when the Prussians order the bell to be rung at von Eyrick's funeral, the priest agrees, knowing that Elizabeth has already struck the first blow for freedom by killing the Prussian officer. As the bell peals, signaling an awakening of pride and resistance in the village, Cornudet leaves to join the resistance fighters.
William Von Wymetal
Carl F. Cook
Albert S. D'agostino
Walter E. Keller
Francis M. Sarver
James G. Stewart
Vernon L. Walker
J. R. Whittredge
Both films were made on shoestring budgets, with Lewton and Wise conjuring maximum atmosphere for minimum expenditure. While the chiller The Body Snatcher emerged as another classic of its genre, the straight drama Mademoiselle Fifi was not a commercial success and has fallen into relative obscurity, despite praise from influential critics of its day. "I don't know of any American film which has tried to say as much, as pointedly, about the performance of the middle class in war," James Agee wrote in The Nation. "There is a gallant, fervent quality about the whole picture, faults and all, which gives it a peculiar kind of life and likeableness, and which signifies that there is one group of men working in Hollywood who have neither lost nor taken care to conceal the purity of their hope and intentions."
Screenwriters Josef Mischel and Peter Ruric based their screenplay for Mademoiselle Fifi on two stories by Guy de Maupassant, "Boule de Suif" (which was the inspiration for several other films including John Ford's 1939 Stagecoach) and "Mademoiselle Fifi." Set in France during the Prussian occupation of 1870, the film draws strong parallels between that era and the Nazi invasion of the 1940s, admiring the simple people who remained faithful to their country's principles and censuring those who collaborated with the enemy for selfish reasons.
The French actress Simone Simon, noted for her starring roles in Lewton's Cat People films, plays Elizabeth Bousset, a young laundress who boards a coach bound from Rouen to her hometown of Cleresville. Snubbed by fellow passengers for her low social standing and patriotic convictions, Elizabeth is propositioned by a Prussian officer (Kurt Kreuger) nicknamed "Mademoiselle Fifi" by his fellow soldiers for his habit of saying "Fi, fi donc!" Elizabeth declines his advances at first, but is persuaded by her companions to sacrifice her principles for the sake of the group. She will only be pushed so far, however, and eventually takes a stand against her oppressor. Meanwhile, a newly arrived priest (Edmund Glover) has pledged to keep the local church's bell silent until the first blow for France's freedom has been struck. Elizabeth's courage leads to a stirring ending in which the bell rings out again. Fittingly, Mademoiselle Fifi was the first American film to be shown in France after the Normandy invasion.
Lewton and Wise shot Mademoiselle Fifi in 22 days on a budget of $200,000 -- a record low for an American studio sound feature for a costume picture. They were able to make use of a large studio set left over from 1939's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but had meager means for other sets and were reduced in some instances to using cardboard cutouts. Even so, Lewton was able to employ his detailed knowledge of period styles, costumes, decor and military lore to expressive effect. With Wise he studied hundreds of paintings from the period by artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Delacroix, Daumier and Detaille. "Because those were low-budget films, we had to stretch our imagination and get results without too much to work with," Wise said later. "How we staged them, how we lit them, how we placed our camera was to get strong, effective results without having the material at hand."
Simon, happy with her role and her co-workers, was in high spirits throughout filming. To provide the "oomph" that was expected of a sexy star, she wore false breasts for films and referred to them as "my eyes." It was reported that, just before each take, she would command with mock imperiousness, "Bring me my eyes!" Her performance in Mademoiselle Fifi is considered by some to be her best in an American film.
Producer: Val Lewton
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Josef Mischel, Peter Ruric, based on stories by Guy de Maupassant
Cinematography: Harry Wild
Film Editing: J.R. Whittredge
Original Music: Werner R. Heymann
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino
Costume Design: Edward Stevenson
Cast: Simone Simon (Elizabeth Bousset), John Emery (Jean Cornudet), Kurt Kreuger (Lt. von Eyrick, called "Fifi"), Alan Napier (The Count de Breville), Helen Freeman (The Countess de Breville), Jason Robards, Sr. (A Wholesaler in Wines), Edmund Glover (A Young Priest).
by Roger Fristoe
Robert Wise (1914-2005)
Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films.
Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945).
Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox.
At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).
Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story.
The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963).
by Roger Fristoe
Robert Wise (1914-2005)
The working title of this film was The Silent Bell. In the opening credits, the title appears as "Guy de Maupassant's Mademoiselle Fifi." The film opens with the following prologue: "1870 The Franco Prussian War. Then as in our time, there was an occupied and an unoccupied territory." According to a memo contained in the RKO Legal Files, in October 1943, producer Val Lewton, hoping to enhance his reputation by moving out of the horror film genre, proposed that the studio make a period piece based on the stories of de Maupassant starring Erich von Stroheim and Simone Simon. Charles Koerner, RKO's production chief at the time, responded that although he believed the studio could exploit the use of de Maupassant's name in the project, he was fearful of the film's subject matter. Koerner's reservations proved justified as in previews of the film, the audience objected to the ending, which they viewed as showing submission to the Prussians. The film fared poorly at the box office, losing more than any previous Lewton film. According to a pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter, the studio negotiated with George Sanders to play the role of "Fifi." Another news item in Hollywood Reporter adds that the snow sequences were shot around Big Bear, CA. Captain Carl F. Cook, who served as the film's technical advisor, was a German Naval officer in World War I, according to Hollywood Reporter. Other films based on de Maupassant's story "Boule de Suif" were the 1934 Russian film Boule de Suif and the 1945 French film of the same title.
Released in United States Summer July 1944
Adaptation of two Guy de Maupassant short stories that take place in the 19th century.
Directorial debut for editor Robert Wise.
Released in United States Summer July 1944