Cast & Crew
In a Paris sidewalk café in 1880, ex-soldier Georges Duroy meets an old army comrade, Charles Forestier, who offers to get him a job at a newspaper owned by Monsieur Walter, an aristocratic tycoon. During a dinner party at Charles' home the following evening, Georges is introduced into Paris society by Charles' beautiful wife Madeleine. Among the guests is Madeleine's best friend, Clotilde de Marelle, a young widow and mother of a young daughter named Laurine. Over dinner, Georges and the other guests discuss the puppet "Punch," a self-serving, brutish character with whom Georges has long been fascinated. Blind Norbert de Varenne, an organist at Notre Dame cathedral, poignantly interjects that those who are puppets of the devil are not themselves to blame for their exploits. The ambitious Georges then quickly ingratiates himself with Monsieur Walter. Later, with Madeleine's help, Georges starts a gossip column called "Echoes," through which he hopes to manipulate the social and financial pillars of Paris. At the same time, Georges and Clotilde fall in love. One night, however, Clotilde learns at the Folies Bergère that Georges has been involved with a young dancer named Rachel and realizes that he will never be faithful to her. Charles later dies from tuberculosis, and Georges marries the widowed Madeleine. Georges tells Clotilde that the marriage is merely one of convenience, and that he will always love her. Georges soon finds it advantageous to seduce Monsieur Walter's unhappy, aging wife, who falls desperately in love with him. One day, she confesses to Georges that Monsieur Walter and Georges' nemesis, political editor Laroche-Matheiu, are plotting to use Georges' column to make a profit in the stock market and agrees to lend him money to get in on the deal. As she then talks about a dream she had about him, Madame Walter tenderly winds strands of her hair around his coat button. When he stands, Georges callously rips the hairs from her head. Clotilde later finds the strands on his button and chastises him for deceiving Madeleine. The Count de Vaudrec, an elderly admirer of Madeleine, then dies, leaving his considerable fortune to her. As Madeleine's husband, Georges must by law approve her inheritance before she can accept the money, and he interrogates her about her relationship with the count. Although Madeleine swears that de Vaudrec was like a father to her, Georges insists that half of the inheritance be put in his name for appearance's sake. He then asks Madeleine to befriend Laroche-Mathieu, who is now the Minister of Finance, so that he can learn his secrets. One afternoon, while Madeleine and the minister meet, Georges sends a lawyer to accuse them of adultery, knowing the accusation will ruin Laroche-Mathieu's career. After Georges divorces Madeleine and takes half her fortune, he immediately begins a secret courtship with the Walters' daughter Suzanne, who stands to inherit forty million francs. He needs a title to marry her, however, and believing that there are no living descendants of the de Cantel family, applies for the family's three-hundred-year-old title. Now a man of nobility, Georges asks Monsieur Walter for his daughter's hand. The news of her daughter's engagement shocks the madame into a stupor, and she spends her days staring at "The Temptation of Saint Anthony," a painting she has recently acquired. Plotting her revenge, Madame Walter sends a clipping of the public notice for the title to a farmer in the de Cantel region, hoping a de Cantel descendant will step forward. Before the wedding, a man named Philippe de Cantel comes to Paris to challenge Georges to a duel. On the morning of the duel, Georges tells Clotilde that he has left his fortune to her and Laurine--the only two people he ever really loved. She races to the Walters' home to beg Suzanne to marry Georges without the title, and together with Madame Walter, they rush to the Bois de Vesinet, where the duel is to take place. After taking ten paces forward, Philippe is shot in the stomach by Georges, and has two minutes to return fire. Crawling in agony toward his opponent, Philippe shoots Georges in the chest just as the women arrive. As Georges lies dying in a carriage, Madame Walter defiantly informs him that it was she who notified Philippe. Before he dies, Georges wistfully murmurs that he could have been happy with Clotilde.
Jean Del Val
C. Montague Shaw
Raphaël G. Beugnon
David L. Loew
David L. Loew
The Private Affairs of Bel Ami
The story begins in 1880, in Paris, as two old war buddies, Georges Duroy (Sanders) and Charles Forestier (John Carradine), meet by chance in a street café. Duroy is unemployed and on his last three meals worth of money. Forestier, by contrast, is doing better than he ever expected. With plenty of money and prestige as an editor in Paris, he offers Duroy a job. Duroy accepts but concedes he's never written before so Forestier asks him to dinner to meet his publisher. While at the dinner party, Duroy meets Clotilde de Marelle (Angela Lansbury) and Forestier's wife, Madeleine (Ann Dvorak). Charles' publisher asks Sanders for an article and when he has trouble writing it, Forestier sends him to Madeleine for help. After all, he says, she taught him everything he knows. Duroy falls for Madeleine, and she for him, and Clotilde for him as well. After a night out dancing and singing with Clotilde, she tells Duroy she will call him "Bel Ami" based on the song they heard about a scoundrel that reminds her of him. The nickname is all too fitting and eventually, the relationships are tested.
The Private Affairs of Bel Ami was directed by Albert Lewin and although he only directed a handful of movies, he created a signature unique in forties cinema, indeed of any decade. He often commissioned an original work by a contemporary, cutting edge artist to use in his movies for dramatic effect. In The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), it was the title painting itself, done by Ivan Albright. In Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), it was an original work by Man Ray. Here, in The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, it is The Temptation of St. Anthony by Max Ernst. It was selected when Lewin had several painters compete for the prize of having the painting appear in the film. One of the painters was Salvador Dali, whose version, although it did not appear in the film, went on to become far more famous than Ernst's version.
Lewin had an interesting career long before he turned to direction. He was a professor of English at the University of Missouri before becoming a drama critic in the late teens, early twenties. That's when he came to the attention of Samuel Goldwyn in Hollywood. He became a reader for Goldwyn and quickly moved up the chain until he was the supervisor of the script department. Not long after, he became Irving Thalberg's personal assistant and before long was producing movies for the studio. After moving to Paramount in the thirties, he continued as a producer before being bitten by the directing bug in the forties. His interest in art may have led him to the change in careers but it clearly wasn't lasting. After only a smattering of films, he bored of directing and retired.
While he was directing, though, he found a kindred spirit in George Sanders and the two worked together more than once. Sanders got along well with Lewin and it was Lewin who gave Sanders some of his earliest lead roles that weren't the Falcon or the Saint. In fact, Sanders starred in Lewin's first three films and only failed to appear in the fourth due to scheduling conflicts. Sanders, of course, went on to win the Oscar three years later for his fantastic work as Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950) but his work here is among the fullest characterizations he ever did.
Also in the cast were Angela Lansbury and Ann Dvorak. Lansbury, who was just three years into her career, and only 22 years old, had already earned two Oscar nominations and was playing characters that seemed well beyond her years. Lansbury had worked with both Lewin and Sanders before in The Picture of Dorian Gray but was increasingly relegated to small roles that didn't make use of her substantial talents. She quickly gravitated toward the theater and became a major Broadway star. Dvorak, like Lansbury, started her career early, in her teens, and by the time she did this film, was a well-seasoned professional. She retired from acting early, however, in 1951, choosing to spend time with her husband.
Finally, there was John Carradine, one of the greatest underused actors in Hollywood history. Carradine played so many parts, it's impossible to verify how many. That's because he claimed to have played in dozens of movies before he ever got a single screen credit. While Hollywood used him in a variety of parts, it was sinister parts they eventually settled on but his talent produced so much more. Here, as always, he is excellent.
Together, the actors create the drive of the movie. Their interplay and chemistry make the story worth watching. Of course, it was probably impossible for George Sanders to play a scoundrel and not be worth watching, but this time around, he not only plays the part, but ends the movie with a surprisingly touching and heartbreaking conclusion.
Director: Albert Lewin
Producer: Ray Heinz, David L. Loew
Written by: Albert Lewin, based on the novel by Guy de Maupassant
Editor: Albrecht Joseph
Art Director: Frank Sylos
Music: Darius Milhaud
Costume Design: Norma Koch
Cinematographer: Russel Metty
Cast: George Sanders (Georges Duroy), Angela Lansbury (Clotilde de Marelle), Ann Dvorak (Claire Madeleine Forestier), John Carradine (Charles Forestier), Susan Douglas Rubes (Suzanne Walter), Hugo Haas (Monsieur Walter), Warren William (Laroche-Mathieu), Frances Dee (Marie de Varenne), Albert Bassermann (Jacques Rival), Marie Wilson (Rachel Michot)
By Greg Ferrara
The Private Affairs of Bel Ami
The film's title card reads: "Guy de Maupassant's The Private Affairs of Bel Ami." The film's working titles were Bel Ami and The Affairs of Bel Ami. According to an April 1947 Hollywood Reporter news item, producer David Loew and director Albert Lewin considered changing the title from The Affairs of Bel Ami to Affairs of a Cheat to avoid confusion with two films called Bel Ami that were in release at the time-a Mexican-made, Spanish language version of de Maupassant's novel, and a 1937 Austrian version, directed by and starring Willy Forst.
Although the film was photographed in black and white, Max Ernst's surrealist painting, "The Temptation of Saint Anthony," was shown in color. As reported in a DN news item, Loew and Lewin sponsored an art competition in which world famous artists were invited to submit a painting of St. Anthony for use in the film. After Ernst's picture was chosen, his and the other artists' paintings were exhibited in New York City. Other participating artists included Salvador Dali, Dorothea Tanning, Eugene Berman, Louis Guglielmi, Leonora Carrington, Abraham Rattner, Horace Pippin, Iva LeLorraine Albright, Paul Delvaux and Stanley Spencer. When the exhibition came to Boston, Mayor James M. Curley banned it, arguing that the paintings were offensive on a religious-moral basis. After Loew and Lewin filed a $200,000 suit against the mayor, the local Stuart galleries showed the exhibit.
According to the MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, PCA director Joseph I. Breen objected to various elements of the film's preliminary treatment, including the characterization of "Rachel" as a prostitute; a scene of "Rachel" and "Georges" together in her room; a scene in which Georges and "Madame Walter" swear their love inside a church; and the suggestion that "Madeleine" was "Count de Vaudre's" illegitimate daughter. According to the Variety review, Lewin was forced to remove any indication that Georges consorted with prostitutes, as depicted in the novel, and added the fatal duel at the end to uphold the Production Code's edict that crime must not pay in films. In early February 1946, Breen asked Lewin to rewrite the script to eliminate the "flavor of too much emphasis on disrespect for marriage and infidelity." Then, in April 1946, Breen insisted that the relationship between Georges and Clotilde be strictly platonic.
Contemporary news items add the following information about the film's production: Shooting on the film began at the Enterprise Studios lot, but moved to RKO-Pathé Studios on July 1, 1946. In November 1946, background footage of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was filmed. The Folies Bergère bar, promenade, boxes and stage sets were authentic period recreations. After Lewin became ill during filming and caused a significant delay in production, several of the crew members left to work on the Lewis Milestone film Arch of Triumph. Among those who were replaced were director of photography Russell Metty, who was replaced by John Mescall, head of makeup Gus Norin, who was replaced by makeup supervisor Ern Westmore, hairdresser Lillian Lashin, who was replaced by Lillian Burkhart, and assistant director Robert Aldrich, who was replaced by Reggie Callow. Hollywood Reporter lists Paramount's Ernest Laszlo as Metty's assistant, but his appearance in the film has not been confirmed. Rudolph Polk was borrowed from Enterprise Studios to score the film. The Pina troupe of acrobats was engaged for the film, but did not appear in the completed film. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Don Borzage, the eighteen-year-old nephew of director Frank Borzage, was scheduled to make his film debut in the film; however, his participation in the released film has not been confirmed. The film marked the screen debut of Susan Douglas.