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Film / Lola Montes

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Lola Montes is a 1955 French film directed by Max Ophuls.

It is a Very Loosely Based on a True Story recounting of the life of Lola Montez (1821-61), dancer, actress, and mistress to kings and great composers.

The Framing Device has Lola, her glory days long behind her, performing the story of her own life in a circus. As the circus master (Peter Ustinov, speaking fluent French) narrates the story of Lola's life, the film periodically cuts back to a series of flashbacks.

Lola starts out as a rebellious child, who runs away from her mother, then runs away from a bad marriage. She's lovers with Franz Liszt, she gains fame as a dancer, she has a series of affairs. Her life reaches a climax when she becomes the lover and close companion of no less than Ludwig I, King of Bavaria.

Max Ophuls's last film.


  • The Alcoholic: Lt. James, the handsome soldier who carries Lola away from an Arranged Marriage to an old man, soon becomes an abusive, dissolute drunk. Lola leaves him.
  • Artistic License – History: The circus master recounts how his circus played in San Francisco. In this era San Francisco was a tiny village next to a church, and would not become a city until the 1849 gold rush.
  • Cigar Chomper: A very rare female example. Lola Montes's fondness for cigars marks her as an iconoclast and free spirit, in an era when women were not supposed to smoke cigars.
  • Door-Closes Ending: Lola's degrading circus performance is followed by an even more degrading encore in which Lola sits in a cage, while customers pay a dollar each to walk by and touch her hand. The camera pulls back, circus curtains are pulled closed to hide the scene, and the film ends.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Lola Montes, formerly a famous European dancer, mistress to a king, has to settle for performing in a circus.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: Church bells are ringing in Bavaria as the king is overthrown and both Ludwig and Lola are forced to (separately) flee for their lives.
  • Framing Device: The film opens with Lola in a circus, performing in a show about her own life. Her life then unfolds in a series of flashbacks, periodically cutting back to the circus.
  • Glasses Pull: King Ludwig, who was reading to Lola in his palace while revolution breaks out in the streets, pulls his reading glasses off when his courtiers get him to look out the window and see how bad things are getting.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Lola Montes wears a lot of fancy ornate dresses, and she spends a lot of time at royal courts and the other reaches of high society where other people wear ornate fancy clothes.
  • High-Class Glass: The circus master sports a High-Class Glass both in his act and outside of the circus, in an obvious effort to act more classy than he really is.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Lola is shown repeatedly coughing when she's taking breaks between acts of the circus show. She's obviously ill, ill enough that her doctor shows up at the circus and begs the owner to not make her perform in the circus anymore. (The real Lola Montez died of syphillis.)
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: An usher crying "Second act, ladies and gentlemen!" at the circus leads to the second act of the movie, in which Lola flees an abusive husband and finds fame on the stage.
  • Narrator: Peter Ustinov's circus master narrates the show, and his stage talk sometimes provides narration over the flashbacks.
  • No Name Given: The circus master is never named; nor is the idealistic young student revolutionary played by Oskar Werner, who falls for Lola.
  • Orbital Shot: The camera spins around Lola in her first scene in the circus ring, emphasizing her humiliation as she has to degrade herself for a circus audience.
  • Product Placement: In-Universe, the circus master's spiel about how Lola liked cigars leads to him hawking "El Caballero Dorado" cigars, on sale outside the theater. (His face pinches with disgust when he smokes one for the audience.)
  • Refuge in Audacity: Lola has been badgering an officer to introduce her to King Ludwig I. At a royal parade the officer is making excuses, when Lola finally runs out of patience and simply gallops over to King Ludwig herself. It works.
  • Unusual Euphemism: King Ludwig I is displeased with the portrait of Lola, wrapped up in a fur parka. The artist negotiates with Lola until he convinces her to pose, as the circus master says, "all in pink". Cut to a scene of a nude portrait of Lola being delivered to the king.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Lola Montez was a real person who really was a dancer and, famously, mistress to both Franz Liszt and King Ludwig I; she actually did have to hurriedly flee Bavaria when revolution erupted in 1848. But she never performed with a circus and the film omits much of her later life, like performing onstage in America and Australia and briefly being married to a San Francisco newspaper man.
  • While Rome Burns: King Ludwig is lounging around in his castle reading scenes from Hamlet to Lola while revolution is breaking out in Bavaria and rioters are rampaging in the streets outside. Finally his courtiers manage to get him to get up and flee for safety.