Blog Directory CineVerse: Suds and the City

Suds and the City

Monday, February 1, 2021

Soapy and silly are two words that some used to describe Richard Brooks’ 1954 melodrama The Last Time I Saw Paris. But it’s hard to deny the pristine sheen coating the surface of this big-budget A-list Technicolor outing from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. For our CineVerse group’s take on this somewhat over-the-top flick, read on (to listen to a recording of our group discussion of this film, click here).

What about this movie got your attention or left an impact – good or bad?

  • It’s an impressive array of talent on display here, especially the prestigious and deep cast, including a 22-year-old vivacious Elizabeth Taylor, Van Johnson, Walter Pidgeon, Donna Reed, Ava Gabor, and Roger Moore in his first Hollywood screen role. Director Richard Brooks went on to make several key films in the 1950s and 1960s, the source material is an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, and the screenwriters included the Epstein brothers, famous for crafting the script for Casablanca.
  • The film has been criticized for lack of character development and an overreliance on weepy melodrama.
    • Consider that Reed’s sister character is given very little screen time, and her apparent brooding jealousy isn’t clarified to the viewer until the end of the picture.
    • Helen is depicted early on as a bit of a materialistic, flirty playgirl, making us think that she will turn out to be a bad catch for Charles; but once they are married she remains relatively faithful and loyal to Charles.
    • Charles’ flirty and philandering nature seems to materialize out of the blue, clashing with his image up to that point of an ambitious and hard-working loyal spouse; it can be assumed that his frustrations as a writer and emerging alcoholism are behind these unsavory character traits, but this creates a confounding and contradictory character.
    • Likewise, Charles’ descent into wallowing self-pity is an eye-rolling development that makes his character unsympathetic.
  • It’s obvious that this film has fallen into the public domain and persists in a state of ignominious visual disrepair. It begs for a restoration of some kind to rekindle its dulled color cinematography. Unfortunately, a cleanup job would likely reveal van Johnson’s splotchy complexion problems all the more; it looks as though he’s suffering from some kind of rash or dermatological condition.

Themes present in this movie

  • Don’t take what you have for granted. Helen dreams of being rich, while Charles yearns for success as a writer. Both learned that money and prestige don’t necessarily make you happy and that it’s important to appreciate the gifts and blessings you have in hand rather than continually fantasize about something possibly unattainable.
  • Self-reflection and forgiveness. Marion realizes that she’s been punishing Charles – by keeping his daughter away from him – for not reciprocating her affection and for choosing Helen. By the conclusion, Marion has acknowledged this fault and forgiven Charles.
  • Good fortune is fleeting and not guaranteed. Helen is struck down in the prime of her life, the family’s oil fortune dries up, and Charles’ ability to see his daughter is jeopardized.

Films that Last Time I Saw Paris remind us of

  • Till the Clouds Roll By
  • The melodramas of Douglas Sirk like All That Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession, and Imitation of Life

Other films directed by Richard Brooks

  • In Cold Blood
  • Elmer Gantry
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • Blackboard Jungle
  • The Professionals

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