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The Proud and the Beautiful

At The Kenmore

By Gerald E. Bunker

The Proud and the Beautiful is a daring and skillfully-wrought film. Adapted from a film by John Paul Sartre and directed by Yves Allegret, it is genuinely real and honest, although at times this honesty devotes itself to exploring the sordid and the obscene as a short-cut to a powerful audience response and proving a point.

On the whole, the film fits into the existentialist framework, though with two or three rough edges. The heroine, played by comely Michele Morgan, is passing through a small South American town with her husband as the film opens. He is gravely ill with what develops to be meningitis. He dies horribly on a filthy newspaper-covered mattress, retching as he dies. The whole town then quarantined is threatened by the plague.

The other focal character is a derelict doctor who, we are rather imperfectly told, came to town years before with his wife and the climate drove him to drink. He operated on her in childbirth when he was drunk, and she died. He is more or less expiating his deed as a futile, filthy, good-hearted drunk and buffoon. The central theme is largely the story of his "redemption" as he responds to the need of those around him in the plague, and to the widow's new-found attraction to him, and of her "acceptance" of things as they are. And the film ends with the doctor deciding to resume practice and the lovers rushing into one another's arms. This fairly complex tale is told clearly and movingly. Gerard Philippe plays the bum with a wonderful fierce honesty and depth of feeling, and Miss Morgan is excellent.

Yet exactly what the film means beyond "Isn't this a hell of a world" is hard to discern. Surely it points toward an assertion of freedom--man stripped bare of all sham, superstition, pride, and being forced to make decisions, and that the ways of fate and of the human psyche are unknowable and unpredictable. Yet the conclusion seems to proclaim a sort of human brotherhood that is partially alien to Satrian existentialism. On the other hand, it is quite possible the Satre views these two lonely people who find one another as asserting the same sort of freedom-in-isolation as Orestes in his Les Mouches. But drama, though a powerful media for expressing philosophy, is an imprecise one.

Perhaps the most debatable part of the film is the pitiless realism of the direction, which seems to border on the sensational, for instance, a harrowing close-up of a spinal injection, or a most realistic attempted rape.

There is much one might question in its technique. The Proud and the Beautiful is never a pleasant or a saccharine film. But whether one thinks that the philosophy behind The Proud and the Beautiful and the way it is depicted are deeply profound, or mainly sound and fury, this remains an exciting and provoking film, and it is superbly performed.

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