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Mademoiselle Fifi

Screening on Film
Directed by Robert Wise.
With Simone Simon, John Emery, Kurt Kreuger.
US, 1944, 16mm, black & white, 69 min.

Lewton longed to escape his RKO-built horror chains with an adaptation blending two short stories by Guy de Maupassant, “Boule de Suif” and “Mademoiselle Fifi.” Mademoiselle Fifi is the nickname for the despicable Prussian officer who holds up a coach filled with a sampling of hypocritical bourgeois, a priest, a revolutionary and a working-class laundress sensitively and subtly portrayed by Cat People’s Simone Simon. Taking place in France during the Franco-Prussian War, the setting provides a candid counterpart to World War II, yet approaches the concepts of occupation and collaboration with more delicacy than most Hollywood propaganda pictures. Simon’s proud, patriotic Elizabeth must compromise her morals and entertain Fifi for the sake of both her snobbish coachmates as well as her own townspeople and only receives abuse or obliviousness in return. Imbued with the same civility and moxie of the “little laundress,” Wise and Lewton made the most of their period piece with the lowest costume budget on record at the time. Though Elizabeth is able to exact her revenge, Lewton’s beguiling literary departure disappointed at the box office and he was thus banished to the Isle of the Dead.

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The Glitter of Putrescence. Val Lewton at RKO

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