Moulin Rouge (1952 film)

Moulin Rouge is a 1952 British drama film directed by John Huston, produced by John and James Woolf for their Romulus Films company and released by United Artists. The film is set in Paris in the late 19th century, following artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in the city's bohemian subculture in and around the burlesque palace the Moulin Rouge. The screenplay is by Huston, based on the 1950 novel by Pierre La Mure. The cinematography was by Oswald Morris. This film was screened at the 14th Venice International Film Festival where it won the Silver Lion.

Moulin Rouge
French theatrical poster
Directed byJohn Huston
Produced byJohn and James Woolf
Written byJohn Huston
Anthony Veiller
Pierre La Mure (Novel)
StarringJosé Ferrer
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Suzanne Flon
Music byGeorges Auric
William Engvick
CinematographyOswald Morris
Edited byRalph Kemplen
Distributed byUnited Artists (US)
British Lion Films (UK)
Release date
  • 23 December 1952 (1952-12-23) (United States)
Running time
119 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
BudgetUSD$1.5 million (approx. £967,785)
Box office$9 million[1]

The film stars José Ferrer as Toulouse-Lautrec, with Zsa Zsa Gabor as Jane Avril, Suzanne Flon, Eric Pohlmann, Colette Marchand, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Katherine Kath, Theodore Bikel, and Muriel Smith.


In 1890 Paris crowds pour into the Moulin Rouge nightclub as artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec finishes a bottle of cognac while sketching the club's dancers. The club's regulars arrive: singer Jane Avril teases Henri charmingly, dancers La Goulue and Aicha fight, and owner Maurice Joyant offers Henri free drinks for a month in exchange for painting a promotional poster. At closing time, Henri waits for the crowds to disperse before standing to reveal his four-foot six-inch stature. As he walks to his Montmartre apartment, he recalls the events that led to his disfigurement.

It is revealed that Lautrec as a boy fell down a flight of stairs, whereupon his legs failed to heal because of a genetic weakness resulting from his parents being first cousins. His legs stunted and pained, Henri loses himself in his art, while his father leaves his mother, the countess, to ensure that they have no more children. Henri is a bright, happy child, revered by his father, the Count de Toulouse-Lautrec. As a young adult, he proposes to the woman he loves but, when she tells him that no woman will ever love him, he leaves his childhood home in despair to begin a new life as a painter in Paris.

Back in the present, street walker Marie Charlet begs Henri to rescue her from police sergeant Patou. Henri wards off the policeman by pretending to be her escort, after which she insists on following him home. There, she addresses his small stature and, although he is at first angry, he allows her to stay and is charmed when she claims not to care about his legs. Within days, he is buying her gifts and singing as he paints, until Marie takes his money and stays out all night.

Henri waits in agony for her return, but when she finally does he tells her to leave at once. Realizing he loves her, Marie vows to stay and love him back. Though she continues to fight with him, he tells himself her crassness stems from her poverty, and lets her stay. During one fight Marie tells Henri he can never attract a real woman, and leaves. By morning, she begs him to take her back, but he refuses. He begins drinking and does not stop until his landlady calls his mother, who urges him to save his health by finding Marie.

Henri searches Marie's working-class neighborhood, finally discovering her at a café, where she drunkenly reveals she stayed with him only to procure money for her boyfriend. When she adds that his touch made her sick, Henri returns to his apartment, and turns on the gas vents. As he sits waiting to die, he is suddenly inspired to finish his Moulin Rouge poster and, brush in hand, distractedly turns the vents off again.

The next day, Henri brings the poster to the dance hall and, though the style is unusual, Maurice accepts it. Henri works for days at the lithographers, blending his own inks to perfect the vivid colors. When he finishes the poster, which shows a woman dancing with her legs exposed, it becomes an instant sensation and the Moulin Rouge opens to high society. His father denounces Henri for the "pornographic" work.

Over the next ten years, Henri records Parisian life in brilliant paintings. By 1900 he is famous, but still terribly lonely. One day he sees Myriamme Hyam standing at the edge of Pont Alexandre III over the Seine River. Thinking she might jump, he stops to talk to her. She spurns his advances and throws a key into the water. Days later, Jane, a friend of Myriamme, arranges a meeting for them. Myriamme is a great admirer of Henri's paintings, and the two begin to spend time together.

She soon reveals to Henri that the key she threw into the water belonged to a married man, Marcel de la Voisier, who asked her to be his mistress. While Henri continues to decry the possibility of true love he falls in love with Myriamme. One day the two see dancer La Goulue on the street drunkenly insisting that she was once a star. Henri realizes that the Moulin Rouge has become a respectable establishment and no longer the home for misfits.

Myriamme informs Henri that Marne has asked her to marry him. Certain she loves the more handsome man, he bitingly congratulates her for trapping Marne. Myriamme asks Henri if he loves her, but, believing that she is only trying to spare his feelings, he lies and tells her he does not. By the time he receives a letter from her stating that she loves him, but cannot wait any longer, Myriamme has left the city and Henri goes on an unsuccessful search for her. Weeks later, while sitting in a dive drinking steadily, Henri repeatedly reads Myriamme's note. Patou, now an inspector, is called to help him. Once home, in a state of delirium tremens, Henri hallucinates that he sees cockroaches, and in trying to drive them away, accidentally falls down a flight of stairs.

Near death, Henri is brought to his family home. After a priest reads the last rites, his father tearfully informs Henri that he is to be the first living artist to be shown in the Louvre, and begs for forgiveness. Henri turns his head and watches as phantasmal characters from his Moulin Rouge paintings, including Jane Avril, dance into the room to bid him goodbye before his death.



In the film, Ferrer plays both Henri and his father, the Comte Alphonse de Toulouse-Lautrec. To transform Ferrer into Henri required the use of platforms and concealed pits as well as special camera angles, makeup and costumes. Short body doubles were also used. In addition, Ferrer used a set of knee-pads of his own design allowing him to walk on his knees . He received high praise not only for his performance, but for his willingness to have his legs strapped in such a manner simply to play a role.

It was reported that John Huston asked cinematographer Oswald Morris to render the color scheme of the film to look "as if Toulouse-Lautrec had directed it".[2] Moulin Rouge was shot in three-strip Technicolor. The Technicolor projection print is created by dye transfer from three primary-color gelatin matrices. This permits great flexibility in controlling the density, contrast, and saturation of the print. Huston asked Technicolor for a subdued palette, rather than the sometimes-gaudy colors "glorious Technicolor" was famous for. Technicolor was reportedly reluctant to do this.

The film was shot at Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Surrey, England, and on location in London and Paris.


During its first year of release it earned £205,453 in UK cinemas[3] and grossed $9 million at the North American box office.[1]

According to the National Film Finance Corporation, the film made a comfortable profit.[4]

Ferrer received 40 percent of the proceeds from the film as well as other rights. This remuneration gave rise to a prominent U.S. Second Circuit tax case, Commissioner v. Ferrer (1962), in which Ferrer argued that he was taxed too much.[5]


Academy Awards

Moulin Rouge received seven Academy Award nominations and won two:[6]

The film was not nominated for its color cinematography, which many critics found remarkable. Leonard Maltin, in his annual Movie and Video Guide declared: "If you can't catch this in color, skip it."

BAFTA Awards

The film received three BAFTA Nominations:

  • Best British Film
  • Best Film from any Source
  • Most Promising Newcomer - Colette Marchand
Golden Globe Awards

The film won the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer - Colette Marchand

In an interview shortly after his successful film version of Cabaret opened, Bob Fosse acknowledged Huston's filming of the can-can in Moulin Rouge as being very influential on his own film style.

Other awards
  • Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival - John Huston
  • British Society of Cinematographers - Oswald Morris

The Moulin Rouge theme song became well known and made it onto the record industry charts.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Digital restoration

The film was digitally restored by FotoKem for Blu-ray debut. Frame-by-frame digital restoration was done by Prasad Corporation removed dirt, tears, scratches and other defects.[8][9] In April 2019, a restored version of the film from The Film Foundation, Park Circus, Romulus Films, and MGM was selected to be shown in the Cannes Classics section at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.[10]

See also


  1. "Some of the Top UA Grossers". Variety. 24 June 1959. p. 12. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  2. Tom Vallance, "Obituary: Sir John Woolf", The Independent, 1 July 1999
  3. Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p.499
  4. U.S. MONEY BEHIND 30% OF BRITISH FILMS: Problems for the Board of Trade The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959) [Manchester (UK)] 4 May 1956: 7
  5. See 304 F. 2d 125 - Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Ferrer , OpenJurist
  6. "NY Times: Moulin Rouge". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 December 2008.
  7. "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  8. Prasad Corporation, Digital Film Restoration Archived 13 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  9. "FotoKem - Home".
  10. "Cannes Classics 2019". Festival de Cannes. 26 April 2019. Retrieved 26 April 2019.
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