Yves Allégret’s dynamic, grippingly atmospheric Les orgueilleux comes from a story by Jean-Paul Sartre titled “Typhus,” although Gabicz and Klinowski cite instead a story, perhaps the same one, whose “bitterly ironic” title translates as “Love, the Redeemer.” (There is no such bitter irony in Allégret’s film, which ends, straight, in a Hollywood clinch.) Yet others cite as the source a film script that Sartre wrote in the 1940s that Allégret, Jean Aurenche & Pierre Bost, and Jean Clouzot drastically revised. In any case, Sartre repudiated the final result, although he alone among the five writers was nominated for an Oscar for “best motion-picture story”—an outcome that may have owed something to this Leftist’s denouncement of the Soviet Union’s 1956 invasion of Hungary to crush the popular uprising. (Allégret’s 1953 film was released in the States in 1956 and Oscar-nominated in 1957.)
The Franco-Mexican film, which Rafael E. Portas co-directed, is set in Alvarado, Veracruz, where it was filmed. Perhaps Clouzot’s contribution to the script assists the black-and-white film’s early-on resemblance to his brother Henri-Georges’s South American Le salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear), released earlier in the same year. But another influence, certainly, hovers over the location: Spanish writer-director Luis Buñuel, who reputedly appears fleetingly in the film. However, the non-satirical scenes in church, as well as the happy romantic ending towards which the film ultimately moves, is far afield of Buñuel. Still, there are scenes of squalor and grubby, desperate humanity that evoke something of Buñuel, for instance, Los olvidados (1950), and anticipating scenes in his masterful Nazarin (1958).
The two major characters are Nellie and Georges. Nellie is a French tourist, whose companion, her husband Tom, contracts meningitis—an epidemic is sweeping Alvarado—and dies. Georges, also French, is a medical doctor who has become an alcoholic following the death of his wife in childbirth. Memorably, Georges holds Nellie in his arms as the local doctor administers an injection of vaccine. With their complementary losses, these two are fated to fall in love. Nellie’s love for him helps restore Georges’s sobriety, rekindling his much-needed medical service, and his love for her forces Nellie to choose between returning to France or remaining with Georges in Alvarado.
A remarkable, relentless passage involves the delivery of medicine to Tom and Nellie’s motel room door when Nellie has already found her husband dead. Nellie scrambles to find seven pesos to pay the delivery men outside, but she finds nothing, even after investigating every one of the corpse’s pockets, and (in a striking shot) getting down on her hands and knees and looking underneath the bed. Completely without funds that she can find, she will attempt to sell her gold crucifix necklace. Another memorable shot involves a cockroach that scurries across the floor, near Nellie’s bare feet, exposing her vulnerability after losing her spouse—and, perhaps, meant to suggest Tom’s spiritual reduction in death. Superlative images indeed abound.
Gérard Philipe gives a good performance as Georges, although it is hard to gauge to what extent his loose-limbed drunkenness shows the character himself wallowing theatrically in his grief to numb its pain. Michèle Morgan, on the other hand, is without doubt superb as Nellie, whose pride the incisive (and beautiful) actress renders with great sensitivity and intelligence. Apart from her peerless blind Gertrude in Symphonie Pastorale (Jean Delannoy, 1946), from Gide, her Nellie may be this great actress’s most brilliant performance.
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