Name that Film! The Moulin Rouge in the Movies in the 1920s

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Name that Film! The Moulin Rouge in the Movies in the 1920s
One recent rainy day, I not only got to stand centre stage at the Moulin Rouge, but I also got to study one of the towering but yet incredibly lightweight feathered headpieces in the palm of my cocktail ring-encrusted hands. Straightaway, my posture grew more erect as my attitude made a snap adjustment. I was in heaven. In fact, I even applied some cheeky elbow grease to a shimmy-like can-can across the old boards, still covered in a light dusting of pink plumages, sequins, and glitter from the previous night’s performance. Head-over-heels like a real hoofer, then and there, I decided to choreograph a special Paris-related cinematic riddle. Dear film and musical buffs, beyond a shadow of a doubt, this post is for you. Now, let’s roll out the 39 clues. Name that film! The flick takes place in the City of Light. The lead actor’s name was Betty. But she wasn’t Mayor Jimmy Walker’s petite amie. See, that was another “Betty” with a similar rising star and last name. “Jolly, effervescent, and practical,” was this jazz baby’s reputation. And her heroine characters possessed street smarts and a heart of gold. An early advocate for equal pay, she even created her own production company. Betty also had a proven drawing power. Plus, she was a press corps favorite. “That girl has guts!” wrote Liberty Magazine. Graham Cutts directed. Michael Balcon and Victor Saville were the producers. Well aware of Betty’s previous box office hit parade, they got her on the horn. “I am worth it!” the plucky “home girl” from Beaver, Utah told the production team during the telephone tête-à-tête. They agreed. Betty was offered a “freak” salary of 1000 pounds per week. Along with a two-picture deal and solo star billing. Nobody put Betty in a corner. The silent moving picture was launched in August 1923. Critics adored the starlet’s performance, writing, “Oh, Mother of Pearl! Aglow when she appears! The incomparable Betty has outdone herself!” Now, the Assistant Director was an unknown. At the time, that is. One Alfred J. Hitchcock. Just 23 years old. And this was one of his first real film breaks. He also agreed to co-write the screenplay, based on Michael Morton’s stage play. A love affair between a soldier and a Moulin Rouge dancer. Hitch would design the sets, too. To prepare, the future “Master of Suspense” made several scouting trips to Paris. Each time he went, it was first to mass at L’Église de la Madeleine. Then off to the Moulin Rouge. Which had just re-opened, after its 1914 fire. But the dance scenes were shot on a sound stage in Joinville, a distant suburb. For the big chorus number, dancers were brought in from the Casino de Paris. “An exact replica is what I was after!” said the assistant director. And authentic is what he got—to a T. Following suit with the Moulin Rouge’s décor, Hitchcock dressed his stage in windmills and chats noire with the newly built Sacré Coeur in view. Dolly Tree, a Folies Bergère designer, created the costumes. Her confections were gossamer-fine and shiny, too. It was Paris, after all. By the 1920s, prancing in the buff was the norm in most clubs. But this film was for English and American audiences. “No French breast could be exposed on the screen!” said producer Saville. Seamstresses outfitted the costumes with hidden brassieres on the spot. With full support systems in place, the finale was shot in a single night so the dancers could get back to Paris in time for Sunday’s matinee. Even with muted titillation, the film still swayed. A crowd pleaser so popular, the production team brought the “love saga” back to the screen again as a talkie in 1929. With Betty, of course. Our mystery “love saga” returned to the screen as a talkie in 1929 (Poster, 1923, Moviepostersdb, Betty, scrapbook clippings, 1920s, T. Brack’s…

Lead photo credit : Ready to crack the photodrama nut? If so, don your thinking caps! (Moulin Rouge, 1960s Postcard, T. Brack’s collection)—Top Shot

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Theadora is a Paris-based writer who has a regular column, called “My Life in Paris," in France Today magazine.


  • Martino
    2017-04-14 08:50:34
    I love the photos. Great scrapbook images, Theadora! I also love how you always embed lots of historical tidbits in everything you write!! It's amazing how that little "red mill" had such a great impact on the early 20th century art and culture and still somehow manages to keep on spinning, spinning, spinning into the future . . . .


  • Marietta
    2017-04-13 15:31:50
    I got the answer some time ago but there was no place I could leave the "reply". Too bad.


  • Stephan
    2017-04-13 14:21:32
    The woman is Betty Compson who was a silent star and achieved success in the early days but roles were few and far between when 'talkies' emerged. She was considered a nominee for a best actress Oscar although for the 1928/29 season, no actual nominees were announced, only the winner. The film in question is "Woman to Woman" which, sadly, is considered lost.


  • Richard Clar
    2017-04-13 11:48:10
    Richard Clar
    The name of the movie? That's an easy one with all of those hints: Westside Story, starring Betty Davis! Do I get a prize?